CRA Chair Named to PCAST

On February 27, 2006, in CRA, Policy, by Peter Harsha

Today President Bush announced he is planning to appoint CRA Board Chair Dan Reed, to the newly-expanded membership of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology. Reed, who is Vice-Chancellor of IT and CIO for the University of North Carolina, and Director of the Renaissance Computing Institute, joins 13 other members named as the committee prepares to take on the former functions of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, which was rolled into PCAST by presidential order on September 30, 2005.
Here’s the list of those named by the President today [and affiliation, if known]:

F. Duane Ackerman, of Georgia [CEO, Bell South]
Paul M. Anderson, of Washington [CEO, Duke Energy]
Robert A. Brown, of Massachusetts [Dean of Engineering at MIT]
Nance K. Dicciani, of Pennsylvania [Pres and CEO, Specialty Materials Honeywell]
Richard H. Herman, of Illinois
Martin C. Jischke, of Illinois [President, Purdue University]
Fred Kavli, of California [Physicist, philanthropist]
Daniel A. Reed, of Illinois
Hector de Jesus Ruiz, of Texas [Chairman, AMD]
Stratton D. Sclavos, of California [Chairman, Verisign]
John Brooks Slaughter, of Connecticut [President and CEO, NACME]
Joseph M. Tucci, of New Hampshire [CEO, EMC]
Robert E. Witt, of Alabama [President, Univ of Alabama]
Tadataka Yamada, of Pennsylvania [Chair of R&D at GlaxoSmithKline]

Quite an august group. Hopefully this will give the PCAST sufficient depth in IT to make good progress on the broad review of the NITRD program they seemed to be headed towards at the last meeting.


CRA affiliate organization, the Association for Computing Machinery, today released the results of its year-long, comprehensive study on the globalization and offshoring of software. The study contains six key findings:

  1. Globalization of, and offshoring within, the software industry are deeply connected and both will continue to grow. Key enablers of this growth are information technology itself, the evolution of work and business processes, education, and national policies.
  2. Both anecdotal evidence and economic theory indicate that offshoring between developed and developing countries can, as a whole, benefit both, but competition is intensifying.
  3. While offshoring will increase, determining the specifics of this incrase are difficult given the current quantity, quality, and objectivity of data available. Skepticism is warranted regarding claims about the number of jobs to be offshored and the projected growth of software industries in developing nations.
  4. Standardized jobs are more easily moved from developed to developing countries than are higher-skill jobs. These standardized jobs were the initial focus of offshoring. Today, global competition in higher-end skills, such as research is increasing. These trends have implications for individuals, companies, and countries.
  5. Offshoring magnifies existing risks and creates new and often poorly understood or addressed threats to national security, business property and processes, and individuals’ privacy. While it is unlikely these risks will deter the growth of offshoring, businesses and nations should employ strategies to mitigate them.
  6. To stay competitive in a global IT environment and industry, countries must adopt policies that foster innovation. To this end, policies that improve a country’s ability to attract, educate, and retain the best IT talent are critical. Educational policy and investment is at the core.

The report is pretty weighty, but the executive summary (pdf) does a good job of laying out the central findings in more detail. This issue of job migration is a huge concern within the discipline and there’s lots of FUD spread around on both sides of the debate, so having a report from a respected professional organization like ACM, generated by a Task Force with representatives from academia, industry, government, economics and labor should go a long way towards putting both sides on some firmer ground.
There’s been pretty good coverage of the report already. First, ACM’s U.S. Public Policy Committee has its press release and blog post. The New York Times’ Steve Lohr had the first coverage of the report this morning. Lohr’s piece highlights one of the key messages to come out of the study:

