Math and Congress: What you missed over the summer, so far—Part 1

Depending on how you define “summer,” you may have missed the fact that President Biden now has a mathematician serving as his top science advisor. On May 28, Eric Lander was confirmed by the Senate as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Additionally, current American Statistical Association President Robert Santos was nominated by President Biden to serve as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau; he awaits confirmation by the Senate.

The rest of this post covers some summer news about AMS activities on the Hill, congressional appropriations, and other legislation moving through Congress. I am planning a Part 2 to this post, with education policy news and updates on the Trump era immigration policies that affect students and mathematicians.

AMS activities on the Hill

Over the summer, I have made many “Hill visits.” As of today, I have had 31 zoom meetings with congressional staff since June 1. These include meetings with not only staff but also three members of Congress—Senator Jack Reed (RI), Congressmen Ed Case (HI 1) and Jerry McNerney (CA 9). Some of these meetings have been by myself, some with my counterparts from other scientific societies, and several with mathematicians you may know! Many of these meetings were to give members of Congress examples of NSF funded mathematics projects in their district or state and use these personal stories about how federal funding helps their own constituents to persuade Congressional members to appropriate sufficient funds to the NSF next year (see next section on Congressional Appropriations).

The AMS is a member of the Task Force on American Innovation and we held a July 22 briefing for Congressional staff titled “Future Forward: Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Research and Innovation.” I was really pleased that math was represented well in the discussion—Clark Atlanta University’s Talitha Washington was on our panel.

Congressional Appropriations

Each year, an important part of the AMS advocacy work is in working with Congress urging them to fund the NSF (and other agencies important for mathematics) at increased and sustained levels. While the NSF is a small agency (in terms of our national investment in it), in 2018 it funded 68% of all fundamental research in mathematics done at colleges and universities. As the chart below shows, the recent years have resulted in only very moderate growth for the NSF budget. That said, our advocating has helped Congress reject past Presidents’ proposed cuts to the NSF budget. For fiscal year 2022 (FY22), the President proposes a big increase for the NSF.

Government funding runs out on September 30 of each year. FY22 will begin on October 1. Congress must pass 12 funding bills to continue to fund government programs. Each year the President and each of the House and Senate put out their “marks” for how much the NSF will have in the next fiscal year. After the House and Senate agree on these amounts, 12 bills (or combined into “minibus” or “omnibus” bills) are sent back to the President for his (her, please, some day soon!) signature into law.

The annual appropriations timeline is supposed to go like this:

In my post on June 16, I wrote about details of the President’s budget proposal and what it means for mathematics. The President has proposed \$10.2 billion and the House \$9.6 billion. The Senate has yet to indicate its mark for the NSF.

You can continue to track NSF appropriations at the budget dashboard maintained by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The American Institute of Physics keeps a similar page, which also includes STEM education funding.

Legislation Watch

It has been an active period since Senators Schumer and Young introduced their Endless Frontier Act in April, and Representatives Johnson and Lucas the NSF for the Future Act. Both of these are “authorizing” bills for the NSF and both have passed in their respective chamber. Authorizing laws establish, continue, or modify federal programs, and they normally precede the decision by Congress to appropriate funds to the program. The NSF is one such “program”—NSF appropriations occur annually, while NSF authorizations happen less frequently.

Since its introduction, the Endless Frontier Act has grown and transformed (with 616 amendments!), and the bill that passed in the Senate on June 8, with a vote of 68-32, is now called the United States Innovation and Competitiveness Act. The NSF for the Future Act passed in the House on June 28, with a vote of 345-67. The differences in these House and Senate versions need to be worked out before President Biden will consider signing into law. The most significant change appearing in both authorization proposals is the move to establish a new directorate at the NSF. The last time the NSF added a new directorate was in 1991 when the Directorate of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences was launched.

As the new bill name suggests, many additions (but not all of them) to the original Senate bill focus on keeping the U.S. competitive, especially with China. Some lawmakers view universities as the weak link in protecting against intellectual espionage. I am in favor of a global math community and hope to keep our international collaborations vibrant, and with few barriers. It is not just mathematics research that must be kept a global collaboration. So many of the challenges we face—from public health and pandemics to food security and climate challenges—are global problems that will require global solutions and international agreements to implement. Cornell’s Wendy Wolford wrote a nice piece about this need for international science recently in The Hill. I regularly get asked how mathematics—as a field—is affected by Chinese efforts in particular. Here are some data points that show the role China is now playing in mathematics:

  • From the AMS Annual Survey:
    • In 2017-18 PhDs were awarded (by U.S. universities) to 1960 people, including 1017 Non-US citizens. These recipients represented at least 90 countries, with China accounting 47% (470), followed by India with 5% (51).
    • In 2018-19 PhDs were awarded to 1911 people, including 851 Non-US citizens. These recipients represented at least 83 countries, with individuals from China account 42% (358), followed by India with 7% (57).
  • Usage of MathSciNet in China has grown 25.7% in the last two years, far more than any other country.  My AMS colleague Ed Dunne’s recent column in the Notices about geography of MathSciNet includes more details. His chart on page 599 shows how quickly mathematical publication output from China has grown.
  • At the 2021 at the Mathematical Contest in Modeling/Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling, China dominated. This contest takes place in February and is open to teams of undergraduate and high school students, with a maximum of three students per team. In 2021, there were approximately 26,000 Chinese teams, 400 from the U.S., and 100 from other countries. Moreover, modeling has become firmly entrenched in the Chinese curricula at the tertiary level and has now moved into the secondary schools. The AMS has endorsed the Mathematical and Statistical Modeling Education Act, introduced bipartisanly and bicamerally by Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Jim Baird (R-IN) and Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). This bill would improve education in this area in the U.S.

The Senate bill amendments do not all focus on international competitiveness. They include the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act, a bill that the AMS has endorsed. The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act passed in the House too, and so I am hopeful that it will become law before the end of the year.

Thank for reading through to the end!


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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