The success of the NSA hinges on the health of American math education. "If the U.S. mathematics community isn't healthy," Schatz says, "the NSA isn't healthy."
Unlike the tech companies it must compete with, the NSA can hire only U.S. citizens. This is a severe constraint. About half of the estimated 20,000 math graduate students at U.S. universities are foreigners. They're off bounds, as are the bountiful math brains in India, China, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.
Whether the outcome of this competition is another sign that math and science education in the U.S. needs improvement may spur debate. But the fact remains: Of 70 finalists, 20 were from China, 10 from Russia and two from the U.S.