Computing Research Policy Blog

The Computing Research Association (CRA) has been involved in shaping public policy of relevance to computing research for more than two decades. More recently the CRA Government Affairs program has enhanced its efforts to help the members of the computing research community contribute to the public debate knowledgeably and effectively.

House Science Committee Passes NITRD Reauthorization!


Today the House Science, Space, & Technology Committee unanimously passed the “Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Modernization Act of 2016” (note, as of press time, the act has not been assigned a bill number). The bill is written to update the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 and modernize the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program in line with recent recommendations from the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCast). In his opening statement, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) pointed out, “networking and information technology ultimately supports and boosts American competitiveness, enhances national security, helps strengthen the economy, and creates millions of jobs.” And in her own opening statement, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) concurred with Chairman Smith, saying, “when the original High Performance Computing Act was enacted in 1991, I don’t think any of its sponsors could begin to imagine how central networking and information technologies would become to our lives, and to our society.” After short debate, and only one non-controversial amendment, the bill was approved unanimously and is now headed to the full House for a vote.

The Computing Research Association submitted a letter of endorsement to the committee for the bill, saying that CRA is, “pleased to support your efforts to bolster Federal information technology research.” The letter further says:

We believe this Act makes the NITRD program stronger by improving the planning and coordination of the National Coordination Office for NITRD, requiring that the NCO and the NITRD agencies create a five-year strategic plan for the program, and requiring the periodic review and assessment of the program contents and funding. All have been recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology in their recent reviews of the program.

Looking ahead, since the legislation is bipartisan and non-controversial, it’s likely to pass the full House chamber. However, the bill’s fate in the Senate is less clear; when the House has passed similar NITRD reauthorizations in the past four Congresses, the Senate has failed to consider the legislation. We will continue to monitor the progress of this bill as it moves through Congress and will provide more updates as they happen.

NSF Funded Vision Assistance Technology Amazes at the 2016 CNSF Exhibition


On April 26th, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an alliance of over 140 professional organizations, universities, and businesses, held their 22nd Annual Capitol Hill Exhibition. CNSF supports the goal of increasing the federal investment in the National Science Foundation’s research and education programs, and the exhibition itself is a great way to show members of Congress and their staff what research the American people have funded.

Gus Smith, left, demonstrates his visual assistance smart glove to France Cordova, NSF Director. Peter Zientra, right, looks on.

Gus Smith, left, demonstrates his visual assistance smart glove to France Cordova, NSF Director. Peter Zientra, right, looks on.

This year the Computing Research Association, a member of CNSF, sponsored the research group led by Vijaykrishnan Narayanan at Penn State University, demonstrated multiple pieces of technology under “Visual Shopping Assistance for Person with Visual Impairment.” Dr. Narayanan was assisted in exhibiting his group’s research by some of his students and colleagues: Nandhini Chandramoorthy and Peter Zientra, PhD students at Penn State; Ikenna Okafor and Gus Smith, both undergrad researchers at Penn State; Kevin Irick, a former faculty student at Penn State and current founder and CEO of SiliconScapes; and Laurent Itti, professor of computer science, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. The group’s research has been conducted under their “Visual Cortex on Silicon” project, which is funded by NSF’s Expedition in Computing program.

Kevin Irick, right, demonstrates his visual assistance eyepiece to a exhibition attendee.

Kevin Irick, right, demonstrates his visual assistance eyepiece to a exhibition attendee.

There were two pieces of technology that the group demonstrated at the exhibition: a smart glove with tactile feedback and a visual assistance eyepiece. The smart glove was demonstrated by Ikenna Okafor and Gus Smith; the photo above with Mr. Smith and Francis Cordova, shows the device. You can view a demonstration of the glove on the research group’s website (first video). The device has a camera in the palm and interprets the visual data to detect a desired object and direct the user to it using tactile feedback in the glove. The eyepiece, demonstrated by Kevin Irick and Peter Zientra, interprets data to read the labels of products in a grocery store aisle and directs the user, using audio directions, to a specific item. You can see Kevin demonstrating the glasses, along with the mock grocery aisle, in the photo above. Both of these devices have major applications for visually impaired people, as well as other computer vision uses.

