Examiner Editorial on Math and Science Incentive Act

On July 28, 2005, in Policy, by DanRothschild

The DC Examiner ran an editorial today using the Math and Science Incentive Act of 2005 (CRA blog entry here) to focus on the lack of emphasis that primary, secondary, and university education place on teaching science and math. The editorial praises the Act, introduced by Frank Wolf (R-VA) in the House and John Warner (R-VA) in the Senate, which would forgive up to $10,000 in student loan interest for post-college work or teaching in mathematics, physical sciences, and engineering.

The piece notes, however, that this bill alone is insufficient:

Last week, the NSF’s congressionally-mandated Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering reported measurable but uneven gains in underrepresented groups. However, as Committee Chairman Robert Lichter put it, “bold, innovative and long-term initiatives are still needed, especially at the institutional level.” Interest-free student loans are not quite in that league, but at least they’re a start.

Updates on the status of the bill will appear in the blog if and when it gains traction in committee (Education and the Workforce in the House and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in the Senate).

Update posted June 29: The provisions of this bill have been rolled into the College Access and Opportunity Act, which was part of the higher education authorization. ACM has followed this issue in their blog.


In a report released this week, the Cyber Security Industry Alliance — a group consisting of information security software, hardware and service vendors — called on Congress and the Administration to ramp up support for fundamental research in cyber security R&D and increase the prominence of cyber security at key federal agencies. CSIA’s report, Federal Funding for Cyber Security R&D (pdf) reiterates the findings of the most recent Presidential IT Advisory Committee (PITAC) report (pdf) on the state of federal cyber security research, concluding that the overall investment in cyber security research is inadequate and too focused on the short-term. The CSIA report agrees with the PITAC report’s recommendation to increase funding for long-term research in cyber security, noting a number of key security technologies — firewalls, intrustion detection systems, fault tolerant networks, operating systems, cryptography and advanced authentication — that bear the stamp of federally-sponsored, long-term research.
The report differs from the PITAC report slightly in that it calls for the creation of a “designated entity” within DHS to coordinate the federal government’s cyber security R&D effort; whereas, PITAC recommended that function remain within the interagency working group activity of the Networking and IT R&D program. CSIA rightly points out that the IWG of NITRD has very little actual influence on priority-setting at the agencies. Instead, they recommend that the new Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security at DHS serve as “the logical choice to drive the prioritization of requirements for research and development.” My only concern with that recommendation is that DHS hasn’t yet bought into the idea that long-term research efforts should be a priority. DHS’s own budget for cyber security R&D remains a paltry $18 million for FY 05, out of an overall science and technology budget of just over a billion dollars. And of that $18 million, barely $2 million could realistically be described as “long-term” research efforts. (DHS’s lack of priority for cyber security R&D has been a frequent topic here).
Otherwise, the CSIA report marches in lockstep with the PITAC report on cyber security R&D (pdf) issued back in March. We strongly endorsed that report and I’m pretty thrilled with the industry report issued this week.
Coincidentally, two former PITAC members (former because PITAC has been “disbanded” since June 1, 2005…) were on the Hill yesterday to participate in a briefing on cyber security R&D hosted by the Congressional Research and Development Caucus and put together by IEEE and IEEE-CS. Former PITAC Subcommittee on Cyber Security R&D Chair Tom Leighton (Chief Scientist and Co-Founder of Akamai) and former PITAC member Gene Spafford “Spaf” (Professor and Director of CERIAS at Purdue University) told the assembled congressional staffers, science community folks and assorted press about the problems we face in the cyber security arena and what PITAC recommended.
The briefing was the latest in a series of briefings on the PITAC report and follows a number of hearings on the scope of the cyber security challenge. In April, for example, Spaf and Leighton, along with former PITAC co-Chair Ed Lazowska, participated in a number of focused briefings for Hill staff on the PITAC report. The House Science Committee, as well as the House Homeland Security committee have both held numerous hearings on the subject over the last several years. Yet the extent of the problems we face — the risk posed by cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, the exposure internet users have to fraud and abuse because of security vulnerabilities, the cost to industry due to cyber extortion and malicious acts — still appears to shock to congressional staff. I’m not sure they really believe that companies have paid “protection” money to criminals who threatened to take down their web presence with massive distributed denial of service attacks. I’m not sure they really believe that “phishing” and “pharming” attacks are real threats to individual internet users. I’m not sure they understand that IT systems are in the control loop of just about every piece of critical infrastructure in the nation and are vulnerable. I think many believe that the impact of a concerted cyber attack would be limited to something like Amazon being unavailable for the day.
So despite the reports and briefings and hearings, we in the community haven’t done a great job breaking through the noise around homeland security and conveying the importance of cyber security, or by extension cyber security R&D. In part, I think this is because the homeland security debate is really dominated by the specter of a nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) attack (perhaps rightly so). The idea that a cyber attack could exist on the same scale as any one of the big three isn’t so easily embraced by staff. Yet in terms of cost to industry and cost to government, the daily onslaught of cyber attacks must add up to dollar losses that exceed even some of the more dramatic NBC scenarios. But the investment in research to mitigate those losses, or prevent them entirely, pales in comparison to the investments in NBC research at DHS.
In any case, the continued efforts of folks like Spaf and Leighton, and industry partners like the members of CSIA and ITAA, are helping to educate members of Congress and their staff to the challenges in the area. And, for better or worse, the growing frequency of breeches of customer data held by credit card companies, banks, universities and others is forcing Congress to climb the learning curve….


