Washington Update on the first months of the Biden presidency and new Congress


We are now a few months into the Biden/Harris administration, and the 117th Congress. Here is a quick overview of some highlights for the math community.


President Joe Biden signed a \$1.9 trillion pandemic response package into law on March 11. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 focuses on public health and economic stimulus measures. It also contains some funding for research, including \$600 million for the NSF to “fund or extend new and existing research grants, cooperative agreements, scholarships, fellowships, and apprenticeships, and related administrative expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The NSF provision appears on page 108 of the 242-page bill.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 also provides \$40 billion in general relief for higher education institutions. This is far less than is needed, as determined by a group of university associations in a recent letter to Congressional leaders.

The amount in that bill was not nearly what is required for the academic research community, and does not address research disruptions not directly related to coronavirus research. We continue to push Congress to provide additional research recovery funding, as proposed in the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act and the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act. These are bipartisan efforts, and are important for the math community. You can “Take Action” now by asking your Congressional delegation to support these bills.

The RISE Act, should it become law, provides the NSF with an additional \$3 billion to support non-COVID-related research impacted by the pandemic.

The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act is very targeted and would give funds to the NSF to support over 3000 new postdoctoral fellows over the next few years, to help bridge the gap for new PhDs during this terrible job market. During a hearing on this bill last week, Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (OK 3) stated that faculty openings in the sciences have decreased by more than 70% since 2019. As you may know, the pandemic is particularly affecting the work of women in the STEM fields; the Senate version of the bill specifically requires this funding help those most adversely affected, including women, faculty of color, and faculty at minority serving institutions. The AMS has endorsed the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act—both the House version and the Senate version.

If you haven’t used the AMS Take Action tool before, it only takes a minute or so. After you have done one, returning is even easier. These two appear first and second on that page, and are not math-specific, so please feel free to share with other scientists at your university.

New congressional leaders charged with NSF oversight

Also in Congress, the House and Senate have both now finalized their committees’ structures and membership. This task was more complicated in the Senate, because for the first time in six years, the Democrats have control. Some of what follows is an update to my post at the start of the 116th Congress, and that post gives more information about committee structure in Congress.

For the NSF—and in each of the House and Senate—there is an “appropriations” committee and an “authorization” committee. The determined authorization committee provides guidance about how the NSF spends and manages the amount given the NSF by the determined “appropriations” committee. The House and Senate appropriators responsible for determining how much the NSF gets each year are members of the respective (House or Senate) Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

While the Appropriations Committees in each of the House and Senate are the same in their names and subcommittee structure, this is not the case for the authorizing committees. The NSF authorizing committees are the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (SST) and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST). In the House, the SST’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology holds jurisdiction over the NSF, as well as university research policy and all matters relating to STEM education. In the Senate it is the CST’s Space and Science Subcommittee; this is a new subcommittee and it has jurisdiction over the NSF and also NASA and NIST. Committee and subcommittee membership can be found at each link above.

I am always looking for mathematicians who have benefitted from NSF grants to collect stories. Stories about students are especially important to gather. If you live in the district or state of NSF appropriators and are interested in meeting with their staff to tell your story about why NSF is important to you, your students, or your department more broadly, please contact me.

Making visits to congressional staff is fun (at least I think so), important for the math community (other sciences are much more visible on the Hill), and now easier to do (because they are virtual).

About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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2 Responses to Washington Update on the first months of the Biden presidency and new Congress

  1. David Gluck says:

    Should you not also be concerned with other federal agencies that support math
    research? For example, support from the NSA Mathematical Sciences Program was
    vitally important to my career and that of many others.


    David Gluck
    Prof. Emer.
    Wayne State U.
    Detroit, MI

    • Karen Saxe says:

      You are absolutely correct. The NSF provides the most significant chunk of federal funding for research in mathematics, but the Dept of Defense (and NIH, and Dept of Energy, and others) also provide important funding. On occasion, I write about other agencies, for example see our article beginning on page 576: https://www.ams.org/journals/notices/201904/201904FullIssue.pdf
      Thanks for your interest.

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