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.

Appropriations Update: FY 18 House and Senate Numbers for DOE SC & ARPA-E


To continue our breakdown of the House and Senate appropriations moves, we turn to the Energy and Water Appropriations bills, which fund the Department of Energy (DOE). The parts of the department of most concern to 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.

To take a step back, it’s worth remembering that President Trump requested a significant cut to the Office of Science, while singling out computing for a big increase, and zeroing out ARPA-E. In the president’s plan, while the overall number for the DOE SC would have received a 16 percent cut (a $862 million cut) for next year, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program would have received a 16 percent boast (+$101 million), specifically tagged for their Exascale Computing Program (ECP). In this budget, the Administration sets a new target to speed up the deployment of exascale architecture machines, calling for one by 2021 and another by 2022. ARPA-E on the other had was given a 93% cut; effectively zeroing it out and leaving only enough money to close up operations.

The House and the Senate took different paths in their plans and rejected the Administration’s approach. In the House plan, the DOE SC would be flat funded, at $5.39 billion. However, despite that flat funding, ASCR would receive a 7 percent increase, going from $647 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 to $694 million in FY 2018. However, in the report language accompanying the bill, the House appropriators, while supportive of Exascale, don’t seem entirely convinced about the Administration’s new timeline:

The Committee is concerned that the deployment plan for an exascale machine has undergone major changes without an appropriately defined cost and performance baseline. The Department is directed to provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act an update to the exascale plan that includes a detailed cost and performance baseline, taking into account flat and slightly increasing funding assumptions, for the technological challenges remaining to be solved to deliver an exascale machine.

House appropriators did however agree with the Administration regarding ARPA_E, completely defunding the program in their bill. It’s possible, however, that the cut to ARPA-E is a negotiating tactic, as the House appropriators know the Senate was likely to protect the office in their version of the bill.

With regard to that Senate bill, DOE SC would receive an increase of roughly 3 percent, going from $5.39 billion in FY 2017 to $5.55 billion in FY 2018. Within the bill, ASCR would receive a significant plus up of 18 percent, increasing to $763 million for FY 2018. The Senate bill includes $184 million for ECP and says in its report that it is, “supportive of the plan to accelerate delivery of at least one exascale-capable system in 2021, reasserting U.S. leadership in this critical area.” ARPA-E would also see a healthy increase of 8 percent, going to $330 million for FY 2018 (funded at $306 million for FY 2017).

Given the different approaches, where do things go from here? On July 27th, the House passed a “minibus”, a small package of four appropriations bills which included the Energy and Water bill along with Defense, Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs, and Legislative Branch appropriations. In theory, having completed its work on this bill, the House now has a better negotiating position in relation to the Senate, should an omnibus bill be required by the end of the fiscal year, September 30th, or later.

What the Senate will do is an open question. There are only twelve more joint working days of both chambers of Congress between now and the end of the fiscal year. In that time Congress not only has to handle the budget but also raise the nation’s debt limit. Additionally, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that the Senate will take up tax reform after the August recess. That’s an overflowing plate of difficult jobs and it’s unclear what will have to be dropped to prioritize the others. Only time will tell what the Senate will do. Be sure to check back for more updates.

Appropriations Update: FY 18 House and Senate Numbers for NSF


House Commerce Justice Science FY 2018 Appropriations Bill Cover PageWith today’s Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the FY 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, along with the House Appropriations Committee markup of their version of the bill 15 days ago, we now have a good insight into how the National Science Foundation might fare in the FY 2018 appropriations process (along with a few other key science agencies, which we’ll cover in later posts).

The good news first: both House and Senate appropriators roundly rejected the large cuts to NSF called for in the President’s budget request. President Trump’s budget requested cuts of $735 million to the agency in FY18, a 12 percent decrease from FY17, including a 10.3 percent decrease for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate. Fortunately, neither the House or Senate appropriations bill implements cuts on that scale.

