ICYMI – A great Congressional Briefing!

On Wednesday June 28 we held a Congressional Lunch Briefing in D.C. and it was a great success!

In the past, the AMS has held one Congressional Briefing each year, typically during the week or two following Thanksgiving. This was our first joint briefing in partnership with MSRI, and we look forward to continuing this partnership. We plan to hold two each year.

What is this beast – a “Congressional Lunch Briefing”? To give you a mental image, we had a room in the Russell Senate building with round tables and boxed lunches. The room was packed and in fact overflowing, and the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming. Attendees were from sister scientific societies, local universities, federal agencies, and included Congressional members and their staff.Nancy Pelosi I began by welcoming all in the room, then David Eisenbud (Director of MSRI) Schumergave some more opening remarks and introduced Representative Nancy Pelosi, who gave enthusiastic support for our work in the mathematical sciences. Then, David Eisenbud introduced our speaker David Donoho, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Statistics at Stanford University. The session included an engaging Q&A period, and concluded with remarks from Senator Charles Schumer.

Professor David Donoho used his time to explain how federally funded mathematical research transitioned in just 10 years from ‘brainiac’ math journals to FDA approved medical devices. His Stanford patents on compressed sensing are licensed by both GE and DDSiemens in their new generation FDA-approved scanners. The improved technology will save lives, reach new demographic groups, and increase productivity in the use of healthcare resources.

The new technology is a game changer for medical care in at least three ways:

  1. It decreases cost, allowing health care providers to deliver the same service to more patients in the same amount of time.
  2. New populations can receive services. Children can now undergo MR imaging without sedation; they need to sit still for 1 minute rather than 10 minutes.
  3. It saves lives. Neurosurgeons can plan their surgeries and understand in advance what they will see three dimensionally inside someone’s head. Cardiologists can see in detail the motions of muscle tissue in the beating heart.

Tens of millions of MRI scans annually can soon be sped up dramatically; recent FDA approvals allow 8x speedups in 3D imaging and 16x speedups in dynamic heart imaging. Diagnostic imaging costs US$100 billion yearly and MR imaging makes up a big share of that.NSF folks

The United States has historically been held in high esteem for its investment in science and how it has improved lives and added efficiencies. Our nation cannot continue to be the world leader in scientific progress without increased and sustained support from Congress. Professor Donoho’s talk gave a great example of how our federal investment in basic science research pays off for American taxpayers.

Our next briefing will take place in late November or early December. If you live in the area and would like to be on our mailing list, contact Anita Benjamin at alb@ams.org

Photos by Scavone Photography

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Promoting Diversity in the Mathematical Sciences

The AMS recently endorsed two bills that are part of Senator Mazie Hirono’s (Hawai’i) plan to promote women and minorities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions and careers. Companion bills were introduced in the House of Representatives by Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX 30) and Carolyn Maloney (NY 12). One of the two bills, the STEM Opportunities Act, will be especially important to the AMS and its members as it provides universities and nonprofits with opportunities to receive competitive grants and recognition for mentoring women and minorities in STEM.

We are working with other Congressional offices on the language of similar bills that aim to remove barriers and increase opportunities for women, first-generation and other students in underrepresented communities.

Thus, it was timely that last week I had the privilege to participate in a meeting of stakeholders at the University of Nebraska. This was part of the NSF INCLUDES Women Achieving through Community Hubs in the U.S. (WATCH US) grant. This project seeks to increase and diversify the number of professional mathematicians in the United States by identifying and proliferating best practices and known mechanisms for increasing the success of women in mathematics graduate programs, particularly women from under-represented groups.

WATCH US leaders are Ruth Haas (Hawaii), Deanna Haunsperger (Carleton), Ami Radunskaya (Pomona), and Judy Walker (Nebraska).  Importantly, they brought in a great team of social science researchers, led by Trish Wonch Hill who, along with grant evaluator Mindy Anderson-Knott, is part of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium (SBSRC) at Nebraska.