Laurent Itti, left, explains his research to Jim Kurose, Assistant Director of CISE at NSF.

Laurent Itti, left, explains his research to Jim Kurose, Assistant Director of CISE at NSF.

The final demonstration was performed by Laurent Itti of the University of Southern California, a member of the Visual Cortex on Silicon project. Dr. Itti demoed his visual attention, face detection, and object recognition algorithm, which is able to detect both faces and movement of people on the fly. Pointing a miniaturized camera at the passing crowd at the exhibition, the system was able to detect faces on anyone facing the camera and highlighted them with different colored boxes on the computer screen.

From left to right: Carol Frost, Division Director for the Division of Earth Sciences at NSF; Vijaykrishnan Narayanan, Penn State; Laurent Itti, University of Southern California; and Jim Kurose, Assistant Director for CISE at NSF

From left to right: Carol Frost, Division Director for the Division of Earth Sciences at NSF; Vijaykrishnan Narayanan, Penn State; Laurent Itti, University of Southern California; and Jim Kurose, Assistant Director for CISE at NSF

All of this work is supported from the CISE directorate at NSF. All three projects were well received by the attendees of the exhibition; in fact, the students fielded questions from Congressional staffers; NSF Program Officers; the Assistant Director of CISE, Jim Kurose; and even the NSF Director, France Córdova.

From left to right: Peter Zientra, Penn State; Nandhini Chandramoorthy, Penn State; Ikenna Okafor, Penn State; Jim Kurose, Assistant Director for CISE; and Gus Smith, Penn State.

From left to right: Peter Zientra, Penn State; Nandhini Chandramoorthy, Penn State; Ikenna Okafor, Penn State; Jim Kurose, Assistant Director for CISE; and Gus Smith, Penn State.

A number of other organizations had displays and were demonstrating NSF funded research at the event. From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Listening to Einstein’s Universe with LIGO,” to the American Economic Association’s “The Future of Data for Social Science Research,” to the American Mathematical Society’s “On the Movement of Cells, Birds, Fish and Other Agents: Mathematical Modeling in Biology and Ecology,” the exhibition was a great display of the different types of research being supported by NSF. Look here to see a list of some of the participating organizations and what a few of the exhibitors were presenting.

Artificial Intelligence for Social Good


This post originally ran on the Computing Community Consortium blog.

The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is proud to announce a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), and CCC co-sponsored public workshop on Artificial Intelligence for Social Good on June 7th, 2016 in Washington, DC.

There has been a dramatically increasing interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in recent years. AI has been successfully applied to societal challenge problems and it has a great potential to provide tremendous social good in the future. In this workshop, we will discuss the successful deployments and the potential use of AI in various topics that are essential for social good, including but not limited to urban computing, health, environmental sustainability, and public welfare.

Eric Horvitz, former CCC Council Member, will be a keynote speaker, discussing Artificial Intelligence in Support of People and Society. The full agenda will be published soon.

If you are interested in attending, please register here. The workshop will also be live streamed.

This is one of four workshops that OSTP is co-sponsoring which will be held around the country to spur public dialogue on artificial intelligence and machine learning and to identify challenges and opportunities related to AI. Proceedings from the workshops will feed into a public report on Artificial Intelligence that will be issued by OSTP later this year.

The other workshops are:

To learn more about the OSTP initiative and the other workshops, please see the White House OSTP blog post.

Budget Round-Up: NSF, Defense, and NIST Budget Requests Show Mixed Bag for Research


This post contains parts of an article that ran in the March edition of the Computing Research News.

