The Change at DARPA

On March 29, 2010, in People, Policy, Research, Security, by Peter Harsha

Since about 2001, the computing community – through CRA and others, and with lots of mention on this blog – has aired concerns about policy changes at the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA), the Defense Department’s leading-edge research arm and arguably one of the two most important agencies in the history of computer science. In particular, we’ve been concerned with a set of policies that discouraged the participation of university-based researchers in DARPA-sponsored research – policies like the use of “go/no-go” decisions without regard to the realities of fundamental research, the use of prepublication review on basic and applied research, and an increased use of classification of research that precludes participation from most researchers in the university community.

With the change in Administration and a new DARPA Director (Dr. Regina Dugan) appointed, we have been hopeful that these problematic policies would be reviewed and reversed. We were considerably encouraged when Dugan selected CRA’s former Chair, Dr. Peter Lee, the Chair of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, to head a new office at the agency chartered, in part, to reengage the agency with the university community. Both Dugan and Lee have been making the rounds to university campuses over the last year listening to the concerns and pledging to address them.

Last week, Dugan testified before the House Armed Services Committee and addressed this need to change explicitly. Here’s some of what she said:

Over the last few years, the University community has articulated concerns about DARPA’s commitment to basic research. There was much said on both sides about the veracity of these concerns. As I described previously, one of the elements of DARPA’s success is the Agency’s commitment to work at the intersection of basic science and application, so-called Pasteur’s quadrant. The tension created in Pasteur’s quadrant arguably serves as a catalyst for innovation. DARPA is not a pure science organization, but neither are we a pure application organization. We sit firmly at the intersection of the two and, to be successful, we need the minds of the basic scientist and the application engineer, those in universities, and those in industry. And we need them working together, often on a single project, in the cauldron created by the urgency and technical demands of Defense. This is almost a unique characteristic of DARPA projects, which are often multi-discipline, multi-community, and multi-stage.

University Outreach.

Upon arrival at DARPA, we were determined to understand and repair the breach with universities. We discovered the following: Between 2001 and 2008, DARPA funding to US research university performers did decrease in real terms, by about half. But, as importantly, a noble and recent focus in the Agency on solving nearer term problems for the Department had resulted in some additional, perhaps unintended, consequences. The nature of the work changed, from multi-year commitments, to those with annual “go, no-go” decisions governing continued funding, which made it difficult for universities to commit to graduate students. A later stage focus resulted in more work done by universities as subs to prime contractors responsible for integration efforts, and the resulting flow-down of restrictions on the use of foreign nationals, export control, prepublication review, among others.

We assessed that we could address many of the concerns identified. So last September I traveled to five universities – Texas A&M, Caltech, UCLA, Stanford and Berkeley – to meet faculty, deans, and presidents, graduate students and undergraduates. The goal was to speak honestly and directly with them. We laid out the concerns, as we understood them, and the changes we had made or intended to make. We asked for their feedback. And we asked for their renewed commitment as well. For researchers to renew their commitment to working on Defense problems. For university leaders to clear obstacles and encourage their best and brightest to serve in Government. This service is, of course, in our shared self-interest because the quality of Government research sponsorship goes directly as the quality of the program leadership.

We continue to work on the issues: by educating our program managers to include basic research as an element in their programs, where appropriate, and to protect the integrity of this work under the provisions afforded fundamental research. The Agency has instituted new processes to ensure the necessary elements of academic freedom in basic research are balanced with the responsibilities of national security concerns. And we have increased transparency so that researchers can quickly determine whether restrictions apply to their work.

Since September, we have visited additional campuses across the country and spoken with university representatives to include Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, MIT, and others. Our dialogue continues with more than 100 schools. We have more work to do, on both sides, but so far, it seems as if the breach is healing.

The full testimony is online and worth reading. This change at the agency is enormously positive, not only for the computing research community – which will gain (regain?) an important funding source and a different funding model than NSF – but for DOD and the country as well. After all, one of our biggest concerns with DARPA’s disengagement from the university community over the better part of the last decade was that it meant that some of the best minds in the country – indeed, some of the best minds in the world – were no longer thinking about defense problems. DARPA’s policy changes should help reclaim some of that mindshare, and in the process, better serve our warfighters and protect our country.

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We’re releasing today the “Computing Degree and Enrollment Trends” portion of CRA’s annual survey of its member departments, the CRA Taulbee Survey, and are pleased to report that for the second straight year, the number of undergraduate students enrolled in computer science departments, and the number of new majors in computer science, have both increased for the second straight year.

The number of new students majoring in computer science increased 8.5 percent over last year. The total number of majors increased 5.5 percent, yielding a two-year increase of 14 percent. Computer science graduation rates should increase in two to three years as these new students graduate.

