Policy and Advocacy News

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AMS/MSRI Congressional Briefing on Cybersecurity
November 28, 2017:Twice per year, the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) jointly sponsor a congressional briefing. These briefings provide an opportunity for communicating information to policymakers and, in particular, for the mathematics community to tell compelling stories of how our federal investment in basic research in mathematics and the sciences pays off for American taxpayers and helps our nation maintain its place as the world leader in innovation.

Our next briefing will take place on Wednesday, December 6. Dr. Shafi Goldwasser will discuss issues around enabling privacy in a data-driven world.If you are planning to be in Washington, D.C. that day, you are welcome to join us. Please contact AMS Government Relations Director Karen Saxe. if you would like to attend.

Dr. Goldwasser is currently the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. She will become the new director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California, Berkeley, on January 1, 2018.

Goldwasser’s pioneering contributions include the introduction of zero-knowledge interactive proofs, protocols, and multi-party secure protocols, which are key technologies for online identification, utilizing block chains for distributed transactions and for data intensive collaborations in regulated industries.

JPBM Statement on NSF Big Ideas
November 8, 2017: In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) introduced its ten Big Ideas, identifying areas of national importance for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering (S&E). These ideas include several in which mathematics and statistics play a key role, including Harnessing the Data Revolution, Understanding the Rules of Life, and the Quantum Leap. In her testimony before the Subcommittee on Research and Technology for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the U. S. House of Representatives, NSF Chief Operating Officer Joan Ferrini-Mundy signaled the role these ideas may play in funding decisions: “Funding the research that will advance these ideas, and efforts to develop the talented people who can pursue them, will push forward the frontiers of U.S.- based science and engineering, contribute to innovative approaches to solving some of the most pressing problems the world faces, and lead to unimagined discoveries that can change lives.”

The NSF is the only federal agency that funds basic research in all fields of fundamental S&E, and over 60 percent of funding for research in the mathematical sciences comes from the NSF. The Big Ideas are already driving forward new funding opportunities for the mathematical and statistical science research communities, such as Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science (TRIPODS) and the NSF-Simons Research Centers for Mathematics of Complex Biological Systems (MathBioSys).

The Joint Policy Board for Mathematics -- consisting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), American Statistical Association (ASA), Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) -- has issued a statement on Mathematics and Statistics Community Engagement with NSF Big Ideas, which can be found here

Legislation introduced would affect NSF operations
October 30, 2017: Two bills have been introduced in the past weeks that, if signed into law, would affect the mathematics and science research community in significant ways.

Senator Rand Paul (KY) introduced the BASIC Research Act (S. 1973) which would fundamentally alter how grant proposals are reviewed at federal agencies, including at the NSF. Senator Paul has not been able to convince a single Senate colleague to co-sponsor the bill and it has little chance of moving through Congress. However, most proposed legislation never even gets a hearing, and Paul did achieve that. The hearing, titled “Broken Beakers: Federal Support for Research,” was his effort to convince others that there’s a lot of “silly research” being done that does not deserve federal funding. A key piece of the bill would change the peer review process: “each review panel for a specific Federal research grant shall include—(1) at least one individual who is not professionally affiliated with any academic or research institution, has not been professionally affiliated in the 10 years preceding the date of inclusion on the panel, and is an expert in a field unrelated to the field of research under which the grant proposal was submitted; and (2) at least one individual who shall serve primarily as a “taxpayer advocate” (defined as someone whose main focus is on the value proposed research delivers to the taxpayer).” The bill also subsumes the FASTR Act, which would affect open access to journals and hence the AMS publishing arm. Read AMS Director of Publishing Robert Harington’s piece on FASTR for more details.

House side, Representative Bill Foster (IL 11), the only Ph.D. physicist in Congress, proposed a significant change in the way states are identified to receive a boost in NSF funding. Since the late 1970s, NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) identifies a state as eligible for EPSCoR funds if it receives less than 0.75% of the money—$6 billion this year—that the agency spends annually on research. Representative Foster argues that this favors higher population states and his proposal is instead to identify EPSCoR states by per capita funding. Foster’s Smarter EPSCoR Act (H.R. 3763) has bipartisan support and favors states such as Florida and Georgia. These two states had relatively low per capita NSF funds in 2016, but relatively high total funding. The Office of Government Relations has compiled statistics and developed charts illustrating winners and losers under Foster’s proposal; if you would like to see these, please send email to kxs@ams.org.

