Last Friday, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent the committee’s Views and Estimates (V&Es) for the coming fiscal year to the House Budget Committee. This is required by law and is meant to give the Congressional authorizing committees, the ones who set policy, rather than direct funding, a chance to state their goals for the Federal departments and agencies that are under their jurisdiction. This year, once again, the Science Committee is prioritizing computing at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), while de-prioritizing research at the Social, Behavioral, & Economic (SBE) sciences and Geosciences (GEO) directorates within NSF and biological and environmental research at DOE.
Like last year’s V&Es, the Science Committee is calling for NSF’s research funding to be split so that 70 percent of the agency’s funding goes to CISE, Engineering, Math & Physical Sciences, and Biology directorates. That would mean about a 5 percent increase (collectively) for those directorates and a 5 percent decrease to all the other programs in the agency’s Research & Related Activities (R&RA) account, including SBE and GEO. Depending on how prescriptive the committee chooses to be (or the appropriators choose to be), they could make SBE and GEO take a disproportionate share of that decrease to protect some of the other programs in R&RA like arctic research, integrative activities, or international science and engineering.
While it may sound great that computing research could get a boost in funding, it’s important to realize that several key areas of computing, such as cybersecurity and human-computer interaction (HCI), are heavily informed by research in the SBE directorate. This is why CRA didn’t endorse the Science Committee’s version of the COMPETES Act reauthorization in 2015.
With regard to the Department of Energy, the Committee bases much of its goals on the DOE Energy Research and Innovation Act, which passed the House back in January. Again, computing is stated as a priority of the committee, with the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, where the Federal government’s exascale computing programs resides, getting special mention. Along with ASCR, Basic Energy Sciences (BES) and Fusion Sciences are also prioritized. Increases at these programs would be offset at the expense of the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) in the Office of Science, and the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and ARPA-E accounts.
The good news is that these are just indications of what the majority on the Science Committee will be pushing for as they try and reauthorize NSF and work with appropriators during the appropriations process this year. They had similar language in the V&Es last year, which didn’t get much traction with appropriators. As well, it’s unclear how much will there is in Congress generally to approve an NSF authorization with language this prescriptive about funding. We should have a better idea once the President releases his full budget for FY 2018 (currently scheduled for May) and see how Congressional leaders respond to it.