The bad news is that neither bill would result in increases for the agency, either. The House treats NSF most “generously,” providing the agency with the same level of funding it received in FY 2017 (which is also the same it received in FY 2016). The rhetoric in the report accompanying the House version of the bill remains positive, suggesting the appropriators still believe in the importance of the investments in research:

The Committee believes that strategic investments in the physical science areas are vitally important for the United States to remain the global leader in innovation, productivity, economic growth, and good-paying jobs for the future.

However they argue there is just no room under the budget caps to provide additional funding (though there may be some reason for hope further in the process…more on that below).

Also noteworthy in the House report is that it doesn’t include directorate-by-directorate level funding recommendations, something that critics of NSF programs in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic sciences and climate research in the Geosciences — like House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) — had argued for to allow for the de-prioritization of investments there. The House appropriators did include language similar to language Smith had championed about NSF only supporting “research in the national interest,” however the examples of “national interest” delineated in the report appear broad enough to alleviate most concerns.

The House also didn’t offer any specific directives regarding NSF’s indirect cost rates on grants — an issue facing the National Institutes of Health after the President’s budget request capped NIH’s Facilities and Administrative(F&A) rate at just 10 percent on its grants, a development that has lead to widespread concern on the part of the university research community. Instead, the House appropriators directed NSF to respond to a report by the General Accountability Office on the trend of increasing indirect cost rates.

The Senate appropriators also largely ignored the President’s requested levels for NSF. Instead, they called for a 2 percent cut to the agency’s research and education accounts. Under the Senate plan, NSF would see a decrease of $161 million overall compared to FY17 (but $658 million more than the President requested). The Research and Related Activities account would see a decrease of $115 million vs FY17, and the Education and Human Resources Account would see a $17.6 million decrease.

Senate appropriators also called out the importance of Federal investments in research, but were ultimately hamstrung by a budget allocation even lower than their House counterparts — the consequence of Congress failing as yet to come up with a Congressional Budget Resolution. Because neither chamber has agreed on top-line amounts for defense and non-defense discretionary spending, the two appropriations committees are playing with two slightly different pots of money, with the Senate CJS appropriators allocated about $1 billion less than their House counterparts for all the spending in their bill.

Of note in the report accompanying the Senate bill is a callout to the importance of High-Performance Computing at NSF, directing NSF to “remain committed to developing systems that facilitate tremendous leaps in computational simulation and data analyses that enable a broad range of scientific research.” The committee also directed NSF to fund research in cybersecurity at no less than the FY 2017 rate.

The next step for both bills in theory is consideration on the floor of their respective chambers. However, it’s possible that neither bill gets finished before the end of the fiscal year and a compromise version gets worked out between the House and Senate and included in an omnibus appropriations package. What happens in that scenario is anyone’s guess. Key to the final funding numbers will be whether Congress reaches agreement on an overall spending number. Spending for FY 2018 is subject to the budget agreement spelled out in the Budget Control Act of 2011 — the Act that brought us the Sequester — and that spending level is objectionable to a majority of members of Congress. For those on the right, the BCA unduly limits defense spending. On the left, the concern is non-defense investments. An agreement to amend the BCA caps could result in increased limits to both defense and non-defense accounts. In that scenario, the appropriations chairs in both chambers have indicated that they’d place a priority on seeing NSF receive an increase. However, a failure to reach an agreement, or an agreement that only boosts defense spending at the expense of non-defense spending, could result in final numbers for NSF that are lower than either the current House or Senate plan.

As always, we’ll continue to monitor the process, and we’ll have lots of additional information on other key science agencies in the appropriations process in the days ahead.

This is a good opportunity to remind you that CRA’s next Congressional Fall Fly-In is September 12-13, 2017! This is a great opportunity for representatives of CRA’s member institutions to come to DC and help make the case for the importance of the Federal investment in computing research — and given the current state of appropriations, it will likely be well-timed. Join us (and sign up before Aug 4th to get the discounted hotel rate)!