The research team collaborated with six successful conferences and programs who have collectively served more than 5,000 participants over the span of 20 years to collect data for their report. The six programs are:

  1. Carleton College Summer Mathematics Program for Women (SMP)
  2. Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics (NCUWM)
  3. The EDGE (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education) Program
  4. Smith College Center for Women in Mathematics Post-baccalaureate Program (CWM)
  5. The Women and Mathematics Program (WAM) at the Institute for Advanced Study
  6. The Infinite Possibilities Conference (IPC)

These programs have targeted women in mathematics at different stages in their undergraduate and graduate education, with different strategies to building community, creating a sense of belonging, and promoting a growth mind set. Which elements of enrichment programs/conferences in mathematics are critical to success? Do programs work differently for women of color or for first generation women than for majority women?

Sadly for many of us, several of these programs have lost their federal funding and now face an uncertain future. The WATCH US workshop was part of the NSF INCLUDES program; the impetus behind NSF INCLUDES is that broadening participation in science and engineering is a national challenge that requires national solutions. The approach of NSF INCLUDES is to develop networks and partnerships that involve organizations and consortia from different sectors committed to a common agenda.

After identifying elements from the above six program that are most effective, prototypes will be implemented at several sites chosen to represent a diversity of constituencies and local support infrastructure. The group will solicit proposals for prototype events this fall. While we can see in the table that the number of US citizen female recipients of the PhD has stagnated, the right end of the graph shows that without these programs a significant decrease may instead have occurred (I know these visuals don’t match years, and of course the graph is telling a related but different story!).

The numbers in the table can also be compared to the percentages of women receiving PhDs in mathematics and statistics in Europe where, according to the recent She Figures report, 35% of PhD recipients in these fields are female. It is vital to our nation’s competitiveness that we confront our deficit.

Working toward a more diverse mathematics community is not new undertaking and in particular the directors and other leaders of the six programs above have worked tirelessly and helped many in significant ways. However, with funding to these programs uncertain; Title IX under scrutiny in the Department of Education, as well as in Congress and in the courts; and flatlining numbers of PhD’s going to women and individuals in underrepresented groups, it is important that those of us fighting this fight join forces with a shared endgame.




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Is there science in the House? Part II

In my last post, I gave a quick rundown of the members of Congress who hold advanced degrees, highlighting those in science. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you–particularly in the current political climate–how critically important it is for our community that math and science have many allies in Congress.

Senator Chris Coons (DE) gave this year’s William D. Carey Lecture at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Forum on Science and Technology Policy . Senator Coons gave a magnificent and truly rousing presentation on Defending Science and Catalyzing Progress: A Bipartisan Formula for the Future. The Carey lecturers are chosen for their commitment to “articulating public policy issues engendered by the application of science and technology.” And, Senator Gary Peters (MI) recently wrote on the importance of scientific research. Senator Peters, along with Senator Gardner (CO), sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for a substantial increase in federal funding for science, research, and development at the National Science Foundation. Their request is consistent with the $8 billion NSF appropriation that the AMS is supporting for FY2018.

There are two recent pieces written by members of Congress that I want to draw your attention to in particular. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Representative Jerry McNerney (CA 9) are members that all AMS members should know about and–if this is the sort of thing you do–follow on social media. Many AMS members have felt under duress at the least and some have been directly affected by actions the Trump administration has taken. Senator Whitehouse and Representative McNerney are outspoken about the threats to science, and each has asked us to act, one as individuals, and one in concert with our university homes.

Rhode Island is a state high on the radar of mathematicians. Not only are AMS headquarters there, but one of the seven NSF-funded mathematical sciences research institutes is based at Brown University. The Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) brings mathematicians from all over the world to Rhode Island, for short workshops or semester-long programs.

The state’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse recently published his view of actions our universities should take to battle current threats to the scientific enterprise. He starts by pointing out that American universities afford a home to much of this enterprise; a point not understood by all! And, with prescience, he articulates the role he feels universities should take in combatting the “science denial machinery” so much a part of our current Administration. His opinions on our Unprecedented and Unprincipled Adversary appeared in Inside Higher Ed during the period between the November election and the January inauguration of President Trump. Senator Whitehouse challenges universities to step up and take action.

