President Biden’s Research Priorities

On August 27, the White House issued its research and development priorities memo (M-21-32). This is the Biden administration’s first such memo.

The memo is, as is usual, signed by the heads of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget—Director Eric Lander and Acting Director Shalanda Young, respectively.

These are put out annually—at least have been by the past several administrations—and are the first step in the annual budget process (actually, this would be “step 0” if it appeared in my diagram in this budget primer).

This memo essentially tells agencies what they should include in their budget proposals for 2023. Agencies, including the NSF, will take this memo into (serious) consideration as they make their budget requests for 2023 and design future agency activities. Agency budget requests will, in turn, become part of the President’s budget proposal which is due to be released in February 2022.

The memo is 5 pages long. This compares to Trump’s first such memo, which was released on August 17, 2017 and ran 4 pages. Foci on emerging technologies and workforce remain; a Trump focus on military strength is gone.

It lists 5 top line multi-agency priorities:

  1. Pandemic readiness and prevention.
  2. Tackling climate change—this includes readiness for climate disasters, clean energy innovation, and general climate science research.
  3. Catalyze research and innovation in critical and emerging technologies—AI, quantum information science, advanced communications technologies, microelectronics, high-performance computing, biotechnology, robotics, and space technologies. This priority, in particular, has carried over from Trump’s priorities.
  4. Innovation for equity—part of Biden’s whole-of-Government equity agenda and suggests steps to improve diversity and equity in the research workforce.
  5. National security and economic resilience—prioritizes reduction of catastrophic biological, nuclear, and cyber risks.

A few other observations:

  • Rebuilding U.S. supply chains is highlighted. The phrase “invent it here; make it here” is used. Improving resilience of supply chains is also prioritized.
  • There is a section on cultivating a research environment composed of people from diverse backgrounds so that more Americans feel included in the scientific enterprise. One goal of such engagement is to empower more Americans with scientific knowledge in order to gain public trust in science. Indeed, the memo ends with a section on guidance for STEM education and engagement. HBCUs and other MSIs are specifically mentioned in this guidance. Families are described as a critical component in the effort to increase engagement.

It is important for the math community to think about how our field fits into these White House priorities, and how the NSF fits into this memo. The latter is important because most federal funding for mathematics research comes from the NSF, and this memo will help determine how much money the NSF gets from Congress to, in turn, distribute to the math community to support our work.


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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