House Science Committee Holds Hearing on Importance of CS Education for Preparing 21st Century Workforce


On Wednesday, the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology, held a hearing titled, “STEM and Computer Science Education: Preparing the 21st Century Workforce.” The hearing brought experts from the computer science community, representing industry, academia, and policy areas, to, “highlight the importance of STEM and computer science education to meeting a wide range of critical current and future workforce needs.” The hearing was also an attempt to highlight various initiatives happening around the country to, “educate and inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and computer science,” fields.

In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) pointed out that a, “STEM educated workforce is necessary for innovation and for ensuring U.S. economic strength, competitiveness, and national security. As demand for skilled STEM workers continues to grow, the U.S. must work to fill those employment needs, especially with the looming retirements of the baby-boomer generation.” To highlight that, the Chairwoman used as an example the critical need the country has for trained cybersecurity professionals. Chairman Lamar Smith, Chair of the full Science, Space, and Technology Committee, further drove home these points, in his own opening statement, saying that the country needs to, “capture and hold the desire of our nation’s youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers. More graduates with STEM degrees means more advanced technologies and a more robust economy. A well-educated and trained STEM workforce promotes our future economic prosperity.”

The Democrats on the committee were in full agreement with their colleagues. Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) said the country needs, “to work to ensure that all students no matter where they grow up, their background, their race, or their sex, have the opportunity to become educated in computer science and all STEM fields.” Echoing that statement, the full committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), stated, “computer scientists are creating innovative products and services that will affect all of our lives. These innovations cannot meet the needs of society if they are developed without insights from women and underrepresented minorities.”

The witnesses at the hearing represented the CS and the larger STEM community quite well. Representing the CS education community was Pat Yongpradit of Code.org. As well, there was Dee Mooney, executive director of the Mircon Technology Foundation, who provided an industry perspective. James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition (a group which CRA is a member), provided a more general STEM perspective for the hearing. And finally, A. Paul Alivisatos, Vice Chancellor for Research, and Professor of Chemistry and materials science & Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, provided a higher education viewpoint for the hearing.

The witnesses fielded many questions from the committee’s membership, with most being related to what is needed for preparing students to be ready for future jobs. Chairwoman Comstock asked Mr. Yongpradit how to navigate pushback from schools on new education mandates, such as incorporating CS into graduation requirements. His response was that school must be responsive to the society’s needs and that most schools understand that and are devoting resources when possible. There was also a question from Ranking Member Lipinski about what specific skills the witnesses were referring to that students would need to succeed in the future workforce. Mr. Brown used the example of an auto repair mechanic, who uses a computer interface to assess what the repair needs are of a car; referring to this as middle skill job, he pointed out that most people would not consider it a STEM job, or a one that requires STEM skills to perform. As well, there was discussion of an event that several members of the committee had attended earlier in the week by Girls Who Code, a group dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. Many of the committee’s members, including Chairwoman Comstock, spoke about how it demonstrated the efforts by the community to improve the representation of women in the field, as well as to inspire students to pursue STEM careers.

All in all, it was a highly informative hearing, with members of both parties taking an active interest. The Science Committee has certainly taken up STEM education preparedness, and computer science education specifically, as an issue of concern. That’s good news, and the CS community should expect this engagement and interest from the committee’s leadership to continue into the future.

CRA Welcomes Emily Tang as its 2017 Eben Tisdale Fellow


By Emily Tang, 2017 Eben Tisdale Fellow

Emily Tang, 2017 CRA Eben Tisdale Fellow

I’ve just finished my second year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I’m majoring in electrical engineering and computer science with additional focuses in linguistics and applied international studies. I’m currently figuring out whether I’d like to pursue studying education technology (in particular technology to assist bilingual learning), technology policy, or law.