To round out the President’s 2017 (FY17) Budget Requests for key science research accounts, which were released in February, we wanted to cover the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST). Combined these three accounts cover the vast majority of the Federal government’s investment in IT and computing research. The other major piece is the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

As a refresher, please read our initial analysis of the President’s request from February. To quickly sum up, all is not what it seems. The president, hamstrung by the tight discretionary funding caps (and a congressional majority not interested in revisiting them), is asking for new mandatory spending to make up the bulk of his requested increases at NSF and elsewhere in the budget. For example, of the $500 million in requested increase at NSF, the president is asking Congress for $400 million in a new “one-time” mandatory funding stream. As a reminder, mandatory spending is funding decided by statute or formula, as with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal food stamp programs; the research agencies and departments we are talking about get most-to-all of their funding in the discretionary accounts. Creating a new mandatory funding stream for NSF, or any other discretionary program, would require special legislation outside the normal appropriations process and the approval of a Republican Congress increasingly inclined to cut federal spending, not create new sources. The likelihood of Congress approving the President’s new mandatory funding streams is probably near zero.

Let’s get into specifics so you can see what’s going on.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

No other science agency, with the possible exception of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is as affected by the use of this new mandatory spending tactic as NSF.

At NSF, the research directorates are included under the Research & Related Activities (RRA) budget line. The FY 2017 top-line number for RRA is $6.4 billion, which represents a $392 million increase (6.5 percent) relative to FY 2016. However, of that increase, $346 million is funded using mandatory funding. If we just look at discretionary funding, as the appropriators will, RRA would receive a bump of only $46 million, or a 0.8 percent increase, relative to FY 2016. That’s a significant difference.

Drilling into the directorates of RRA, CISE’s FY 2017 increase is almost completely funded under the new mandatory line. CISE would only receive a ~$2 million increase in discretionary funding, or just 0.2 percent above FY 2016. This is about on par with the other research directorates.

Department of Defense (DOD)

The Department of Defense’s Science and Technology (DOD S&T) program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced research). These accounts are made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide (DW) account. DOD S&T overall would receive a 4.1 percent cut under the president’s request, going from $13 billion in FY 2016 to $12.5 billion in FY 2017.

DOD 6.1 basic research would see a significant cut under the president’s plan. The account would see a 9 percent cut, going from $2.3 billion in the FY 2016 Omnibus to $2.1 billion in the FY 2017 budget request. 6.2 applied research fares slightly better, receiving a 3.6 percent cut, going from $5 billion in FY 2016 to $4.8 billion in FY 2017. DOD 6.3 advanced technology development receives a 2.6 percent cut, going from $5.7 billion in FY 2016 to $5.6 billion in the FY 2017 request.
DARPA would see a 3.7 percent increase, going from $2.87 million in FY 2016 to $2.97 million in FY 2017.

This is a pretty disappointing DOD S&T budget request, but it is not unexpected. The leadership at DOD knows that defense S&T is a Congressional priority, so they use a little gamesmanship and remove money from S&T, expecting Congress to put it back during the budget process, and use it to fund other areas in the request that are not Congressional priorities, in the hope that some of that money will stick during appropriations. The obvious problem with this strategy is the chance that Congress won’t put those funds back into S&T. And while the good news is that this request is unlikely to be passed as is, it is still a difficult place to start the process.

National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)

The National Institute of Standards & Technology is on the smaller size of the science agencies, budget-authority-speaking, but it is still a significant contributor for IT research. The main part of the agency that the computing community is concerned about is the Scientific and Technical Research and Services account, or STRS. This part of the agency’s budget handles the research grants, special programs, and laboratory operations of NIST. STRS is slated to receive $730.5 million in the president’s budget, which represents a 5.9 percent increase over the FY16 enacted levels.

Within the increase for STRS are a number of special programs that the Administration has deemed to be national priorities. A few are of note for the computing community. The first program, Advanced Communications – Addressing the Spectrum Crunch, would receive an increase of $2 million ($14.8 million for the program total). The goals of the program for FY17 are to:

  • Conduct research and assist with the development of standards, technologies and applications to advance wireless public safety communications.
  • Conduct research to increase spectrum efficiency and improve spectrum sharing.

As the agency’s policy document points out, expanding the wireless spectrum is vital while the “Internet of Things” grows with ever more connected devices.

