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.


I’m just back from CRA’s Grand Research Challenges in Revitalizing Computer Architecture conference — held in lovely Aptos, California, just up the road from Monterey (and far sunnier than the snowy DC I’ve returned to) — where 50 of the brightest minds in computer architecture research spent 3 days thinking deep thoughts about the field and its biggest challenges for the future. The participants are in the process of finalizing their conclusions, and when they do, you’ll see them here first.
But I only bring this up as a way of explaining the lack of updates during a week that was chock full of good and important developments surrounding the science community’s efforts to make the case for federal support of R&D in the physical sciences, mathematics and computing. So this post is an attempt to rectify that in one fell swoop.
It began on Tuesday:
National Summit on Competitiveness: Long-time readers may recall that
back in April
, as part of the emergency supplemental appropriation to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan, House Science, Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) (with help from Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Vern Ehlers (R-MI)) included language directing the Department of Commerce to convene a meeting of U.S. manufacturers to discuss what could be done to buttress U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. Wolf, who has become one of the strongest champions in Congress for federal support of fundamental research, felt the conference was necessary to expose the Administration to industry concerns about the impact of the federal government’s long-term underinvestment in the physical sciences.
The summit was held Tuesday (December 6, 2005) and attracted over 50 CEOs (pdf), university presidents, and agency directors, as well as four members of the President’s cabinet — Sec. Samuel Bodman (Energy), Sec. Margaret Spellings (Education), Sec. Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Sec. Elaine Chao (Labor).
The good news is that the CEOs made “support for fundamental research” the primary message they brought to the cabinet officials — a very important change of emphasis for most CEO advocacy efforts, which tend to focus on tax law changes or regulatory relief as their prime agenda items. The “Statement of the National Summit of Competitiveness” (pdf), released by the conferees immediately following the summit, puts the message bluntly:

The National Summit on Competitiveness has one fundamental and urgent message: if trends in U.S. research and education continue, our nation will squander its economic leadership, and the result will be a lower standard of living for the American people.

The participants focused on six specific recommendations:

  • Increase the federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent a year over the next seven years, with focused attention to the physical sciences, engineering and mathematics.
  • Allocate at least 8 percent of the budgets of federal research agencies to discretionary funding focused on catalyzing high-risk, high-payoff research.
  • By 2015, double the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually to U.S. students in science, math, and engineering, and increase the number of those students who become K-12 science and math teachers.
  • Reform U.S. immigration policies to enable the education and employment of individuals from around the world with the knowledge and skills in science, engineering, technology and mathematics necessary to boost the competitive advantage of the U.S.
  • Provide incentives for the creation of public-private partnerships to encourage U.S. students at all levels to pursue studies and/or careers in science, math, technology and engineering.
  • Provide focused and sustained funding to address national technology challenges in areas that will ensure national security and continued U.S. economic leadership, including nanotechnology, high-performance computing, and energy technologies.

These are recommendations well-grounded in recent reports of the National Academies, the Council on Competitiveness, the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, the Business Round Table, and many others (pdf). Whether the recommendations will resonate within the Administration remains to be seen. Until recently, the Administration has adopted a rather head-in-the-sand approach regarding the state of federal support for fundamental research. Members of the Administration continue to note that federal support for R&D has risen 45 percent since 2001, while failing to recognize that the great bulk (pdf) of that increase has been in shorter-term, defense-related development work. Long-term, basic research in the physical sciences, mathematics and computing has been flat or declining over the same period. But the persistent pressure from industry (industry has really stepped up it’s involvement in this advocacy this year, as this conference demonstrated) may be having some effect. Members of the Administration (beyond the usual suspects at OSTP) are beginning to allow a level of dialog with the community that wasn’t happening six months ago. (That’s intentionally cryptic.) There’s no guarantee that it will result in anything, but it’s an encouraging development.
Also encouraging is the imminent introduction of two separate, but very similar, bills designed to push forward an “innovation agenda” that both include substantial authorizations for increased funding for fundamental research in the physical sciences:
Ensign/Lieberman National Innovation Act of 2005: Planned for introduction on December 15th, this bill, co-introduced by Sens. John Ensign (R-NV) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), would enact most of the recommendations of the Council on Competitiveness’ National Innovation Initiative (which we’ve detailed here). The bill is a pretty massive effort that includes another authorization for “doubling” NSF by 2011; establishes “Innovation Acceleration Grants”, which encourage federal research agencies to allocate 3% of their R&D budgets to grants directed toward “high-risk frontier research”; makes permanent the R&E tax credit; increases NSF graduate research fellowship funding; authorizes a DOD competitive traineeship program for undergrad and grad students in defense science and engineering; and authorizes new “Professional Science Master’s Degree Programs” to increase the number of qualified scientists and engineers entering the workforce. The bill is actually more of an omnibus — it contains provisions that will likely result in referrals to six or seven different Senate committees — which works against it getting passed in its current form. But it’s an important placeholder for these issues in Congress and its likely that each of its provisions could find their way into bills that do move. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) plans to introduce a similar measure in the House.
Alexander/Bingaman Innovation Bill: Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) plan to introduce a bill soon that would enact most of the recommendations of the recent National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. We’ve previously covered the recommendations from that report. Alexander and former Commerce Secretary (and still close friend of the President) Don Evans recently took to the airways to talk up the report and Alexander’s legislation, with Alexander telling CNBC that he was calling on the President to focus on this innovation issue in his State of the Union address in January — which would represent a remarkable elevation of the issue. You can download the clip (about 13 megs, asf format) here.
Finally, there’s been lots of good recent press on the issue. Here’s some quick and dirty summaries:

  • Norman Augustine, former Lockheed-Martin CEO and chair of the committee that produced the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, authored an OpEd in the Washington Post on Tuesday, “Learning to Lose: Our Education System Isn’t Ready for a World of Competition.” A snippet:
    In the five decades since I began working in the aerospace industry, I have never seen American business and academic leaders as concerned about this nation’s future prosperity as they are today.
    On the surface, these concerns may seem unwarranted. Two million jobs were created in the United States in the past year. Citizens of other nations continue to invest their savings in this country at a remarkable rate. Our nation still has the strongest scientific and technological enterprise — and the best research universities — in the world.
    But deeper trends in this country and abroad are signs of a gathering storm. After the Cold War, nearly 3 billion potential new capitalists entered the job market. A substantial portion of our workforce now finds itself in direct competition for jobs with highly motivated and often well-educated people from around the world. Workers in virtually every economic sector now face competitors who live just a mouse click away in Ireland, Finland, India, China, Australia and dozens of other nations.

  • Morton Kondracke, editor of Roll Call, one of the papers of record for congressional staff and policymakers in the Administration, praised Alexander’s proposed legislation in an OpEd yesterday (“Bush Should Offer Science Agenda in State of the Union” (subscription required)).
    In the face of report after report indicating that the United States is at grave risk of losing its technological edge — which in turn is the basis of the high U.S. standard of living — the Bush administration and the GOP Congress so far have been (to be charitable) behind the curve on science and technology.
    Last year, Congress actually cut the budget of the National Science Foundation, and Bush’s 2006 budget called for less funding than the agency had in 2004. Wolf won a small increase, but still not enough to match 2004.
    The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the primary funder of physics research, got just a 2.9 percent increase in fiscal 2005 and 0.9 percent this year — a cut after inflation.
    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the incubator of, among other things, the Internet and laser technology, got a 5 percent increase in fiscal 2005. The House approved 4.2 percent for fiscal 2006, while the Senate called for a 1.8 percent cut.
    At the innovation summit on Tuesday, Deputy Commerce Secretary David Sampson repeated the familiar administration line that research and development funding has increased 45 percent since 2001 and represents 13.6 percent of the federal discretionary budget.
    Sampson also asserted that the U.S. economic growth rate, 4.3 percent, is “the fastest in the world,” that “all of President Bush’s policies — tax, research and development, education and workforce development — are dedicated to making America more competitive.”
    In fact, the U.S. growth rate trails that of China (9.4 percent), Hong Kong (8.2 percent) and India (8 percent), and all the evidence indicates that those countries are far outstripping the United States in the training of scientists and investment in research and development.

    Bush deserves credit for aggressively responding to the No. 1 threat to America’s well-being — terrorism. He needs to do better in responding to the No. 2 threat, foreign economic competition.

  • William McKenzie OpEd (“Math and science add up to our future“) in the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday:
    I don’t know about you, but I sometimes grow weary hearing big-picture thinkers tell us we need more mathematicians and scientists. Maybe it was because I wasn’t very interested in those subjects as a kid. Whatever, all the talk about math and science can leave my politics-and-history mind blank.
    Several students in Allen said the same thing the other day. When I asked a classroom of high schoolers how many wanted to study math and science in college, one student shot up his hand and said we shouldn’t forget the “bohemian” side of the brain, meaning the side that worries about things like war and peace. A number of his fellow students nodded.
    I like their independence, but here’s the plain truth that people like me need to remember: We either champion math and science, or we lose our footing in the world. That’s hard to imagine since we’re the Big Cat economically, militarily and politically.
    But if our schools downplay math and science, Americans will become the 7-foot basketball player who stumbled over his own clumsy feet running down the court. While we’re trying to get back up, little fast guys will run right by.

  • San Jose Mercury News Editorial, “U.S. leadership isn’t a sure thing; Pelosi Rightly Prods Congress to Get Moving on an ‘Innovation Agenda’ to Secure America’s Future” (behind pay wall):
    Tech luminaries, academics, researchers and business leaders have been sounding alarm bells about America’s eroding competitiveness in science and technology for more than a year.
    In study after study, groups such as the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academies, TechNet and AeA explained the problems in clear and stark terms. The rise of tech powerhouses in China, India and elsewhere, and the parallel decline at home in math and science education, in research and development investments, and in broadband infrastructure, have put America’s economic leadership and prosperity at risk. These groups also provided sensible, detailed and often strikingly similar solutions to ensure America remains No. 1.
    In Washington, however, it all seemed to fall on deaf ears. Until now.

    Both Democrats and Republicans need to stand for something positive going into next year’s election, something that addresses the growing fear of middle-class voters that their children won’t enjoy the same opportunities that they’ve had. Unless Congress adopts legislation to restore America’s competitive edge, those fears will be warranted.

    Anyway, as this has already turned into the mother of all blog posts, I’ll stop there. But I close with the opinion that there’s some reason to be reasonably optimistic about the federal priority for fundamental research changing for the better. The pressure is mounting from numerous fronts: industry is now heavily invested in making the case, significant efforts in Congress are underway, the press has cottoned on to the message, and, as I’ll detail in a future post, public attitudes about federal support for research are very positive. All that’s really left is for the President to make this a national priority.
    Let’s hope that he does….