Outside of classes, I’m heavily involved in student government as president of my dorm, New House, which encompasses nine smaller communities. As part of my duties, I sit as a voting member on additional student government bodies such as the Dormitory Council and the Undergraduate Association. In my position, I also serve as a bridge between the students of my dorm, and the MIT administration, a role that is more critical than ever as we undergoing displacement due to construction over the upcoming year. In my smaller community within New House, French House, I serve as social chair and help plan social events and study breaks. I’m also involved as a mentor in a teaching program that trains freshmen how to use laser cutters and 3D printers in an effort to increase student access of MakerSpaces around campus.

Outside of class, I like to read, cook, bake, and listen to or make music. I’m always keen to try new recipes, and enjoy exploring southern food and Chinese food, my two sources of comfort. I’m known for always having a steady supply of all sorts of tea and books, and always have a recommendation of either or both ready.

I’m excited to be working for the CRA this summer as a Tisdale fellow.

President’s Budget Request Round-Up: NSF, NIST, NIH, and NASA Budgets Are All Cut


President Trump released his annual budget request last week. As we have done in years past, the CRA Policy Blog will be doing a series of posts on the assorted budget requests for key science agencies, particularly highlighting the ones that are of importance to the computing community.

As a reminder, Trump released a budget outline, nicknamed the “skinny budget,” back in March. That blueprint did not paint a good picture for the federally science agencies and, sadly, there weren’t any major changes in this full budget released earlier this week. Let’s get in the details.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF is the largest supporter of basic research in IT, accounting for 83 percent of the funding in the field. That fact makes the cuts to NSF generally, and the CISE Directorate specifically, very concerning.

Under the President’s budget request (PBR), NSF would receive an 11 percent cut, going from $7.47 billion in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Omnibus to $6.65 billion for FY18. That is an $819 million cut. The majority of that cut ($672 million) comes out of the Research and Related Activities (RRA) account, which is where the majority of the research that NSF funds is located. RRA goes from $6.03 billion in FY17 to $5.36 billion in the FY18 PBR. The other large part of the cut ($119 million) comes from the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account, which goes from $880 million in FY17 to $761 million in the FY18 PBR.

Drilling down into RRA, the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE), which handles NSF’s computer and computing research portfolio, fairs no better than the agency as a whole. CISE is slated to receive a 10.3 percent cut, going from $935 million in FY17 to $839 million, a cut of $96 million, in the President’s FY18 request.

For some insight into how NSF leadership decided what would need to be cut, it is worth reading this piece in Science by Jeffrey Mervis. To see how the CISE leadership plans to contend with this budget request, see their letter to the community.

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $7.47B $6.65B -$819M -11.0%
RRA $6.03B $5.36B -$672M -11.2%
EHR $880M $761M -$119M -13.5%
CISE $935M $839M -$96M -10.3%

National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)

NIST is slated to be hit particularly hard under the President’s request, receiving a 24.6 percent cut, going from $954 million to $725 million (a $237 million cut).

Of most interest to the computing research community is NIST’s 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 fairs only relatively better than the agency as a whole; receiving a 12.1 percent cut, going from $690 million in FY17 to $600 million in the FY18 PBR (a $89 million cut). The rest of the cut to the agency’s budget comes out of the Industrial Technology Services (ITS) account, which is effectively eliminated.

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NIST Total $954M $725M -$237M -24.6%
STRS $690M $600M -$89M -12.1%

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

NIH gets hit nearly as hard as NIST, as a percentage of their budget. The agency is requesting a FY18 budget of $26.9 billion, a 21.2 percent cut from their FY17 budget ($34.1 billion, or a $7.2 billion cut).

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NIH Total $34.1B $26.9B -$7.2B -21.2%

NASA

NASA is the relative winner in the President Budget Request, being slated to receive only a 2.6 percent cut. While not a historically large supporter of basic IT research, NASA’s Science account is still important to track. At the top line number, NASA would receive $19.1 billion for FY18 under the President’s plan; that would e a cut of $561 million from the FY17 budget. The Science account would fair slightly better than the agency as a whole, with a 1.1 percent cut; the budget would be $5.71 billion for FY18, a $53 million dollar cut from FY17 levels ($5.77 billion).