And, as mentioned in the preceding blog post, there is, in fact, a Ph.D. mathematician serving in Congress. Representative Jerry McNerney has served in Congress for a decade. He recently expressed his views on The truth about the War on Science in The Hill (a newspaper and website that aim to offer non-partisan and objective comprehensive coverage of the capitol). He comments on the trend that has “emerged that dismisses science as irrelevant or false.” Representative McNerney asks us to step up as individuals, to challenge the “Trump administration’s crusade against science.”

This is, of course, not the first time these members important to our community have spoken up about science. Indeed, they are fully committed to scientific inquiry broadly and policy decisions based on scientific evidence and knowledge. Representative McNerney is an honored and active member of the math community–he has spoken on the House floor about twin primes, and he has attended the Joint Mathematics Meetings (most recently in 2014, and we hope he attends again in 2019, when it will be a short trip for him to make to Baltimore).

These are not the only Congressional members who speak out and write on behalf of science but when a mathematician in Congress and a Senator from our headquarters’ state write, we should pay attention!

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Is there science in the House? Part I

In November of 2016, not only did we elect a new president, but many House and Senate seats were filled, some with incumbents, some with so-called Freshman.

I always wonder about congressional members’ training and interests in science, so I started asking the question “How many congressional members have post-secondary degrees in a scientific field?” Well, this question is not as well-formed as one might hope. Am I asking for bachelor’s degrees? Does a medical degree count? What about engineering degrees? You get the point. So, I asked a new question, which was easier to answer (though still had some ambiguities to work through). The new question: “How many congressional members have a doctorate degree of any type, and in what fields?”

An important question would be: why would one care? My first answer is that I just find it plain interesting. Perhaps a better answer revolves around the abilities of lawmakers to pass effective legislation. Along these lines, Craig Volden (University of Virginia), Jonathan Wai (Duke University), and Alan E. Wiseman (Vanderbilt University) show, in a forthcoming paper, that Representatives with degrees from more elite institutions are more effective at lawmaking, especially in producing the most substantive and significant laws.

As it turns out, there are 22 members of the House of Representatives of this 115th Congress who hold a Ph.D., Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree. They are:

Alma Adams (NC-12) – Art Education & Multicultural Education
Dave Brat (VA-7) – Economics
​Judy Chu (CA-27) – Clinical Psychology
Tom Cole (OK-4) – 19th Century British History
Henry Cuellar (TX-28) – Government
Danny Davis (IL-7) – Public Administration
Bill Foster (IL-11) – Physics
Virginia Foxx (NC-5) – Curriculum & Teaching/Higher Ed (Ed.D.)
Mike Gallagher (WI-8) – International Relations
Jody Hice (GA-10) – Ministry
Robin Kelly (IL-2) – Political Science
Derek Kilmer (WA-6) – Comparative Social Policy (DPhil, Oxford–Marshall Scholar)
Dan Lipinski (IL-3) – Political Science
David Loebsack (IA-2) – Political Science
Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) – Psychology
Jerry McNerney (CA-9) – Mathematics
Tim Murphy (PA-18) – Psychology
David Price (NC-4) – Political Science
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) – Education
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-9) – Justice Studies
Dina Titus (NV-1) – Political Science
Robert Wittman (VA-1) – Public Policy & Administration

​Senate-side, there are only two holders of Ph.Ds.: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth has a Ph.D. in Human Services, and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has a Ph.D. in American History.

