Having colleagues who blog saves me a lot of work. Cameron Wilson, Director of the U.S. Public Policy Committee of ACM, has a great write-up on the USACM Tech Policy blog of a new, $4.5 billion math and science education program included in the budget reconciliation that may finally pass this week. The grants would provide up to $4,000 a year to low-income students to pursue majors in the physical, life, or computer science, mathematics, technology or engineering.
Cameron’s got all the details, including his thoughts on how this provision is good evidence that Congress thinks that increasing science talent is directly connected to U.S. competitiveness.

 

House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on one of the final hurdles in the FY 06 appropriations process: the FY06 Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 2863), which contains cuts to DOD Basic Research, DARPA’s Cognitive Computing program (though not as bad as originally feared) and the long rumored 1.0 percent “across the board” cut to all discretionary spending.
The bill would have boosted overall Defense R&D (that’s the aggregate of 6.1 Basic, 6.2 Applied, and 6.3 Advanced Technology Development) by 2.6 percent in FY 2006. However, the across-the-board cut (ATB for short) — included in the bill to help “pay for” the large, unanticipated spending for hurricane relief approved earlier this year — will reduce that increase to just 1.6 percent, bringing the total to $13.3 billion for FY 2006.
Basic Research at DOD is the big loser in the overall R&D portfolio, facing a 2.5 percent cut after the ATB to $1.48 billion in FY 06. Applied Research will increase 7.1 percent to $5.19 billion. And Advanced Technology Development will see a 1.4 percent cut to $6.61 billion.
The cuts to the basic research accounts fall mainly on the service-led efforts. Army 6.1 research will see a 4.9 percent reduction, Navy 6.1 a 2.9 percent cut, and Air Force 6.1 a 5.0 percent cut. The Defense-wide basic research account — which is primarily DARPA and spending in the DOD Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) — will see an increase of 6.3 percent, to $261.4 million in FY 06. Defense-wide 6.2 research will increase 4.9 percent to $2.01 billion, and defense-wide 6.3 development will decrease 4.5 percent to $3.18 billion.
Within the defense-wide account, the two programs of most concern to the computing research community both took hits in the bill. The Information and Communications Technology account was funded by appropriators at the President’s requested level of $198.8 million; however, the ATB cut will reduce that 1 percent to $196.8 million. Much harder hit was the “Learning, Reasoning and Cognitive Systems” account within DARPA’s Cognitive Computing Systems program. As we detailed previously, Senate appropriators took aim at DARPA’s cognitive computing program to the tune of $55 million, cutting the $114 million program by nearly 50 percent. The final conference report backed off that $55 million cut by $20 million, leaving the program $35 million short of the FY 2005 level for FY 2006.
In fighting the cut, CRA and its allies in the university community learned that the Senate appropriators were not sufficiently convinced of the military utility of the effort by the original DARPA program justification. Our efforts rallying some Senate support — and the intervention of the Senate Armed Services Committee staff — helped warm the appropriations committee somewhat to the program, but not enough to give back all of the $55 million they had taken from the program to fund other activities within the bill.
Moving forward, it will be important for the computing community early next year to reach out to both the House and Senate appropriators and buttress DARPA’s budget justification for the program by really highlighting the military utility of the research. In the process of fighting the cut this year, we’ve developed some good material. We need to amplify that and make sure the right folks in Congress get the message. CRA will be leading that charge….
The Defense Appropriations conference report has already been approved by the House, but as of this writing has not yet cleared the Senate. The bill, by virtue of its “must pass” status and its late consideration, has become a Christmas tree of sorts for legislators eager to include provisions they’ve been unable to pass in other vehicles. Consequently, the bill is loaded with provisions not obviously germane to the Department of Defense, like authorization for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), $29 billion in further hurricane aid, and $3.8 billion for flu preparations. Senate Democrats strongly opposed to the ANWR provision have threatened to use whatever parliamentary devices they can to hold up consideration of the bill until they can get the provision removed. As a result, it’s not clear when the Senate will finally approve the bill and send it on to the President for signature (or back to the House if they manage to strip some House-approved provisions).
As always, stay tuned to this channel for further details as they develop. We’ll have the final wrap-up on FY06, including how the 1.0 percent ATB cut affected the science agencies, in a future (very near future) post.

 

The Boston Globe has a great, fairly in-depth piece today on the declining interest of women in computer science. Reporter Marcella Bobardieri writes:

Born in contemporary times, free of the male-dominated legacy common to other sciences and engineering, computer science could have become a model for gender equality. In the early 1980s, it had one of the highest proportions of female undergraduates in science and engineering. And yet with remarkable speed, it has become one of the least gender-balanced fields in American society.

The percentage of women studying physics, already low, dropped dramatically and stayed in the single digits for decades. Eventually the physics bubble burst for men as well, and today a high percentage of the country’s physicists are foreign-born.
Some computer scientists fear that they may be going in the same direction. They view the dearth of women as symptomatic of a larger failure in their field, which has recently become less attractive to promising young men, as well. Women are ”the canaries in the mine,” said Harvard computer science professor Barbara J. Grosz.
In the wake of the dot-com bust, the number of new computer science majors in 2004 was 40 percent lower than in 2000, according to the Computing Research Association. The field has seen ups and downs before, and some think the numbers for men will soon improve at least a bit. But the percentage of undergraduate majors who are female has barely budged in a dozen years.
The shortage of new computer scientists threatens American leadership in technological innovation just as countries such as China and India are gearing up for the kind of competition the United States has never before faced.

Read the whole thing (also mentions the National Center for Women and Information Technology).