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NASA Total $19.6B $19.1B -$561M -2.6%
Science $5.77B $5.71B -$53M -1.1%

Final Analysis

As we said on Tuesday, these cuts are very bad. At the NSF’s public rollout of their budget request (the only science agency to do a public rollout), the recurring line used by the agency’s leadership is that the PBR is, “the first step in the (budget) process.” And while that is true, the PBR tends to set the tone for the proceeding steps, which only makes the impact of this request worse.

The good news is many Congressional leaders have already said that Congress will take a different track with the budget they will produce. As an example, there was pretty quick dismissal of the President’s NIH request. This is good to hear, but the rest of the Federal science investment will need to be protected as well. Considering three of the agencies (NSF, NIST, and NASA) covered in this article are in the same appropriation subcommittee bill (the Commerce, Justice, Science, or CJS, subcommittee), will only further hamper efforts to avoid these cuts.

Put simply: the community needs to get out and sing the praises of these science agencies. Now would be a good time to join CRA’s Computing Research Advocacy Network (CRAN), if you’re not already a member. A good place to start is with your home Representative and two Senators. We’ll keep track as the process unfolds in Congress, so please checking back for updates.

NSF Funded IoT Security Research Excites at the 2017 CNSF Exhibition


On May 16th, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an alliance of over 140 professional organizations, universities, and businesses, held their 23rd 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.

AAAS CEO and former Congressman Rush Holt (far left), speaks with (from left to right) Gudrun Jonsdottir, Daniel Wood, and Rohan Doshi, all students from Princeton University.

This year the Computing Research Association, a member of CNSF, sponsored Nick Feamster and his students from Princeton University. They demonstrated multiple pieces of technology for monitoring security of consumer Internet of Things (IoT) devices on a home network. Dr. Feamster’s students, all undergraduates at Princeton, are: Daniel Wood, Gudrun Jonsdottir, and Rohan Doshi.

NSF Director France Cordova (left) listens to Gudrun Jonsdottir (left), while Nick Feamster and Rush Holt (center) look on.

Each student presented a different piece of technology to the exhibition’s attendees. Daniel Wood demonstrated an algorithm used to monitor IoT devices to determine what information is being transmitted and whether it is a privacy risk to the consumer. Gudrun Jonsdottir showed her program, which can check devices to determine if they have default passwords and automatically change them to be more secure. Rohan Doshi demoed his algorithm that monitors the internet traffic of devices to determine if they have been compromised by hackers and are being used in cyber attacks (similar to the 2016 Dyn cyber attack) or other malicious uses. Together the students created an intuitive dashboard, which can present all this information to consumers and allow them to monitor their interconnected devices.

Jim Kurose, Assistant Director of CISE at NSF, speaks with (from left to right) Rohan Doshi, Gudrun Jonsdottir, and Daniel Wood.

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, and the President of AAAS, former Congressman Rush Holt.

Gudrun Jonsdottir (left-center) presents her research to Jim Kurose, Assistant Director of CISE at NSF, as Rohan Doshi (far left) and Daniel Wood (far right) look on.

A number of other organizations had displays and were demonstrating NSF funded research at the event. From the American Mathematical Society’s “Berry Smart: Mathematics for Food and Water Security,” to the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences’ “Neuroscience Discoveries in Reading and Dyslexia,” to Vanderbilt University’s “Nanoscale Manufacturing of Next-generation All-Carbon Materials,” the exhibition was a great display of the different types of research being supported by NSF. Look here to see a list of the participating organizations and what other exhibitors presented.