Notably, there is one mathematician, and one physicist in Congress right now. Representative Bill Foster (IL-11) was

a high-energy physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). Bill was a member of the team that discovered the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter. He also led the teams that designed and built several scientific facilities and detectors still in use today, including the Recycler Ring, the latest of Fermilab’s giant particle accelerators. When Bill first ran for Congress, his campaign was endorsed by 31 Nobel Prize Winners.[1]

Representative Jerry McNerney (CA-9) has a Ph.D. in mathematics, and worked for several years at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. He is a very good friend to the math community, and has made appearances at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. Indeed,

McNerney returned from the 2014 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, for example, jazzed about headway mathematicians had made in settling a long-open question. Less than a month later, on February 11, McNerney took to the microphone in the House chamber. “Madam Speaker,” he said. “I would like to talk about twin prime numbers.”[2]

Of course, science has many supporters in Congress, and some of our allies have strong scientific backgrounds. For example, Representative Louise Slaughter (NY-5) has a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and a Master of Science degree in Public Health. And, a great supporter of science and STEM education on the Senate side is Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who has an undergraduate degree in mathematics.




[1] http://foster.house.gov/about/full-biography

[2] http://mathcomm.org/math-by-the-minute-on-capitol-hill/

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Interested in working at the National Science Foundation?

Have you been hankering to come live in Washington, DC and give back to the math community? If so, please consider applying to the NSF Rotator Program. “Rotator” is not a technical term, just slang for an NSF employee in a non-permanent position. A rotator is a mathematician (or other scientist, engineer, or educator) who, typically, spends 1 or 2 years at the NSF and then returns to their home institution. Rotators make recommendations about which proposals to fund; influence new directions in the fields of science, engineering, and education; support cutting-edge interdisciplinary research; and mentor junior research members. As a rotator living in the Washington, DC area, you will learn about the rich and fascinating landscape of science funding. You’ll be able to work with scientists from all fields, from all over the country, and engage in exciting events in the area, scientific and otherwise. This is a great way to serve the mathematics community and learn about the breadth of activities going on at the NSF.

For rotator positions in the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) there is no deadline or formal application process. There are, on average, about seven openings each year and DMS is constantly recruiting rotators. If you, or someone you know might be interested, you/they can contact a DMS program director or the Division Director (DD) communicating your/their interest.

Finally, you may have heard that the current Division Director for the DMS, Michael Vogelius, will be leaving that post soon. The DD leads a team of program officers in managing a broad portfolio of investments in research and education in the mathematical and statistical sciences. DMS is one division in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) and the DD for DMS is a member of the MPS leadership team. The DD fosters partnerships with other Divisions, Directorates, Federal agencies, scientific organizations, and the academic community. Recruitment for Michael Vogelius’s replacement is underway.

Here are some links, should you wish to nominate a colleague, or apply yourself:

Information about rotators at NSF https://www.nsf.gov/careers/rotator/

Rotators in DMS https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2017/dms17001/dms17001.jsp?org=NSF

DMS Division Director https://www.nsf.gov/careers/openings/

DMS program director (and my grad school friend) in the Algebra and Number Theory Program Matt Douglass helped me with some details of this post; I acknowledge and appreciate his help!

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The Congressional Budget Process Drama Continues — Countdown to April 28

As promised in my previous post, we now delve in to see what is going on right now with the federal budget process and in particular with funding for research in basic science. That previous post gives a broader view of how this annual process usually unfolds, or is supposed to unfold each year.

During inauguration years, we expect the budget process to be slower than during non-inauguration years, and this year is no exception. The federal government is currently running on a Continuing Budget Resolution (CR) (H.R. 2028). This bill provides continuing appropriations for most federal agencies through April 28, 2017; it prevents a partial government shutdown that would otherwise occur, because eleven of the twelve FY2017 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government have not yet been enacted. This CR provides for the continuation of appropriations at the levels of, and under the terms and conditions of, the FY 2016 appropriations Acts.

Of the twelve annual regular appropriations bills, Congress has passed only one – the defense spending bill. Congress is currently working on the remaining eleven bills, but if these are not passed by April 28, another CR must be passed to avoid government shutdown. The Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriations is the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS, House and Senate). Both of these subcommittees passed their respective bills last year, but the two are at odds and will have to be reconciled.