The next program of importance is the Lab to Market/Technology Transfer: Expand Technology Transfer Activities to Leverage Existing Authorities to Promote Data Sharing Efforts, in short technology transfer of basic research at government labs to private industry for further development. The program would receive a $2 million boost in FY17 and be at $8 million for the entire program. NIST has government-wide responsibilities for ensuring that taxpayer-funded technologies are transitioned to the marketplace. Congress and the Administration have taken a particular interest in technology transfer in recent years, hoping that it will translate into jobs and economic growth.

Lastly, the Measurement Science for Future Computing Technologies and Applications program would receive a significant increase of $13.6 million, with a total program budget of $25.6 million. This is part of the President’s National Strategic Computing Initiative that was announced last summer. The goals of the program for FY17 are:

  • Develop measurements for atomic-scale computer chip features, benchmark and test new logic and memory devices, and enable new paradigms such as brain-like computers or quantum computers.
  • Determine how much we can trust “virtual prototyping” for complex designs and better connect simulation to real-world measurements to improve product design tools.

The one problem with NIST’s budget request goes back to the tactic of using new mandatory spending. The discretionary parts of NIST (STRS, Industrial Technology Services (ITS), and Construction of Research Facilities (CRF)) all get reasonable increases. However, the President then recommends nearly tripling the entire agency’s budget by proposing a “National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.” This would be, “$1.9 billion to fully fund a network of 45 institutes by FY 2025.” Additionally, there would be another $100 million for the CRF account, “to renovate and modernize NIST facilities in order to maintain and enhance current research and development capabilities.” This would double the size of the CRF account (note: it’s not unusual for this account’s discretionary budget to go up and down significantly, as its depends on what needs to be built and/or renovated). As with the other agency’s mandatory spending requests, these are almost certainly DOA.

Final Analysis

It is not hard to understand why the administration sought to get a little creative in this request given the cap constraints. But this approach—taking an end-run around the discretionary budget caps by designating new “mandatory spending”—is somewhat troubling for the signals it sends to Congress and, in particular, the appropriators. What they likely see is not that the president has justified a new way to pay for science, but instead that he wouldn’t prioritize science investments under the discretionary caps. It appears that in this budget, other programs were more deserving of the discretionary funds.

We knew, given the tight caps for FY17, that this budget cycle would be challenging for science. It’s unfortunate that we start even further in the hole with this budget request. The good news, if we can call it that, is that the budget will most likely not be passed until after the November presidential election. Depending on who wins in the fall, it could radically change what a final budget looks like. The community will want to keep a close eye on how things play out, so be sure to check back for new updates.

Unprecedented Letter to Congress from CEOs, Governors, K-12 Leaders Advocating for CS for All!


America’s top CEOs, state governors, and education leaders joined forces this morning to ask Congress to support computer science in K-12 schools. In an open letter, the leaders called on Congress to increase support for local school districts and jurisdictions for K-12 computer science education. There is also a Change.org petition, so the public can weigh in with their support. This letter is an effort that has been led by the Computer Science Education Coalition, which we wrote about when it launched in March, and Code.org.

In the letter, the signatories identify many of the compelling reasons that more support is needed. It also includes an announcement of $48 million in new commitments by the letter’s signers, which will be added to the contributions of other “private donors (who) have collectively committed tens of millions of dollars to solving this problem.” This money will go to boosting computer science education nationwide.

The list of signers is itself quite impressive. Over half (27) the nation’s governors, both Democrats and Republicans, have signed on. As well, a diverse collection of CEOs, from Microsoft to Walmart to DuPont, have lent their support, signaling how important this issue is, not just to the high tech sector but to the modern economy as a whole. Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org, makes this point well: “It used to be that computer science and technology were about tech companies in California…at this point, there’s not a single industry or a single state you can look at where the field and the market isn’t being changed by technology.” There are also a wide cross-section of the nation’s K-12 educators, from the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education to Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and computer science education leaders, such as the CEO of NCWIT and the President & CEO of NAACP. This is a bipartisan and cross-cutting issue.

