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.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2016, Satoe Sakuma.]
On June 28th, Secretary Hillary Clinton unveiled her “Tech and Innovation Agenda” which outlines how her administration will approach technology. The presumptive Democratic nominee is positioning herself as a strong supporter of the advancement and expansion of technology through education, entrepreneurship, and infrastructure. This agenda in many ways continues the Obama Administration’s efforts to expand federally supported research efforts and expand their impact on the nation’s economic ecosystem.
Of most importance to our community is her promoting of science and technology R&D. In the agenda she recognizes “the benefits of government investment in research and development (R&D) are profound and irrefutable” and plans to increase research budgets for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and DARPA. The agenda goes on to say that the country should make certain to remain international leaders in High Performance Computing, green energy, and machine learning. She also plans to create an easier, more efficient means of technology transfer, which is the movement of research and breakthroughs from government laboratories to industry for economic benefit and job creation.
Another section of Secretary Clinton’s agenda focuses on computer science education. Voicing her support for, and plans to expand, the Obama Administration’s “Computer Science for All” initiative. Clinton states that she will launch the next generation of Investing in Innovation grants and double the investment in pre-existing programs. She also plans on training 50,000 new CS teachers while assisting current teachers in gaining additional training to accommodate the projected growth. In order to support the expansion of CS faculty, Clinton promises to “improve CS Education certification pathways, and to broaden ongoing learning opportunities for CS teachers so they can remain up to date on the cutting edge developments in the field.” Addressing the issue of diversity in the Tech Workforce, Clinton promises to create a $25 billion fund for colleges with minority students and invest $20 billion to build a pathway for underrepresented youth through “models like linked learning, P-Tech, apprenticeships, and Career Academies.”
Additionally, to encourage advancement in technology, Secretary Clinton looks to “ensure the patent system continues to reward innovators” and deploy 5G technology to enable the Internet of Things (IoT) development. The idea being that IoT has tremendous potential to create jobs and improve the quality of people’s lives, and having the federal government invest in infrastructure now can speed the arrival of those benefits. To close the Digital Divide, Clinton states that “by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband that delivers speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs.”
A few questions and concerns were not addressed. Clinton outlines launching various grant programs, but does not mention how the new educational programs will be funded. Another possible seed for tension is her support for funding “commercialization capacity building and accelerator grants, and expand[ing] proven models like the Regional Innovation Program and the NSF I-Corps program,” by taking a small portion of federal research budget, which has been consistently flat funded or even reduced in recent years. Lastly, due to her unclear stance of “support[ing] efforts such as the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield to find alignment in national data privacy laws and protect data movement across borders. And… [to] promote the free flow of information in international fora,” there is likely to be pushback concerning the agenda’s position on privacy laws and encryption.
Secretary Clinton’s tech agenda is the first to be released by either candidate. We will provide an update regarding Donald Trump’s tech agenda once it is released.
UPDATE: On June 29th the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation reported S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, out favorably. There were a number of amendments but nothing of note to our community, besides the expected amendment (described in the original post below) including authorized funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
What is worth noting is that the bill was approved on a bipartisan basis with only one dissenting vote, Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE). Citing the fact that the authorization levels approved in the legislation are not off-set by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, the Senator voted against the bill. This is likely a preview of what S. 3084 will encounter when/if it reaches the full Senate, even though the bill is not an appropriations bill (it only sets a target for the appropriators to aim for and has no binding budgetary power).
CRA endorsed the bill before it was passed by the committee.
Original Post (06/23/2016):This morning, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee released their long awaited reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. The bill, called the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), would set federal science policy at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). As our long time readers will remember, the House Science Committee introduced and passed their own reauthorization of COMPETES in 2015, called the FIRST Act. The Senate bill is scheduled to be marked up next week, on June 29th. Let’s get into some of the details with the bill.
The first thing to notice is what’s not in the bill, namely authorization for funding levels for NSF and NIST. Quick note: this is an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill; the difference is an authorization bill sets a goal for how much money should go to programs, while an appropriations bill actually assigns the money. We have heard from members of the S&T policy community that an amendment will be filed tomorrow, which will authorize funding for the two agencies for two years. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the bill authorizes $7.5 billion for NSF, which is the same level of funding included in the Senate’s FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill. For FY2018, the bill authorizes a four percent increase in funding for NSF. It’s worth pointing out that this is still tentative and could change. Lastly, it worth pointing out that there is also no directorate-by-directorate level funding for NSF in the bill, and we don’t anticipate there will be any offered at the markup. That is a big difference with the House’s FIRST Act and a big win for the NSF research community, particularly the Social and Behavioral scientists.