First Look: President Trump’s FY18 Budget Request is Rough for Science


FY2018 Budget Request: "A New Foundation for American Greatness"Today President Trump released a more detailed budget request for FY 2018, a follow up to the “skinny” budget released in March, and science agencies fare pretty poorly (as do a lot of other government programs), though U.S. efforts to develop “exascale” computing capabilities were prioritized. Here are some quick details: 

  • The National Science Foundation would see a cut of $841 million overall vs. FY 17, to $6.65 billion — a cut of 11.2 percent. NSF’s Computing and Information Science and Engineering Directorate would see a decrease of 10.3 percent under the plan. Within CISE, the priority is core research and research in national priority areas.
  • DOE’s Office of Science would see a $862 million cut from FY16 levels to $4.43 billion — a cut of 16 percent. However, the agency’s efforts to deploy an Exascale-class supercomputer were bolstered by a $101 million increase (16 percent) to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research’s (ASCR) Exascale Computing Program (ECP). With the increase, ECP is expected to begin site-prep and initial engineering for the deployment of two different exascale architecture machines, the first in 2021, and the second in 2022. Research funding in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science accounts has been transferred to the ECP program, with no change in scope (according to the administration). 
  • The National Institutes of Health would see a cut of 20 percent, or $6.2 billion less than FY 16.
  • National Institute for Standards and Technology research and development cut 15 percent.
  • NASA R&D cut 23 percent.
  • Defense basic research (6.1) would see a 6 percent increase; Defense applied research (6.2) would see a 3 percent increase.
  • Department of Homeland Security S&T cut 27 percent.
  • EPA S&T cut 47 percent.

I can’t recall a time in my 15+ years of working science policy that science agencies across the board have endured these levels of proposed cuts. You’d have to look back to the early years of the Reagan administration to find similar levels of reductions.

The good news is that it appears many in the leadership in Congress are ready to look past much of this request. While applauding the idea of a budget that “balances,” most of the key players have indicated that much of the rest is problematic and that many of the proposals will have a hard time finding fans in either chamber.

That noted, though the President’s budget is just the first step in the annual appropriations process and Congress will have much to say about it, we are undoubtedly in a more difficult position than if the President’s request had been more favorable to investments in research. If you wanted a blueprint for how the U.S. could cede its global S&T leadership, this budget would be a good start at one. We’ve got our work cut out helping the science community make its case for the importance of these investments.

We’ll have more details as they come available today and in the days to come….

Call for Nominations! — 2017 CCC Leadership in Science Policy Institute


Update: The nomination period has been extended through June 23, 2017! 

As part of its mission to develop a next generation of leaders in the computing research community, the Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium (CCC) announces the fourth offering of the CCC Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI), intended to educate computing researchers on how science policy in the U.S. is formulated and how our government works. We seek nominations for participants.

LiSPI will be centered around a two day workshop to be held November 6 – 7, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Full details of LiSPI are available here.)

LiSPI will feature presentations and discussions with science policy experts, current and former Hill staff, and relevant agency and Administration personnel about mechanics of the legislative process, interacting with agencies, advisory committees, and the federal case for computing. A tentative agenda is viewable from the link above. LiSPI participants are expected to

  • Complete a reading assignment and a short written homework prior to attending the workshop, so that time spent at the workshop can focus on more advanced content,
  • Attend the November 6 – 7th workshop, which includes breakfast both days, lunch, and a reception with the speakers and invited guests at the conclusion of the first day, and
  • Complete an assignment afterwards that puts to use the workshop content on a policy problem that has significant projection onto computing and information.

LiSPI is not intended for individuals who wish to undertake research on science policy, become science policy fellows, or take permanent positions in Washington, DC. Rather, we are trying to reach work-a-day academics who appreciate that our field must be engaged in helping government.

The CCC will provide funds for hotel accommodations for two nights of local expenses (hotel, meals) for the November 6 – 7th workshop. Nominees are expected to pay their own travel expenses, though there will be a limited fund available for participants who cannot attend unless their travel is provided.