This is an unprecedented letter and effort, which is becoming a recurring theme for CS education this year. When President Obama announced his CS for All initiative in January, the CS community was given a great opportunity to step up, and we accepted the challenge. Though we are still under a difficult Federal budget environment, which is not favorable for new programs, hopefully this letter will move the needle in Congress. At the very least, it’s an excellent arrow for the CS community to have in its quiver.

New Coalition, to Push for Computer Science in K-12, Launches Today!


A new coalition, the Computer Science Education Coalition, whose mission is to focus on securing federal funds to provide computer science education to all K-12 students, launches today. The coalition is, “a non-profit organization that will encourage Congress to invest $250 million in funding for a crucially needed investment in K-12 computer science education.” At launch, the coalition is composed of 43 members, ranging from industry (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM, to name a few) to NGOs (CRA, ACM, NCWIT, etc), the membership is a venerable who’s-who of the CS community; check out the coalition’s website for a full list of members.

As stated in the coalition’s press release announcing the launch, “K-12 education in computer science is essential to keeping the U.S. competitive, economically strong, and secure.” Taking advantage of President Obama’s Computer Science for All initiative, the coalition hopes to have an impact on this year’s federal budget and keep the momentum going. As Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org, said in the coalition’s press release, “By investing in K-12 computer science, Congress has the opportunity to give every student a chance to participate in the fastest-growing, highest-paid jobs in the U.S., and address the diversity problem within our tech sector.”

As a member of the coalition, CRA is looking forward to working with the other organizations to expand access to CS education and, “better prepare Americans for life in an IT-integrated world.”

AAU Announces New Tool to Highlight Cybersecurity Research at Universities


The Association of American Universities (AAU) recently announced a new tool for highlighting cybersecurity research and breakthroughs occurring at their member institutions. Called “Helping Safeguard the Connected World”, the webpage, “shows what AAU universities’ faculty, researchers, students, and alumni are doing to help secure our electronic communications and data,” by highlighting stories on cybersecurity research and education.

AAU is an “organization of 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada which focuses on issues of importance to research-intensive universities, such as funding for research, research policy issues, and graduate and undergraduate education.” This webpage is the second in a series that AAU is launching to address big societal issues; the first was “Helping Solve the Fresh Water Puzzle.”

There are some truly fascinating reads already up on the page: from “Iowa State Engineers Protect the Power Grid”, to “UT-Austin Offers Free Tool to Analyze Privacy Policies”, and “Johns Hopkins Researchers: Is Online Voting Possible?”. It’s an interesting site and well worth checking out.

Department of Energy FY 2017 Request: Mixed Bag for Computing


On Tuesday, February 9th, President Obama released the last budget request of his administration. As we have done in years past, the CRA Policy Blog will be doing a series of posts on the assorted agency budgets that are important to the computing research community. In this post we highlight the Department of Energy (DOE).

The two key parts of DOE for the computing community are the Office of Science (SC), home of most of the agency’s basic research support, and ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. For SC, the President’s FY 2017 plan includes a very healthy increase of 6.1 percent, increasing to $5.67 billion (its FY16 budget is $5.35B). ARPA-E would see a huge increase of 71.8 percent, growing from $262 million in FY 2016 to $500 million in FY 2017. However, those numbers are a bit deceptive as the Administration is using a controversial budget tactic, calling on Congress to create new mandatory spending legislation, to fund much of these requested increases instead of relying on discretionary funds, as a way of avoiding issues with the discretionary caps the President agreed to in a budget deal with Congressional Republicans in November.

Within the SC budget, this new tactic accounts for about a third of the requested increase, but only within the “University Grants” spending line, which would receive $100 million in additional funding should the mandatory funding be approved. As the name implies, this is for funding for, “competitive merit-based review of proposals solicited from and provided by the university community.” If you remove that $100 million from the $325 million DOE SC is slated to receive in the President’s plan, the office would still receive a healthy 4.2 percent bump, or $225 million over FY16.