Washington Update
October 16, 2017: The new federal fiscal year 2018 began October 1 and federal agencies are operating under a continuing resolution, enacted last month. The CR extends government funding through December 8, at levels close to those for fiscal year 2017 appropriations. Congress continues their work on the FY2018 budget, and the current state is (still) that both the House and Senate propose to cut the NSF budget by about 2%. Proposed trimmings are different; for example, the House cuts funding for research vessels and the Senate cuts from the Directorate for Education and Human Resources.

Science agencies will probably tread carefully with spending, until they are assured of their funding levels for the coming year. At this same time, Congress is addressing budget caps and -- given the state of play and lack of Congressional success this year -- we could still see a government shutdown when the CR expires in December. At the link about budget caps there is a letter to Congressional leaders to increase the total for government funding; the AMS is a member of two of the coalitions (CNSF and TFAI) that signed the letter. Also, as mentioned in my preceding post, agencies are working on the FY2019 budget requests.

In the White House, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) remains without leadership. However, President Trump issued an executive order over the weekend renewing the charter of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which had been set to expire on September 30. Even though the charter is now renewed through September 2019, we do not have reassurance that a PCAST will see the light of day; this will happen after an OSPT leader is named.

Congressional Budget Watch & Info
September 5, 2017: As Congress returns to Washington this week, funding decisions for FY2018 still have to be made. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills that fund the National Science Foundation, rejecting the Administration's proposed 11% reduction to the research agency. Both bills would provide approximately $7.3 billion, a 2% decrease from the fiscal year 2017 level. These bills however, differ vastly in how the funds are distributed within the NSF and must be reconciled as (only a small) part of full budget decisions to be made.

While Senators and Representatives were busy in their home states and districts during recess, the White House issued its memo providing guidance for the FY2019 budget, which puts front and center the priority to “streamline government by ensuring that the Federal Government spends precious taxpayer dollars only on worthwhile policies, and in the most efficient, effective manner.” We see this already rearing its head in, for example, the House Republicans 2018 budget plan which proposes that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) be consolidated within the NSF.

The White House has also issued its memo outlining its research and development budget priorities; these priorities are to receive focus from the various federal agencies (including the NSF) as they develop their FY2019 budget requests. In summary, these priorities are military superiority; security against physical and cyber threats both at home and abroad; job creation in “emerging technology” fields; development of domestic energy sources and cost-lowering; and biomedical programs that improve health outcomes while lowering healthcare costs. This memo also highlights supporting innovation in early-stage research, maximizing inter-agency coordination, maintaining and modernizing research infrastructure, and improving STEM education.

Senator Whitehouse visits the AMS
On August 24 Rhode Island’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse visited the AMS Printing and Distribution Department in Pawtucket. The print shop prints approximately 80 new books per year and about 100 mathematical journal issues, and the Distribution Department houses and fulfills orders for over 3,000 AMS book titles, AMS journals, and posters, as well as publications of other societies and publishers. AMS staff enjoyed the visit and the opportunity to meet the Senator and show off the good work being done in Pawtucket.

As usual, it was very loud at the site, as every machine was humming. Each machine had a different function (printing, collating, folding, gluing, trimming), which gave an opportunity to feature our journals,books, and the AMS Calendar of Mathematical Imagery in various stages of production.Senator Whitehouse shook hands and spoke with each employee. Robert Harington explained how important it is that we do it all here in Rhode Island – starting with hiring mathematicians to acquire books from mathematicians, to working with the author to construct the book files, to printing the book, to warehousing the book, to taking the orders for the purchase of the book, to packing up the book and mailing it out.The Senator even packed up an envelope, scanned the invoice, printed out the postage label and sealed it all up.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a lawyer by training, and has served as one of the U.S. Senators from Rhode Island since 2007. Before that he served the state in many ways, including as Policy Director for the Governor, as Director of the Department of Business Regulation, and as Attorney General. As a Senator, one of his legislative priorities is economic opportunity. On April 25, 2017 Catherine Roberts and AMS Office of Government Relations Director Karen Saxe met with Senator Whitehouse and two of his staff members in Washington. At that time, the Senator expressed interest in visiting the Pawtucket facility; the visit finally came to fruition on August 24.