The study concluded that dire predictions of job losses from shifting high-technology work to low-wage nations with strong education systems, like India and China, were greatly exaggerated.
Though international in perspective, the study group found that the most likely prognosis for the United States would be that 2 percent to 3 percent of the jobs in information technology would go offshore annually over the next decade or so.
But more jobs will be created than are lost in the future, they said, as long as the industry in America moves up the economic ladder to do higher-value work — typically, applying information technology to other fields, like biology and business. They noted that employment in the information technology industry was higher today than it was at the peak of the dot-com bubble, despite the growth of offshore outsourcing in the last few years.
“The global competition has gotten tougher and we have to run faster,” said Moshe Y. Vardi, co-chair of the study group and a computer scientist at Rice University. “But the notion that information technology jobs are disappearing is just nonsense. The data don’t bear that out.”
Yet the view that job opportunities in computing are dwindling fast is both common and potentially damaging to America’s competitive prowess, according to David A. Patterson, president of the Association for Computing Machinery.
He pointed to the declining interest in computer science as a major among American college students, based on a survey last year of the intentions of students entering college. The results suggested that only 1 in 75 students would major in computer science, compared with 1 in 30 in 2000.
“The perception among high school students and their parents is that the game is over — that all computing jobs are going overseas,” observed Mr. Patterson, who is a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s an extraordinarily widely held misperception.”
The concern, he said, is that misplaced pessimism will deter bright young people from pursuing careers in computing. That, in turn, would erode the skills in a field that is crucial to the nation’s economic competitiveness.

The report also saw coverage in CNN’s Money which was subsequently Slashdotted. I’m sure there will be additional coverage of the report in the coming days.
I’m pleased that a number of CRA volunteers were able to serve on the Task Force, including CRA board members Bill Aspray (who served as the Task Force’s Executive Consultant), Moshe Vardi (the TF Co-Chair), Bobby Schnabel, and Dick Waters, as well as Vijay Gurbaxani, who serves on my Government Affairs Committee, and Stu Zweben, who is instrumental in putting together CRA’s Taulbee Survey. The study was an enormous undertaking, so kudos to ACM for making the effort to advance the debate. The study deserves to be read.


Visa Issues: Still a long way to go

On February 23, 2006, in People, Policy, R&D in the Press, by Peter Harsha

While there has been some progress in straightening out the mess that is the visa process post-9/11, as this Washington Post story indicates, the situation is still pretty bad for those who have research interests in high-tech areas.

A decision two weeks ago by a U.S. consulate in India to refuse a visa to a prominent Indian scientist has triggered heated protests in that country and set off a major diplomatic flap on the eve of President Bush’s first visit to India.
The incident has also caused embarrassment at the highest reaches of the American scientific establishment, which has worked to get the State Department to issue a visa to Goverdhan Mehta, who said the U.S. consulate in the south Indian city of Chennai told him that his expertise in chemistry was deemed a threat.

The consulate told Mehta “you have been denied a visa” and invited him to submit additional information, according to an official at the National Academy of Sciences who saw a copy of the document. Mehta said in a written account obtained by The Washington Post that he was humiliated, accused of “hiding things” and being dishonest, and told that his work is dangerous because of its potential applications in chemical warfare.
Mehta denied that his work has anything to do with weapons. He said that he would provide his passport if a visa were issued, but that he would do nothing further to obtain the document: “If they don’t want to give me a visa, so be it.”
The scientist told Indian newspapers that his dealing with the U.S. consulate was “the most degrading experience of my life.” Mehta is president of the International Council for Science, a Paris-based organization comprising the national scientific academies of a number of countries. The council advocates that scientists should have free access to one another.

As Bill Wulf of the National Academy of Engineering points out later in the article, these consular officials overseas are under tremendous pressure to not make mistakes in deciding who to allow in the country. Still, if the process leads to the summary denial of entry for someone like Mehta, the process clearly needs some work.

“Making the wrong decision would be career-ending, so they play it safe, not really understanding the macroscopic implications of their decision,” Wulf said. “Denying a visa to the president of ICSU is probably as dumb as you can get. This is not the way we can make friends.”

You can read the whole thing here.