There is some reprogramming within the computing lines of the office budget that’s worth noting. The Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program within the Office of Science, where most of the computing research at the agency is located, would see a healthy increase of 6.8 percent (or $42 million more than FY16) in the President’s plan. The majority of that increase is slated to go into a new program line focused on the Exascale computing program. As a result, funding is “reprogrammed” from the Mathematical, Computational, and Computer Sciences Research program lines in ASCR and transferred to the new Exascale line. Whether this reprogramming will change the character of the work from research to more development-oriented work related to exascale, or whether this is just a reclassification of research which is already focused on exascale problems under a new program line remains to be seen, but it’s something that bears watching. The bottom-line, though: it appears Exascale gets almost all of the increase in ASCR’s budget, and the rest of the program is flat funded.

The great bulk of ARPA-E’s massive requested budget increase of $209 million over FY 2016 would be funded using mandatory spending. The goal, according to Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, is to put the agency on a path to a $1 billion budget within 5 years, as recommended in the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report (which is where the idea for ARPA-E originated). However, mandatory spending accounts for $150 million of that planned $209 million increase, so the chances are somewhat slim that the agency will grow as the Secretary hopes and the President’s plan calls for. Additionally, large increases in the ARPA-E budget request have been almost a tradition since the agency was founded, with Congress rarely going along with the President’s request. Removing the mandatory spending from the request, the Administration is still calling for a large 21.5 percent increase for ARPA-E, or $56 million, which would bring the agency’s budget to $318 million (it received $262M in the FY16 Omnibus).

How will Congress respond to this request? First, the mandatory spending requests are almost certainly DOA, which means appropriators will likely focus on those funded using discretionary spending. In this budget environment, a 4.2 percent requested increase for the Office of Science shows strong support from the Administration for DOE research investments in general and for computing – and exascale computing — in particular. Congress has generally treated computing research requests favorably in the past. ARPA-E is unlikely to get all the President has asked for, and chances are good it will be flat funded, as it has in most years since its creation. In short, DOE funding will be interesting to see what happens. We’ll keep our eyes on it and will update with any developments.

President Releases a Disappointing Budget Request for Science


Screenshot 2016-02-11 17.50.23President Obama on Tuesday released his final Budget Request to Congress, a $4.1 trillion request for FY 2017 that some in the science community have called “aspirational,” which might be a nice way of saying disappointingly unrealistic.

Let’s just note at the outset that the President has been a tremendous champion for Federal investments in science throughout his two terms. His Administration has launched a large number of new initiatives on brain science, big data, robotics, clean energy, advanced manufacturing, strategic computing, cyber security, smart cities and more that have brought new funding and new energy to Federally supported science.

That noted, the President’s FY 2017 budget calls for a funding increase of 4 percent to Federal R&D overall, including a 6 percent increase for basic and applied research overall. The National Science Foundation, supporter of 82 percent of all fundamental computer science research in U.S. universities, appears to be one of the big beneficiaries of the increased investments with its budget growing by 6.7 percent under the President’s plan. NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate, where most of the Foundation’s computer science research support originates, would be slated for a 6.3 percent increase in budget under this plan.

These would appear to be more-than-respectable increases — particularly as they come while under a difficult budget agreement the President reached with Congress at the end of last year that would cap discretionary spending growth to just 2 percent overall in FY 2017.

However, all is not what it seems. The President, hamstrung by the tight discretionary funding caps (and a congressional majority not interested in revisiting them), is asking for new mandatory spending to make up the bulk of his requested increases at NSF and elsewhere in the budget. Of the $500 million in requested increase at NSF, the President is asking Congress for $400 million in a new “one-time” mandatory funding stream.

Mandatory spending is funding that’s decided by statute or formula — think Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Federal food stamp programs. It’s spending that’s essentially on autopilot — Congress doesn’t need to reach agreement on it every year. Creating a new mandatory funding stream for NSF, or any other discretionary program, would require special legislation outside the normal appropriations process…and the approval of Congress with a Republican majority increasingly inclined to cut Federal spending, not create new sources. The likelihood of Congress approving the President’s new mandatory funding streams is probably near zero.