As for what’s actually in the bill, it contains a number of policy provisions. Of interest to our community are the following items:
– “Title 1 Section 101 – Reaffirmation of merit-based peer review” – this is a “Sense of Congress” reaffirming the importance of peer review. It is likely a counter to the House’s FIRST Act, which calls for more scrutiny of the peer review process at NSF. The language is quite strong and supportive of NSF; for example, “as evidenced by the Foundation’s contributions to scientific advancement, economic development, human health, and national security, its peer review and merit review processes have successfully identified and funded scientifically and societally relevant research and should be preserved.”
– “Title 1 Section 105 – Networking and information technology research and development (NITRD) update” – This is the Senate version of the NITRD reauthorization, which the House passed recently. This section is similar to the House bill in its call for more strategic planning by NCO and the participating agencies, and in identifying some new areas of focus for the program, including:
- “provide for research on the interplay of computing and people, including social computing and human-robot interaction;”
- “provide for research on cyber-physical systems and improving the methods available for the design, development, and operation of those systems that are characterized by high reliability, safety, and security;”
- “provide for the understanding of the science, engineering, policy, and privacy protection related to networking and IT;” and,
- “provide for the understanding of the human facets of cyber threats and secure cyber systems.”
– “Title II Section 201 – Interagency working group on research regulation” – This sections concerns reducing the administrative burden on researchers. The bill cites that, “researchers spend as much as 42 percent
16 of their time complying with Federal regulations,” and, as a Sense of Congress, directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to work with OSTP to establish an interagency working group to coordinate how to reduce the burden.
– “Title II Section 202 – Scientific and technical collaboration” – Asserts the importance of Federal scientists attending symposia and conferences. Directs OMB to work with OSTP and other science research agencies to “revise current policies and streamline [approval] processes.” Decision should be based on whether attendance at the workshop would meet the mission of the organization and whether there are sufficient funds available for that purpose.
– “Title III Section 311 – Computer Science Education Research” – Directs NSF to award grants to support CS education research. The language notes, “the Foundation is well positioned to make investments that will accelerate ongoing efforts to enable rigorous and engaging computer science throughout the Nation.”
– “Title VI Section 601 – Innovation corps.” – Sense of Congress that, “I-Corps is a useful tool in promoting the commercialization of federally-funded research by training researchers funded by the Foundation in entrepreneurship and commercialization.” The bill directs NSF to, “encourage the development and expansion of I-Corps and other training programs that focus on professional development, including education in entrepreneurship and commercialization.”
The bill contains a number of provisions on expanding the opportunities of STEM education, reducing administrative burdens on researchers, and improving the transferring of technology and research from federal labs to the marketplace. On the whole, the bill is very supportive in tone of the science agencies.
So, what happens next? As noted above, the bill is scheduled to be marked up next week by the full Senate Commerce Committee and is expected to pass with bipartisan support. After that, the bill heads to the full Senate and the path forward becomes less clear. There are only two more weeks of legislative work days before Congress breaks for their respective July Presidential Conventions and the August recess. When the legislature comes back into session in September, the expectation is very little work will get done before they gone on break for October to campaign for reelection. All that means is it is unlikely that the bill will get floor time on the Senate until November, at the earliest. That leaves the lame duck session after the November election; how that session unfolds will depend greatly on the outcome of the election. So check back, as we will be watching this legislation very carefully.
CRA today released a letter to Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI), and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), expressing support for their efforts to pass S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which will be marked up in committee tomorrow (June 29, 2016).
June 27, 2016
The Honorable Cory Gardner
The Honorable Gary Peters
The Honorable John Thune
The Honorable Bill Nelson
Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson, Senators Gardner and Peters,
As an organization representing over 240 industry and academic institutions involved in computing research and six affiliated professional societies, the Computing Research Association is pleased to support your efforts to bolster Federal innovation policy and American competitiveness through the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084). We believe the bill represents a reaffirmation of the importance of key elements of the nation’s science and technology enterprise, including the strength of the merit-review process at the National Science Foundation, and the importance of the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program.
