President Biden’s first budget shows big changes for science and math


On May 28 President Biden released his first full budget proposal, for fiscal year 2022 (FY22). If accepted by Congress, federal funding of mathematics research and education will grow significantly.

Law (specifically, the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921) requires the President to submit a budget proposal on the first Monday in February, although the process is often delayed. In the year following a presidential election it is often delayed significantly.

The money

This chart shows how very good indeed the Biden proposal is for science overall. He proposes a budget of \$10.2 billion for the NSF in FY22.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided 68% of all federal support in 2018 for basic research in mathematics done at universities. The 20% increase to NSF will impact the math community by increasing

  • the number of mathematicians and math students that the NSF is able to support,
  • some individual award amounts, and
  • the length of some awards.

To put the 20% in historical context, NSF increases have been steady over the past several years but really have just kept up with inflation (typically about 2-4% increases). This plot shows the President’s request and compares it to the amount actually allocated to the NSF each year.

What will it be spent on?

Two big themes for the coming year at the NSF will be

  • capitalizing on our national investment by funding the translation of fundamental research to commercial technology; and
  • reaching more of the “missing millions”—supporting more women and individuals from underrepresented groups to succeed in the scientific enterprise.

If Biden’s proposal is adopted, the first would be realized by the launch of a new “Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships Directorate.” This new directorate is also being pushed by Congress—in the Senate it was first proposed in the Endless Frontier Act and in the House in the NSF for the Future Act. I wrote an overview of these two bills in my post preceding this one. The former is now called the United States Innovation and Competition Act and was passed by the Senate on June 8, in a 68-32 vote. The new bill is thousands of pages long and now includes more on geopolitics and national security (read “keeping competitive with China”) and also open access in publishing (another issue of interest to for the AMS). Congressional consideration of these bills is happening quickly, and more may well have transpired by the time you read this. The last time the NSF added a new directorate was in 1991 when the Directorate of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences was launched.

We would also see a 50% increase in funding for programs that aim to increase participation from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in science and engineering. Funding will support curriculum design, research on successful recruitment and retention methods, development of outreach or mentorship programs, fellowships, and building science and engineering research and education capacity at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. Additionally, through the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), NSF looks to enhance research competitiveness and increase participation across geographies.

Some details about the proposed budget for mathematics research

The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) would grow by about 6.5%. The plot below shows actual DMS appropriations for previous years, and the President’s request for FY22. DMS will see continuing and increased emphasis on broadening participation in mathematics. In addition, DMS will see a 22.5% increase in the budget for CAREER awards for mathematicians. And, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institutes program will remain a centerpiece of the DMS portfolio.


Some details about the proposed budget for education

The Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) would grow by about 16%. The plot below shows actual EHR appropriations for previous years, and the President’s request for FY22. This directorate’s investments are guided by three underlying themes:

  • contributing to research on STEM learning and learning environments,
  • broadening participation and institutional capacity in STEM, and
  • developing the STEM professional workforce.

Two particular programs to enhance graduate education that would benefit from the adoption of Biden’s budget are

  • the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), and
  • the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

This budget promises a 50% increase to AGEP, and nearly 12% to GRFP. AGEP funds will continue to support innovative faculty career pathway models for advancing doctoral students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty who are historically underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. The increased GRFP total will enable approximately 2,500 new fellowship awards (across all fields) in FY22.

What’s next?

The President recommends overall fiscal policy, with two main components: (1) how much the federal government should spend on public purposes, and (2) how much it should take in as tax revenues. The difference between (1) and (2) is the proposed deficit (or surplus). The President’s budget is very detailed, and lays out his (or…please, sometime soon…. her or their) relative priorities for federal programs—how much he or she believes should be spent on defense, agriculture, education, health, and so on. The President’s budget is only a request to Congress; Congress is not required to adopt his recommendations.

Only Congress can grant funding. After the President introduces a budget, it moves through the House and Senate Budget Committees, working separately, to establish top-line numbers for spending, with input from other legislators. As they form their opinions for funding, the AMS—alone and in collaboration with other scientific societies and universities—talks with many congressional offices to stress the importance of funding for the NSF. I’ve been having these meetings throughout May and June, with volunteer mathematicians and, as just said, with other scientific societies and university groups. This year, the AMS urged Congress to appropriate at least \$10 billion for the NSF.

Once Congress comes to agreement on spending, the appropriations bill(s) are sent back to the President for signature into law.

What can I read if I want to know more?

President Biden’s request for the NSF for FY22 is, in its entirety, found at the NSF website.

The President’s budget, for all federal spending for FY22, is found at the White House website.

A very brief description of the annual federal budget process is given on the AMS Government Relations website.


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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