So, when you remove the requested increases in the President’s budget that rely on mandatory spending, the remaining investments look pretty underwhelming. Funding at NSF overall would be up just 1.3 percent compared to FY 2016. Funding in the CISE directorate would be just 0.3 percent above the FY 2016 level, a level that doesn’t even keep pace with inflation.

It’s not hard to understand why the Administration sought to get a little creative given the cap constraints. But this approach — taking an end-run around the discretionary budget caps by designating new “mandatory spending” — is somewhat troubling for the signals it sends to Congress and the appropriators in particular. What they likely see is not that the President has justified a new way to pay for science, but instead that he wouldn’t prioritize science investments under the discretionary caps. It appears that in this budget, other programs were more deserving of the discretionary funds.

We’ll have a more detailed breakdown on each of the key science agencies for computing research in subsequent posts, but the situation is similar at agencies like Defense, National Institutes of Health, NASA, and some parts of the Department of Energy. We knew given the tight caps for FY 2017 that the budget cycle this time around would be challenging for science. It’s unfortunate that we start even further in the hole with this budget request.

More details to come.

 

 

President Announces Huge New “Computer Science for All” Initiative!


Dec12_WeeklyAddress“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill, right along with the three ‘Rs.'” — President Obama, Jan. 30, 2016.

President Obama used his weekly radio address today to announce a new Computer Science Education initiative that would allow states to take the lead in increasing access to CS in K-12 classrooms. The initiative, which will be included in the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request to Congress on February 9th, will designate $4 billion for states available over 3 years, and $100 million directly for districts, to increase access to K-12 computer science education “by training teachers, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships.” He will also direct NSF to spend more than $120 million over the next five years to support and train CS teachers. 

The White House released a fact sheet describing the new initiative, called “Computer Science for All.” That the President would choose to highlight this in the run-up to the release of his final budget request to Congress is pretty huge news — I’m not sure CS has ever gotten quite this much Presidential visibility. But it’s a clear sign of the growing understanding in Washington of the importance of computing education.

Our economy is rapidly shifting, and educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that CS is a ‘new basic’ skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility,” the President said in his remarks.

The plan would grant every state with a “well-designed strategy” for providing “Computer Science for All” funding from a $4 billion fund at the Department of Education. In addition to these state-level grants, the plan includes $100 million in competitive grants specifically “for leading districts to execute ambitious CS expansion efforts for all students, including traditionally underrepresented students and serve as models for national replication.”

With the funds, states and districts can train both existing and new teachers to teach CS, build regional collaborations, and expand access to high-quality learning materials and online learning options. They would also be encouraged to build robust collaborations with industry, non-profits, and out-of-school providers. And states are the real key to this effort. State governments have to take the lead (as many are already doing) in driving the efforts for their local districts. This Federal funding could provide much needed buttressing for those states with ongoing efforts and impetus for those states that haven’t yet ramped up their efforts.

The computing industry is already a big supporter of efforts to increase the viability of computer science education, including $23 million in investments in CS education support from Google, $75 million from Microsoft, support from Apple, Facebook, Salesforce.org, Qualcomm, and lots of other computing industry partners. And the efforts of non-profit groups like Code.org, ACM, NCWIT (and all of their corporate partners), along with the work of champions inside a range of Federal agencies like NSF, DOD, Education, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Commerce have all been a big part of moving this effort forward.

It’s fortunate that the support for CS education is so broad and deep, as it’s likely that it will take a lot of additional effort to bring this plan to fruition. Despite the bipartisan recognition and support of the importance of computer science education, the legislative lift required to implement the funding called for in the initiative will be steep. But for those of us who believe that our students deserve a solid grounding in computer science education to compete in the new economy, it’s an effort worth making. So expect to see more on this issue from CRA in the coming weeks and months. And we’ll have more information about the nuts and bolts of the plan as we get it!

Update

The announcement of the Computer Science for All Initiative has received a hugely positive reception from leaders in high-tech industry. We’ve collected a few notable statements below, and will continue to update this as more come in.


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