The top line funding levels from the President’s Budget for FY 2018 were released on March 16 in the so-called “skinny budget” titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” [When you read “skinny”, think “skeletal” not “lean”.] While this document represents the administration’s priorities and serves as a starting point for the appropriations process, it is Congress that passes the budget. Indeed, Congress fiercely defends its prerogative to make appropriations.

The President’s full budget is expected in early May. It is not clear what will happen, but the image that emerges is that this blueprint seeks to substantially scale back federal investments in science and technology research and development. The figure below (shown by permission from the AAAS) shows these cuts. And, yes, there is proposed a total elimination of the ARPA-E program; ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies.

The President’s blueprint does not include funding information for NSF. The AMS – together with 285 other organizations – sent a letter to House and Senate leadership and Appropriation Chairs and Subcommittee chairs in both chambers requesting NSF be funded at $8 billion for FY 2018. This amount represents a 4% increase, adjusted for inflation, over FY 2016 enacted levels. Some senators have picked up this request, and are urging their colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to support this substantial increase in funding for the NSF.

As one might expect, most Democrats are criticizing the President’s budget request. And, some Republicans are praising it, while others are criticizing it. As we make the case for increased and sustained investment in research and development (R&D), we often argue that this is necessary for the United States to stay competitive in some sense. In this context, you might note that the U.S. has been slipping in rank when our R&D investment is considered as a percentage of our GDP. The most recent data analyzed shows that over the past 5-10 years, our investment has been between 2.7 and 2.8%. Israel and South Korea are making the largest investments, with over 4% of their GDP going to R&D.

Investments in basic research improve our quality of life, strengthen our national security, and create jobs. It is easy to find (and I venture a guess that many of you are well-versed with) media arguing that cuts to science funding would put at risk our nation’s economic growth and position as a global scientific leader. The importance of such investment has been recognized as long as our country has existed. George Washington, in his First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union (January 8, 1790), proclaimed that

“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”

Congress returns from its current two-week recess next week and then has four days (until April 28) to settle the FY 2017 budget. It will be a tall order to pass the remaining appropriations bills in such a short window. Anything is possible. All remaining appropriations bills could pass separately (very unlikely), or an omnibus funding bill – one that puts funding for the entire government in one bill rather than twelve – could pass (less unlikely but major obstacles exist). It seems quite likely that we will see another CR making it possible for the federal government to stay open until the fiscal year ends on September 30.

If the government does shut down, April 29 will be Day 1 of the shutdown and President Trump’s 100th day in office.

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The Congressional Budget Process: A Quick Introduction

In my last post, I asked you to reach out to your congressional delegation and request they support an $8 billion National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriation for fiscal year 2018 funding. In this post, I am going to tell you a bit about how the annual budget process unfolds, or is supposed to unfold each year. In a post coming soon, I will tell you more about how this year’s process is unfolding.

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 guides the process by which Congress decides how much money to spend each year, what to spend it on, and how to raise money to pay for that spending.

The President is to release his or her budget proposal on the first Monday in February although in inauguration years, a delay is expected. After this introduction, the budget works its way through each of the House and Senate, and the President’s budget is only a request to Congress; Congress is not required to adopt his or her recommendations. Congress passes twelve appropriations bills annually. The House and Senate Budget Committees, working separately, establish top-line numbers for spending, with input from other legislators, committee chairs, and party leadership. Once these top-line numbers are established, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees begin their work. They take the spending target determined by the Budget Committees and divide it between the twelve appropriations subcommittees (one for each of the twelve bills that are to be passed each year).

The one subcommittee — of the twelve — that funds the NSF is Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (take a look at the House and Senate members, see if a member of your congressional delegation is one). This subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes other agencies such as NASA, NIST, NOAA, and OSTP, and also the Federal Prison Industries Incorporated and the Commission on Civil Rights, among other programs.