Eligibility and Nomination Process

LiSPI participants are expected to have the experience and flexibility in their current positions to engage with government. University faculty members should be from CS or IS departments and be post-tenure; industrial researchers should have comparable seniority. Participants should be adept at communicating. They must be nominated by their chair or department head and must have demonstrated an interest in science policy, especially as it relates to computer science (and closely allied fields).

Specifically, the nomination process is as follows:

  • A chair or department head proposes a LiSPI candidate by visiting the nomination page and providing the name and institution of the nominee, along with a letter of recommendation.
  • The candidate will then be contacted by the workshop organizers and asked to submit a CV, a short essay detailing their interests in science policy, and an indication of whether they would require financial aid to attend.

All nominations and material from nominators and nominees must be received by JUNE 23, 2017.

Selection Process

The LiSPI selection committee will evaluate each nomination based on record of accomplishment, proven ability to communicate, and promise. Selections will be announced by July 15, 2017. We plan to open the workshop to 35 participants.

Please discuss this opportunity with your colleagues, identify those you believe would be interested in participating, and submit nominations!

Defense Research in the FY17 Omnibus


Earlier this week, we published a breakdown of the research agencies in the Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus spending bill that had been agreed to by both political parties in Congress. There was one significant research agency that was left out of that breakdown: the Department of Defense (DOD). As one would expect, given President Trump’s campaign pledge to increase defense spending, DOD did relatively well in the agreement, with Defense Science and Technology (DOD S&T) accounts being no exception.

As a reminder, the DOD S&T program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced technology development). 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. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is included under the Defense Wide account.

With a few exceptions, DOD S&T accounts saw increases from both Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) level and the Obama Administration’s request from last year. As a whole, DOD S&T would be funded at $14.0 billion, which is a 5.7% increase over FY16 ($13.25 billion). The Obama Administration had requested a 4.1% cut. As for the individual accounts:

  • DOD 6.1 basic research would see a slight cut of 1.4% below FY16’s numbers, going from $2.31 billion in FY16 to $2.28 billion in FY17. However this cut is small compared to the 9% cut that the Obama Administration had recommended in February.
  • DOD 6.2 applied research would see a healthy increase of 5.8%, going from $5.0 billion in FY16 to $5.3 billion in FY17. That would be a full 10% above the Obama Administration request, which had recommended a 3.6% cut.
  • DOD 6.3 advanced technology development would receive an even larger increase of 8.4%, going from $5.94 billion in FY16 to $6.44 billion in FY17. The Obama Administration had requested a 2.6% cut.
  • DARPA has the misfortune of not fairing as well under the Omnibus than under the Obama budget request. It is slated to receive a 1.7% increase, going from $2.89 billion to $2.94 billion. However, this is half of the 3.4% increase that had been recommended back in February of 2016.

Now, what does this all mean? As we stated in our budget request round-up last year, this shows that defense research continues to be a Congressional priority. Many of the cuts that the Obama Administration had recommended in their request could be explained by the Pentagon’s budget gamesmanship; namely removing money from a known Congressional priority (DOD 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 worry with this ploy is that Congress will not put the money back in; by all appearances, this gamble seems to have worked this year, which is obviously good.

On the whole, this is a good budget for DOD research accounts. It is certainly better than where this process stated in February of 2016. Hopefully this heralds a new commitment to DOD S&T with Fiscal Year 2018 coming up soon.

Update: 5/5/17 President Trump has signed the FY 2017 Omnibus bill, H.R. 244, into law this afternoon.

Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Released; Not Great, but also not Terrible, for Science


Late last night, the House Rules Committee released the agreed upon omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17), which Congress has been negotiating for the past few months. As a quick recap, the Federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution, or CR, since the present fiscal year began on October 1st. The bill released last night, which incorporates all twelve unfinished FY17 appropriations bills into one, must-pass $1.1 trillion spending bill, doesn’t provide for increases to most science research agencies. However, it also doesn’t have cuts to those agencies or proscriptive policy provisions. The negotiators also have mostly ignored President Trump’s proposed cuts to science programs in this final version. So it’s pretty much even for our community; not great but also not a catastrophe either. Let’s get into the details.

