CRA Endorses National Innovation Act

On December 15, 2005, in Policy, by Peter Harsha

As mentioned previously, today Sens. John Ensign (R-NV) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) plan to introduce the National Innovation Act of 2005, a bill that would enact many of the recommendations of the National Innovation Initiative report put out by the Council on Competitiveness last December. The bill would do a lot of important stuff:

  • Establish a “President’s Council on Innovation” comprised of the heads of Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy and other agencies to develop a comprehensive annual agenda to promote innovation in the public and private sectors.

  • Establish an “Innovation Acceleration Grants Program” that would encourage federal research agencies to allocate 3 percent of their R&D budgets to “high-risk, frontier research.”
  • Authorize a near-doubling of the NSF research budget by FY11.
  • Make the Research and Experimentation tax credit permanent.
  • Authorize increased funding for NSF graduate research fellowships and DOD science and engineering scholarships.
  • Authorizes DOD to create a competitive traineeship program for undergrad and grad students in defense science and engineering.
  • Authorizes funding for new and existing “Professional Science Master’s Degree Programs” to increase the number of qualified scientists and engineers entering the workforce.
  • Authorizes Commerce to support up to three Pilot Test Beds of Excellence in state of the art advanced manufacturing systems.
  • Encourages the development of “regional clusters” of technology innovation throughout the U.S.
  • Empowers DOD to identify and accelerate the transition of advanced manufacturing tech and processes that will improve productivity of the defense manufacturing base.

CRA is pleased to endorse the bill. Here’s what we sent to Ensign and Lieberman today:

December 13, 2005
The Honorable John Ensign
United States Senate
356 Russell
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Joseph Lieberman
United States Senate
706 Hart
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Ensign and Senator Lieberman:
We at the Computing Research Association, an organization of over 200 of the Nation’s leading computing research laboratories and university departments of computer science, computer engineering, computing and information, commend you for introducing the National Innovation Act of 2005, which we are pleased to endorse. We believe the Act’s focus on buttressing U.S. research capability, improving the education of our science and technology talent, and enhancing the Nation’s innovation infrastructure will help ensure the U.S. maintains its innovation leadership in an increasingly competitive world.
We are particularly pleased that the NIA would increase the national commitment to basic research by authorizing the doubling of research funding for the National Science Foundation and promoting an emphasis on high-risk, frontier research at federal research agencies. As you are well aware, the importance of basic research, especially information technology research, in enabling the new economy is well documented. Innovations in computing and networking technologies supported by agencies like NSF, the Department of Energy, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have led to significant improvements in product design, development and distribution for American industry, provided instant communications for people worldwide, and enabled new scientific disciplines like bioinformatics and nanotechnology that show great promise in improving a whole range of health, security and communications technologies.
At the same time, information technology research is also changing the conduct of research. Innovations in computing and networking technologies are enabling scientific discovery across every scientific discipline – from mapping the human brain to modeling climatic change. Researchers, faced with research problems that are ever more complex and interdisciplinary in nature, are using IT to collaborate across the globe, simulate experiments, visualize large and complex datasets, and collect and manage massive amounts of data.
The NIA sends a clear message that fundamental research like this is crucial in ensuring the Nation’s economic leadership, its stalwart defense, and the health and standard of living of its people.
Thank you for introducing this bill and for your continued leadership in support of the work of the U.S. research community. CRA is pleased to endorse your efforts and assist in any way we can.
Daniel A. Reed
Chair, Computing Research Association

We’ll have more on the bill as it begins its march through the Senate.


IT Companies Step Up Where DARPA Steps Back

On December 15, 2005, in R&D in the Press, by Peter Harsha

Some good coverage in the press of an announcement today by Google, Microsoft and Sun that they’ll help jointly fund (to the tune of $1.5 million a year for five years) Dave Patterson’s new Reliable, Adaptive, and Distributed systems Lab (RAD Lab) at UC Berkeley.
Both the NY Times and San Jose Mercury News note the DARPA angle to the story — namely, that as DARPA has pulled away from funding university-led research in computer science over the last several years in favor of shorter-term, typically classified efforts (a fact we’ve detailed pretty extensively on this blog), other agencies haven’t stepped up to fill the gap, leaving university researchers to scramble for funding. This has put significant pressure on NSF, as formerly DARPA-funded researchers turn to the Foundation for support, and the agency is feeling the strain.
Here’s how the NY Times covers it:

Mr. Patterson, currently the president of the Association for Computing Machinery, a national technical organization, has recently been a vocal critic of the shift of basic research funds away from universities and toward military contractors.
“We’re trying to sustain the broad vision, high-risk and high-reward research model,” Mr. Patterson said of the new Berkeley effort.
The Berkeley researchers began looking for industry support last year when they realized that the Pentagon Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as Darpa, was withdrawing support for basic research at the university, he said.
In a memorandum submitted to a Congressional committee earlier this year, Darpa officials disclosed that its spending on basic computer science research at universities had declined by 5 percent between 2003 and 2004. Government officials and corporate research executives noted the indirect effects of the changes in federal research support over the last five years.
“When funding gets tight, both researchers and funders become increasingly risk-averse,” said William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering.

I’m not sure where the “declined by 5 percent between 2003 and 2004″ figure comes from. DARPA told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year the drop was much more precipitous:

DARPA Total Comp Sci Funding vs. University Comp Sci Funding
(in millions)
FY 2001
FY 2002
FY 2003
FY 2004
Total Comp Science $546 $571 $613 $583
University Funding $214 $207 $173 $123

The Merc got it right:
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been one of the key financial backers of computer science research at universities. But DARPA’s university funding dropped from $214 million in 2001 to $123 million in 2004, as the agency shifted its focus to classified research that favors military contractors.
The drop in funding comes as computer science research is expanding.

Anyway, in Patterson’s case, his group was able to make the case to three of the industry’s giants that support for university research in the RAD Lab’s focus area is in their best interest and secured a significant commitment from each one. While this is fantastic news for Patterson and his colleagues at Berkeley (and sure to reap big benefits for the three industry partners, as well as the rest of the industry — that’s the nature of university-led research), this is unlikely to be a model that scales very well across the country.

“There are only two or three companies with pockets that deep,” said Phil Bernstein, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research and treasurer of the Computing Research Association. “There just aren’t that many big companies, and a lot of them don’t do research. There aren’t a lot of doors to knock on.”

So well-deserved kudos to Google, Microsoft and Sun (all members of CRA, by the way) for recognizing the value of university-led research and stepping up at a time when federal funding is in flux.