Finally, to give you an idea of what sort of investment the nation makes in science, let’s take a look at the FY2015 budget. The budget process just described addresses the piece of the pie on the left below, labelled “discretionary” (the 32% wedge). These programs are called “discretionary” because Congress must set funding levels for them each year through the appropriations process. In contrast, we have the “entitlement” or “mandatory” programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the 62% wedge).

Discretionary funds are categorized as “defense” or “non-defense.” In 2015, non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending totaled $585 billion, or 16% of federal spending (the other 16% of discretionary is defense related). Science, environment, and energy programs constituted 12% ($70 billion) of NDD spending in 2015. Roughly half of the spending in this category supports conservation and the management of natural resources, such as national parks, and other environmental programs, including those in the Environmental Protection Agency. One-quarter of the spending covers NASA’s space exploration and related scientific research. The remaining spending supports the NSF and the Department of Energy, and water resources infrastructure.

I am sure you have been reading about President Trump’s proposed cuts to many NDD programs; I look forward to grappling with this year’s process in a soon-to-come post!

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Time to contact your representatives in congress about NSF Funding!

Many of you who have your research supported by the federal government receive funding from the National Science Foundation. You might receive funds from another agency, like the National Security Agency (the NSA Mathematical Sciences Program entertained a total of 340 research proposals in 2015), but the NSF is the only federal agency with the primary goal of supporting research across the full spectrum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And, we’ve just learned that the NSA cannot give any awards this year to individual researchers, so even more demand for funding mathematics research might come to the NSF.

Ever wonder how the NSF gets money to fund our mathematical research and efforts in education in the mathematical sciences? The amount that the NSF has at its disposal to fund research is determined every year, and is done so through the “appropriations” process. While not all members of Congress sit on the committees that draft the bills to provide annual funding (appropriations) for federal government programs, every member of Congress has the opportunity to submit their opinion through “member appropriations requests.” As your members of Congress begin submitting their requests for fiscal year 2018 (FY18), you can encourage them to assign a high priority to the NSF.

I work in Washington with the Coalition for National Science Funding, and we have decided to request $8 billion for the NSF for fiscal year 2018. In an effort to keep this post somewhat readable and not terribly long, I will not explain the reasoning here but am always happy to answer questions.

This is the right time to ask the members of your congressional delegation to include funding for the NSF in their FY18 appropriations requests.

There are many federal budget pressures, such as the President’s $54 billion increase for defense funding, and we are concerned that the budget for basic science research (including NSF) will get cut exactly at the time when other countries are increasing investment.

Don’t know who your representative and/or senators are? The government has user-friendly websites for finding your Representative in the House and your two Senators. You can then write your own, individualized letter (see editable text below) and send a hard copy to their Washington DC office, or you can check out their websites for email submission instructions. By the way, if you live and work in different districts, feel free to send your letter to the two different representatives.

A few facts. Appropriations for the NSF are the jurisdiction of the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee, one of the twelve subcommittees of the House Committee on Appropriations. Although this post is about actions you can take with your representative in the House; Senate-side action can be taken in a similar way.

I repeat, this is the right time to ask the members of your congressional delegation to include funding for the NSF in their FY18 appropriations requests!

The deadline for your representative to submit her/his appropriations requests is April 4. Your letter will help inform the request your representative submits so I would encourage you to get your letter in by March 25. The sooner the better.

The New Yorker’s very recent article “Call and Response” by Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz gives a fascinating and detailed account of how Congressional offices interact with people who contact them (March 6, 2017, p 26-32). One point it makes — personalized emails, personalized letters and editorials in local newspapers are effective ways to influence lawmaker’s opinions.

Use the editable text below to personalize a letter to your Congressional representatives urging them to request robust funding for the NSF. Tell a story! If you have an NSF grant, or know of one at your home institution that benefits faculty and students, I encourage you to add text to tell a little bit about what the grant is for, and how it benefits their home district or state. If you can, tell how the NSF award benefits the students, either explicitly or in some subtler way.

Another idea: a powerful letter could come from a mathematics department (especially one at a public institution) and you could change all the words like “I” and “my” to “we” and “our” in the below and send this letter on behalf of the department. Imagine your representative receiving a letter from one of her/his district’s most important departments in higher education telling a story about training the workforce for the area.