This visit was a great opportunity for an elected policy maker to learn about the AMS and engage with constituents. The Office of Government Relations is here to help you tell your stories to your elected officials -- if you are interested in inviting your elected officials to your university or business and want some help, please get in touch!


Hirono Introduces STEM Opportunities Acts
Senator Senator Mazie K. Hirono (HI) has introduced the STEM Opportunities Act (S. 1270) and the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act (S.1246), in a plan to increase opportunities for women and minorities in STEM. Introduced with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) Ranking Member on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the Act would help create grant opportunities and better promote inclusion efforts at federal sciences agencies and elsewhere.

Karen Saxe, Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations, explains "women and minorities are lost at every key point along the way in STEM classes and degree programs. Success in mathematics in particular is the most significant barrier to degree completion in both STEM and non-STEM fields ... it is critically important that we have programs in place -- like those promoted by the STEM Opportunities and STEM Booster Acts -- that help share best practices for overcoming these barriers and ensure that we are able to retain women and minorities in STEM fields." Learn more about this new legislation.


Congressional Budget Watch & Info
August 8, 2017: Last week Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Perdue (GA) introduced their “RAISE Act” which would reduce legal immigration by half within 10 years. The RAISE Act introduces a “point system”, whereby the government would decide who has “high skills” and would take power away from universities in making hiring decisions. President Trump is supporting this bill, and it fits with another proposal that would affect academia -- his promise to scrutinize the H-1B visa program. Additionally, the RAISE Act would eliminate visa preferences for extended family members, and decrease the number of refugees.

Both House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed their work on their respective funding bills for the NSF for FY2018. For the total NSF appropriation, these two bills agree on a 2% decrease, much more favorable than President Trump’s suggested 11% decrease. Most AMS member’s research grants come from the NSF’s Research and Related Activities account; the president proposes an 11% decrease, the Senate a 2% decrease, and the House flat funding for this account. We are appreciative that these bills to not give explicit direction on how the NSF should distribute funds among its six research directorates. The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) sits inside the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS). The House and Senate bills must be reconciled, as a next step.

Federal funding of STEM education is also on the chopping block. Big cuts are proposed to NSF, Department of Education, Department of Energy and other agencies that fund programs in STEM education. As just one example, Trump’s budget includes elimination altogether of the Offices of Education at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the House and Senate appropriators are moving forward, there is a long way to go and a government shutdown is possible if a budget is not fixed by the end of September. Another barrier to a budget agreement is that the proposed figures exceed the spending caps set in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which the White House is supposed to enforce. However, since the White House has also called for military spending that busts the caps, it is unlikely the caps will be enforced. September will most likely be a dramatic month of budget negotiations for our senators and representatives.

See the Office of Government Relations blog for information on how the annual Congressional process unfolds (or should unfold). And, see the latest updates from the AAAS Research and Development Budget Program, including amid-session reviewof where we are with appropriations and where we are headed next.

House Republican Group Advocates Lifting Spending Caps
Some members of the Tuesday Group Caucus, a centrist Republican group in the U.S. House of Representatives, have sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan with concerns about the FY2018 budget process.

The group wants to lift spending caps for defense and non-defense discretionary programs. Crafting a bipartisan, bicameral budget that will raise these caps will allow spending levels for agencies like the National Science Foundation to be increased. There is also concern among the group that spending cuts will hamper tax reform efforts and they do not want to proceed with the FY2018 budget process until the health care debate has reached a conclusion.

The AMS encourages mathematicians and others whose representatives signed on to this letter to thank them for recognizing that these spending cuts, if they are perpetuated, will certainly do harm to scientific research efforts. As Congress prepares for its August recess, please also consider meeting with your representatives while they are in their home districts in addition to writing them in their Washington, DC offices.

Mathematics on Capitol Hill
The American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) co-sponsored a Congressional lunch briefing on June 28, 2017. Professor David Donoho (Stanford University) explained to Congressional representatives 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 Siemens 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. See the Office of Government Relations blog "ICYMI - A great Congressional Briefing!"

For more information: AMS Office of Government Relations

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