Indeed, we are pleased to see a number of provisions in the bill reflect the importance of Federal investments in computing research. As you are aware, advances in information technology are transforming all aspects of our lives. Virtually every human endeavor today has been touched by information technology, including commerce, education, employment, health care, energy, manufacturing, governance, national security, communications, the environment, entertainment, science and engineering. The profound reach of IT is enabled in large part by the innovations that spawn from the IT research ecosystem — that incredibly productive, yet complex interplay of industry, universities and the Federal government. Indeed, nearly every sub-sector of the IT economy today bears the stamp of Federal support. The program responsible for overseeing this crucial investment is NITRD.
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 engage in strategic planning, 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.
We are also pleased to note that you plan to amend the bill during its markup to include an increase to the funding authorizations for NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Last year, CRA joined with more than 500 companies, universities, and national business, science and university organizations in endorsing “Innovation: An American Imperative,” which called on Congress and the Administration to provide at least four-percent real annual increases in funding for key research agencies, including NSF and NIST. The amendment under consideration would meet this target for FY 2018. We would urge that you and your colleagues on the committee continue your strong support of the U.S. innovation ecosystem, fueled in part by this Federal investment, and adopt it.
We thank you for your work on this legislation and for your long-standing support of the Federal investment in research, particularly in computing. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues as you endeavor to move the legislation forward this session.
Susan B. Davidson
Chair, Board of Directors
At a briefing of the congressional Diversity in Tech Caucus,
hosted by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the Capitol yesterday, CRA-W board member Rebecca Wright explained why efforts to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields — particularly computing — were worthy of continued Federal support. Wright, a professor of computer science at Rutgers University, was a member of a panel of experts assembled by the Diversity in Tech Caucus to explore the issue of diversity within the research and STEM Education communities.
Wright explained that a lack of diversity in the tech fields ought to pose a real concern for policymakers for three reasons:
- A diverse talent pool working on tech problems leads to better tech outcomes — not only because you have a range of different perspectives that can be brought to bear on a problem, but because a diverse workforce understands the needs of a diverse populace and can help tailor solutions to them.
- There’s an economic necessity — projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the demand for tech workers over the next ten years is likely serious, demand that won’t be met without increasing the draw from these underrepresented pools.
- There are also social justice benefits of providing equal opportunities in these high-paying, high-skill jobs for women and other underrepresented groups.
She also detailed social science research conducted by CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline explaining some of the factors that underlie women’s low participation rates in computing fields, and gave examples of how a few key CRA-W programs, like the CRA-W Research Experiences for Undergraduates and CRA-W’s Grad Cohort programs do an effective job of addressing those factors.
Wright was joined on the panel by economist Adams Nager, from the Information Technology Innovation Foundation (ITIF); Njema Frazier, a nuclear physicist, representing the National Society of Black Engineers; Gloria Washington, a computer scientist from Howard University (and recent CCC participant!), representing IEEE-USA; and Janet Koster, from the Association of Women in Science. All hit similar themes and reiterated the call for continued Federal support for successful programs.
The Diversity in Tech caucus is a recently-formed bi-cameral, bi-partisan congressional caucus driven at the moment by Sen. Klobuchar who has taken a keen interest in improving workforce diversity in this key industry. The caucus hopes to sponsor more events to drill down into the policy details necessary for ensuring that the Federal government is doing what it can to help foster a more inclusive technology workforce. We’ll have all the details when they do.
On June 9th, the Congressional Robotics Caucus, with support from the National Science Foundation, held an all day event on Capitol Hill marking five years of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI). The event was broken up into a lunch briefing, where members of Congress and their staff would be able to hear from a panel of experts on the past accomplishment of the NRI and future challenges and benefits of continued funding of robotics research; and an afternoon exhibition of roboticists and their work, where guests were able to interact one-on-one with the researchers. CRA is a member of the steering committee for the Congressional Robotics Caucus.
Some background on the NRI: launched in 2011, the goal of the initiative is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside or cooperatively with people. The NRI is supported by multiple agencies of the federal government including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The purpose of the program is to support the development of the next generation of robotics, to advance the capability and usability of such systems and artifacts, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative application areas. It addresses the entire lifecycle from fundamental research and development to manufacturing and deployment. In its first five years, the NRI has awarded more than $150 million to support over 230 projects in 33 states.