Thank you, in advance, for doing your part to protect NSF funding.

Dear [Recipient],

As your constituent, I appreciate the challenge Congress faces as it allocates scarce discretionary dollars across numerous federal agencies and programs. As you determine your appropriations priorities for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), I hope you will consider including my request to ensure maximized funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF). I ask that you ensure our nation continues to reap the benefits of a strong National Science Foundation (NSF) by providing $8 billion in your Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) appropriations requests.

The NSF supports America’s basic research in science and engineering, and helps ensure young people have access to education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.  Both of these functions are strategic imperatives if our nation is to maintain its global economic leadership. Please request robust funding for NSF in FY18.

Optional: add a story

Thank you for your leadership and for stewarding our nation’s unrivaled research capacity.

[Your closing]

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The Washington Office – A Primer

Welcome! This is the first post for this new blog. I look forward to writing to you about what we are doing in Washington for the AMS, and about ways in which you can be involved in this.

I began as Director of the AMS’s Washington Office in January, succeeding Sam Rankin who had been in the position for over two decades. The Washington Office is at the center of the AMS’s science policy and advocacy efforts.

According to a McKinley survey done as part of recent AMS strategic planning efforts, only 58% of AMS members even know this office exists. I am looking forward to capitalizing on the fact that this same survey shows that 95% of respondents, when asked about future priorities of the AMS, list increased advocacy as a most important priority (62%) or as a somewhat important priority (33%).

The first thing to know is that we are located at Dupont Circle, a vibrant area in DC that is exactly one mile north of the White House, and about another mile down Pennsylvania Avenue to the US Capitol building. All AMS members are warmly invited to drop by and visit. If you are planning a visit, and I have fair warning, I can arrange visits for you with your representatives in Congress, help you figure out what to talk about with them, and likely accompany you on these visits. More about how to make effective Hill visits in further posts!

Many congressional members and staff understand that mathematics is the foundational discipline upon which technological innovation and global competitiveness depends. A central goal is to expand their understanding of scientific and mathematical issues and concerns in order to have them push for increasing the federal investment in research and education that will fuel future economic growth.

How do we do this work?

It is not quite “location, location, location” but more “relationships, relationships, relationships.” Key to my work is establishing trusting relations with folks from congressional offices, government agencies, other professional organizations in the sciences, university umbrella groups (such as the APLU), and business and industry so that the AMS (and indeed the mathematical community more broadly) is viewed as a partner and resource. I am following the annual federal budget process to educate myself as I advocate for maximized funding for scientific research and education, and establishing relations with congressional offices. I want mathematicians “at the table,” and I want congressional offices – from both parties – to look to us as a resource.

It is part of the privilege of my position that I can attend Congressional hearings. I attended the first in a series of hearings on cybersecurity, a hot topic in DC. One of the witnesses at this hearing – Dr. Charles Romine (National Institute of Standards and Technology) – is a mathematician. And, I attended parts of the confirmation hearings of our new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Since January, I’ve made visits to several members of Congress. We talk about maximizing funding for basic research and the current congressional priorities as laid out, for example, by House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chair Lamar Smith (TX-21-R). In hindsight, it is often easier to appreciate how basic research in mathematics benefits our society and economy. However, congressional members (most) often would not know, for example, that advances in theoretical mathematics were employed to develop the PageRank algorithm, now famously used by Google. We know these stories, and congressional members can use them to push for more funding for science in their annual budget-setting process. It is our job to make sure they know these stories too. My experience is that congressional staff members like to talk about math, and I leave them not only with information about NSF investments in their home districts and states, but also with a beautiful AMS calendar and, lately, because it is timely, point out that April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month.

These examples are just to give you an idea of what the AMS’s advocacy efforts in DC look like.

Tune in here to this new blog for regular news, background information about our work, and opportunities for how you can engage in the discussion in DC.

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