Turing Award winner Vint Cerf and ITAA head Harris Miller have a fantastic op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal raising concerns about US competitiveness in light of a declining federal R&D budget. The article is behind the WSJ pay wall, but can be viewed online for the next seven days here. Some snippets:

America will soon find its grip on the levers of international commerce slipping as we turn our backs on a proud tradition of technology innovation. The stewards of our national destiny are busily tightening the tap on the federal R&D budget, the most important source of funding for programs that seek to answer fundamental questions of science and technology.

In the 1960s and ’70s, a collection of academics and private-sector technologists, including a co-author of this piece, used findings funded by the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (now DARPA), to participate in implementation of the first wide-area packet switched network (the ARPANET) and the subsequent integrated collection of packet-switched networks (the Internet).
Now DARPA officials have revealed a shift in focus away from its history of open-ended long-range research, which typically has been performed in universities and nonprofit institutions. According to recent news reports, DARPA funding for university researchers in computer science has fallen from $214 million to $123 million from 2001 to 2004. Moreover, the focus of DARPA R&D is more near-term and more immediately defense-oriented than before. While this is defensible in some ways, the largest impacts of long-term research funded in the past by DARPA have been in areas that have wider or dual application to defense and the civilian sector.
The U.S. is already lagging behind in R&D funding. Our total national spending on R&D is 2.7% of our GDP, and now ranks sixth in the world, in relative terms, behind Israel (4.4%), Sweden (3.8%), Finland (3.4%), Japan (3.0%) and Iceland (2.9%). The federal government’s share of total national R&D spending has fallen from 66% in 1964 to 25%.
Some of the outright cuts in the president’s proposed R&D budget include the following:

  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would see its R&D funding fall 4.5% to $3.2 billion.
  • The Department of Agriculture would see its R&D funding decline 14.6% to $2.1 billion.

  • Funding for all three multi-agency R&D initiatives would decline in FY 2006, a category that includes programs such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative and the Networking and Information Technology R&D initiative.
    The proposed cuts come at a time when other nations have fixed their sights firmly on overtaking our technological lead, especially in information technology. For those of us in industry and academia, this shift in policy represents a major detour in the marathon race for global economic leadership.

  • The piece goes on to quote a number of indicators — many of the same ones cited in the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation’s influential Benchmarks of our Innovation Future report — that show that while the U.S. remains in the leadership position in innovation and R&D investments, all of the trendlines are slanting the wrong way.

    The facile solution is to turn to private industry and academia to make up the difference. But R&D funding from private industry is currently growing above inflation. It is susceptible to general economic cycles, and by its nature it is focused on the here and now. Meanwhile, many academic institutions are battling lagging enrollment and turning to unconventional fund-raising means merely to stay afloat. The difficulty in obtaining visas for foreign scientists has also restricted an important source of talent in the research community.
    In a very real sense, today’s R&D agenda determines where America will find itself in the future. The benefits of vigorous, federally funded academic R&D programs reaped by American society at large have been enormous. Our domestic and global economies thrive on the results of such work. Private sector programs alone cannot produce comparable results, in part owing to an ethical obligation to deliver bottom-line business results for their stockholders. The U.S. government needs a long-term strategy for continued economic growth. A strong and thriving academic R&D program is critical to that strategy. To choose otherwise is a recipe leading to irrelevance and decline.

    I’m thrilled to see this piece in the WSJ today….
    I’ll have a bit more comment on this later when I have a few minutes, but I wanted to get the pointer to the article up asap. Read the whole thing, while it’s still available!
    Update: The article is finding it’s way around Congress. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) circulated the piece in a “Dear Colleague” letter along with this text:

    Once again, high technology leaders are warning that declining federal investments in research and development are allowing the rest of the world to catch up. This isn’t a problem that can be blamed on Europe or developing economies in Asia. It’s a problem that we’re creating. If we’re to maintain our economic leadership for future generations, we need to increase the federal commitment to R&D instead of cutting it.