National Science Foundation
NSF would see funding of $7.46 billion in FY17, an increase of just $9 million over FY16. Research & Related Activities (R&RA) funding, where the majority of the research funding resides, and Education and Human Resources (EHR) funding would be flat. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) is the source of the $9 million increase. This flat budget approach essentially aligns with President Obama’s FY17 request for discretionary funds for the agency. You’ll recall he submitted a budget that was relatively flat in terms of discretionary spending, but also submitted a request for a new non-discretionary funding stream to bolster some science budgets, a funding stream that had no chance of passage in Congress.

As well, there’s no directorate-by-directorate funding guidance for NSF, which means Social, Behavior, and Economic (SBE) and GEO directorates avoided specific targeting in the bill. This has been a recurring concern given House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) repeated efforts to get directorate-by-directorate funding included in authorization bills (meaning policy bills) for the agency.

Department of Energy Office of Science
DOE would see slight growth in the Office of Science — up $45 million over FY16 to $5.39 billion in FY17. Over half of that increase would go to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR); this is where most of the computing research at the agency is located. ASCR’s budget would go from $621 million in FY16 enacted to $647 million (an increase of 4.2% or $26 million) for FY17. An increase of $10 million would go to the Exascale Computing Project line item. While this is relatively good, it is not as much as the Obama Administration had requested last year (which was a 6.8% increase or $42 million).

Somewhat surprisingly, given how Trump proposed to nearly wipe it out, the Advanced Research Project Agency, Energy, or ARPA-E, would grow $15 million under this bill to $306 million in FY17.

National Institute of Standards and Technology
NIST overall would see a $12 million cut from FY16. Drilling down into the details, the Scientific and Technical Research Services (STRS), where the majority of the research that NIST funds is located, would be flat funded at $690 million. The rest of the cuts to NIST come from a $2 million cut to the Industrial Technology Services account and a $10 million cut to the Construction of Research Facilities account. This is much less than what President Obama had requested last year.

NASA
NASA came out quite well in the omnibus, increasing its budget to $19.6 billion, an increase of $368 million over FY16. The majority of that increase went into the Science and Exploration accounts (+$175 million and +$294 million, respectively). The Science account in particular would fair better under the omnibus than last year’s Presidential request; the Obama Administration had recommended a $287 million cut to the account. Within the omnibus, there were cuts to Space Operations (-$78.5 million), Education (-$15 million), and Construction (-$28 million), so some of the increases to Science and Exploration are due to money being moved around in the agency’s budget. Generally speaking, NASA would benefit under the omnibus.

National Institutes of Health
If there’s a “big winner” among the research agencies, NIH is it. The agency would see an increase of $2 billion in FY17, to $34.1 billion. That’s a 6.2 percent increase, though it includes $352 million already approved as part of the 21st Century Cures Act that was part of the last CR in December. The omnibus also increases funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative by $120 million, and the BRAIN Initiative by $110 million.

Environmental Protection Agency
EPA, despite being targeted for major cuts in Trump’s FY18 “skinny” budget, would see only a 1 percent reduction in FY17 under the omnibus and no staff reductions.

 

Generally speaking, this is not a great budget for science, but it could have been far worse. Had Congress gone along with the Trump Administration proposals for FY17, we’d see cuts across many of the agencies we care about. NSF, for example, was slated for a $350 million cut under the Administration’s proposal. But while we’ve avoided that for FY17, we’ve already seen in the President’s “skinny” budget proposal for FY18 that many of these same agencies are slated for big cuts in his full request. We should have that document sometime in May or early June. Be sure to check back.

Update: 5/5/17 President Trump has signed the FY 2017 Omnibus bill, H.R. 244, into law this afternoon.

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