The lunch briefing had a distinguished list of panelists to speak on what the NRI has accomplished, the research challenges that still remain in the field, and what benefits the country can potentially reap from both past and future breakthroughs in robotics. Giving the perspective of the research community was the Computing Community Consortium chair, Greg Hager of Johns Hopkins University. Representing the federal funding agencies was Lynne Parker, co-chair of the NITRD Interagency Working Group on Robotics and Intelligent Systems. Giving the industry perspective was Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association. And finally, providing the perspective on the economic impacts and potential gains of robotics research was Robert Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The Congressional co-chairs of the Robotics Caucus, Representatives Rob Woodall (R-GA) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) also gave some remarks on the importance of continued federal funding of research in this area. It was a standing room only briefing, with the speakers fielding many questions from the audience of Congressional staffers and interested groups.
Dr. Hager had some thoughts on the return on investment of federal research dollars, which were pertinent to the discussion at the Capitol Hill event.
The afternoon of demonstrations were particularly well received. From Ekso Bionics’ exoskeleton; to the Robo Raven of Satyandra Gupta, of the University of Southern California; to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Cang Ye’s Co-robotic Cane, all the demos gave a picture of the benefits the country has reaped from the NRI, as well as giving an idea of gains still to come. Dozens of attendees kept the open house crowded for the entire day, with multiple members of Congress stopping by to see the exhibits. As well, the exhibition was the subject of a PBS News Hour segment, which showcased some of the researches and their robots.
All around, it was an excellent day for robotics researchers. Hopefully, the Representatives and their staff members walked away with a better idea of the benefits of the federal investment in robotics research.
By Satoe Sakuma, 2016 Eben Tisdale Fellow
I am currently a rising senior at Boston University, double majoring in computer science and international relations with a focus in East Asian economics. I am very interested in high tech public policy, especially areas of cybersecurity, because it allows me to utilize both my areas of studies. My two very different majors are finally coming together during my last year as an undergraduate student through my acceptance into the senior honors program, which requires a year-long research project culminating with a thesis and defense. My thesis will examine data privacy laws in East Asia.
At Boston University, I am heavily involved in extracurricular activities that consume most of my time outside of the classroom. I was recently elected president of the Asian Studies Initiative at Boston University, which acts as a liaison for the faculty and students to promote Asian Studies through informative events, and Women in Computer Science, which provides a community as well as technical training for women in a male-dominated field. I am also involved in Boston University High Performance Computing (BUHPC), which competes in international competitions about the optimization of supercomputer applications. Through BUHPC, we ranked in the top 16 of 148 teams worldwide, and I was fortunate enough to travel to Wuhan, China to compete in the Asian Student Cluster competition in April.
Besides my hectic academic life, I find balance in yoga, traveling, and enjoying my time in nature. My travels this year include not only China, but also visiting the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE and scuba diving in Bali, Indonesia. Although Boston does not provide lush forests, the past three summers I was able to escape the busy city life in exchange for fishing in Kodiak, Alaska. If you think fishing is boring, like I used to, I highly recommend fishing for salmon and halibut in Alaska, which somehow never fails to make fishing thrilling.
I am honored to be an Eben Tisdale Fellow this summer and am really looking forward to working with CRA.
UPDATE: The NITRD Reauthorization bill, now with the bill number H.R. 5312, passed on the floor of the full House of Representatives on Monday June 13th. The vote was 385 for and 7 against; it was passed under suspension, meaning that no amendments could be considered. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration; the timeline for that is not clear at this time (see original post for more details).
CRA was specifically called out by Chairman Smith for supporting the bill. CRA was joined in supporting H.R. 5312 by CompTIA, Information Technology Industry Council, National Association of Manufacturers, Texas A&M University System, and the University of Illinois.
Original Post: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Legal and Governance Implications of Artificial Intelligence – University of Washington
- Safety and Control for Artificial Intelligence – Carnegie Mellon University
- The Social and Economic Implications of Artificial Intelligence Technologies in the Near-Term – New York University
To learn more about the OSTP initiative and the other workshops, please see the White House OSTP blog post.
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.
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.
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