We think this says some very positive things about students’ perceptions of a career in computing. And maybe that’s not surprising. Computing careers are projected to be the fastest growing professional occupations over the next decade. They are among the tops in salary and ranked as some of the best jobs in America. And they’re filled with tremendous intellectual excitement and the opportunity to change the world.

The report contains enrollment and degree production statistics for Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. computer science, computer engineering and information fields. The statistics are gleaned from our survey of 265 Ph.D.-granting departments, which has traditionally correlated well with NSF’s less timely but more comprehensive survey of all graduate and undergraduate institutions, the Science and Engineering Indicators.

Here’s the press release we’re issuing to announce the report. (The report in can be downloaded here.)

Computer Science Majors Significantly
Increase for the Second Year in a Row

Growth Reverses the Steep Decline in Enrollment of the 2000’s

Washington, March 24, 2010 – The number of undergraduate students majoring in computer science significantly increased for the second year in a row according to the Computing Research Association (CRA). The upward trend reverses the steep decline experienced in computer science enrollment during the 2000‘s. CRA reported these trends as part of the 2008-2009 annual CRA Taulbee Survey. This growth in student enrollment comes as recent government projections highlight computing careers as among those expected to grow the fastest over the next decade.

“The best and brightest students recognize that computer science is a field that offers tremendous intellectual excitement, great job prospects, and the ability to change the world,” said Dr. Eric Grimson, Chair of CRA. “The ability to earn high salaries and receive good job opportunities undoubtedly plays an important role as students decide to major in computer science. As these students graduate, the U.S. tech industry will gain an enormous competitive advantage in future research and development.”

“This upward surge proves that computer science is cool again,” said Grimson. “Computers, smartphones and online social networks are a daily part of young people’s lives. It should come as no surprise that today’s students want to learn more about computing.”

The Computing Research Association collected enrollment data in fall 2009 from the computer science, computer engineering and information technology departments of 185 Ph.D.-granting universities. Specific findings include:

•    Total enrollment by majors in computer science is up 5.5 percent over last year. Computer science enrollment increased 14 percent cumulatively over the previous two years, reversing a steep decline since 2002.

•    The number of new students majoring in computer science in the fall of 2009 increased by 8.5 percent over last year. Computer science graduation rates should increase in two to four years as these new students graduate.

•    Total Ph.D. degree production decreased by 6.9 percent from last year. This is the first decline in seven years, suggesting last year’s total represented a recent peak in Ph.D. degree production. Fully 99 percent of recent Ph.D. graduates surveyed are employed in academic or industry computing jobs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, computer science graduates earn higher than average salaries, employment growth in computer science is expected to be much faster than average and job prospects should be excellent. The BLS also projects that computing occupations are likely to grow by 22.2 percent between now and 2018, the fastest growing cluster of all professional occupations.

The CRA Taulbee Survey is the principal source of information on student enrollment, employment, graduation, and faculty salary trends in Ph.D.-granting departments of computer science, computer engineering and information technology in the United States and Canada. This year marks the 39th consecutive year of the Taulbee Survey. Visit for more information and to see previous editions of the Taulbee Survey.

The Computing Research Association is an association of more than 200 North American academic departments of computer science, computer engineering, and related fields; laboratories and centers in industry, government, and academia engaging in basic computing research; and affiliated professional societies. For more information, visit

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Thacker Awarded A.M. Turing Award

On March 9, 2010, in Uncategorized, by MelissaNorr

Charles P. Thacker has been named the recipient of the 2009 A.M. Turing Award by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for his work in personal computing and networking. Thacker is currently a technical fellow at Microsoft Research, a Fellow of the ACM, has won several awards and citations, including the IEEE John von Neumann medal and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Named for British mathematician Alan M. Turing, the A.M. Turing award was first granted in 1966 and is widely considered the “Noble Prize in Computing.” The award carries a prize of $250,000 with financial support from Intel Corporation and Google Inc.

The full citation for the A.M. Turing Award reads:

Charles P. (Chuck) Thacker is a pioneering architect, inventor, designer, and builder of many of today’s key personal computing and network technologies. During the 70s and early 80s at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Chuck was a central systems designer and main pragmatic engineering force behind many of PARC’s technologies, including: Alto, the first modern personal computer with a bit-map screen to run graphical user interfaces with WYSIWYG fidelity and interaction. All of today’s personal computers with bit-map screens and graphical user interfaces descend directly from the Alto.

In addition, he invented the snooping cache coherence protocols used in nearly all small-scale shared-memory multiprocessors, pioneered the design of high-performance, high-availability packet- or cell-switched local area networks in the AN1 and AN2, and designed the Firefly, the first multiprocessor workstation. Almost 30 years after the Alto Chuck designed and built the prototype for the most used tablet PCs today.