Computing Research Policy Blog

The Computing Research Association (CRA) has been involved in shaping public policy of relevance to computing research for more than two decades. More recently the CRA Government Affairs program has enhanced its efforts to help the members of the computing research community contribute to the public debate knowledgeably and effectively.

New Report Identifies Fundamental Research Needs for Advancing Internet of Things & Cutting-Edge Innovations

A new report, titled, “Rebooting the IT Revolution: A Call to Action,” produced by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), calls for, “a targeted and coordinated government initiative similar to that which sparked the semiconductor revolution fifty years ago.” Calling this initiative the “National Computing and Insight Technologies Ecosystem initiative,” or N-CITE, the report identifies critical areas where research, particular federally supported research, is needed in order to position to the country to enjoy the full benefit of advances in Big Data and the burgeoning “Internet of Things.”

The report is mainly the product of a workshop titled Rebooting the IT Revolution, held in Washington DC on March 30–31 of this year, which brought together experts from industry, government, and academia to explore “leap-ahead IT technologies.” That workshop identified many “critical areas” where research is needed; from energy-efficient sensing and computing, to intelligent storage, to an Internet of Things test platform, there are a total of eight areas. Read the full list in the executive summary of the report on page 2.

The report also makes the point that the country cannot rely on the private sector alone to fund these innovations. Mentioning many important government research initiatives, that are heavily driven by computing and IT research, such as the National Strategic Computing Initiative and the BRAIN initiative, the report states, “near term, product-driven investment by the private sector alone is not sufficient to create the significant advances in IT infrastructure and insight technologies needed for these innovations. Private sector research and development must build upon and connect to government-funded programs.”

The conclusion to this report makes a clear call to action: “The United States needs to adopt and fund an innovation agenda—built upon fundamental research— that creates a new engine to drive the next generations of human experience, economic and societal progress, security and sustainability.”

CRA Urges Senate Commerce Task Force to Support Robust, Stable Investments in Research

CRA today filed comments with Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) urging the senators to put a priority on ensuring that fundamental research in the physical sciences, including computing, sees strong and sustainable growth as the senators work to build bipartisan consensus around a reauthorization of a key science policy bill. CRA Comments on Senate COMPETES Reauthorization

The senators are leading an effort for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, a bill first passed in 2007 that signaled the Federal government’s commitment to increasing support for physical science research at the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The committee solicited feedback from the science community as they begin their work on crafting a Senate version of COMPETES. A House version of the bill passed that chamber in May, despite concerns raised by CRA and other members of the science advocacy community about poor funding levels, prioritizations and policy decisions contained in the bill.

Our letter, signed by CRA Chair Susan Davidson, urges the senators to consider three recommendations when crafting their bill:

  • Put a priority on ensuring that fundamental research in the physical sciences, including computing, sees strong and sustainable growth.
  • Ensure that those investments span the full range of disciplines, in recognition of the important role that fields like social science, economics and behavioral science play in informing work in computing and other fields.
  • Provide authorizations of meaningful lengths of time to allow researchers and the agencies that support them more predictability and stability, which will help improve planning around and management of Federal research programs.

The letter then offers the case for Federal funding of computing research as an exemplar of the extraordinary benefit that Federal investment in fundamental research can yield, along with a warning that our leadership in IT isn’t a guarantee:

Our position as the world leader in information technology has clearly paid enormous dividends, but that position is not guaranteed. In many key sectors, including high-performance computing and new areas like ubiquitous computing that comprise the “Internet of Things,” the global competition has grown more fierce. We cannot afford to lose our leadership role.

The Federal investment in computing research is without question one of the best investments the Nation has ever made. The future is bright. There is tremendous opportunity – and tremendous need – for future breakthroughs. The Federal Government’s essential role in fostering these advances – in supporting fundamental research across fields – must continue.

The senators have held three briefings on topics related to innovation policy since announcing their efforts to reauthorize COMPETES. Their request for comment period ends today, so we expect to learn more about their approach very soon, with hopefully a bill produced by early Fall that could earn bipartisan support.

Appropriations Update: Shutdown Watch Begins

With Congress set to spend the month of August in recess, it’s a good time to take a moment to see where the appropriations process stands. Our readers will remember that when the Republicans took full control of Congress in January, they vowed to return the body to “regular order;” meaning passing the 12 appropriations bills before the end of fiscal year (October 1st). So how have they done?

Surprisingly, pretty well. For the first time in 6 years, both chamber’s Appropriations Committees passed all 12 of their bills through the full committees. The House was even able to pass half of their bills through the full chamber. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends, as the Senate Democrats felt their priorities were not being considered and they began filibustering the budget process at the end of spring. The bills have not moved for the entire summer.

The House Republican leadership has been adamant for the summer that the process would still move forward. However, just before the House chamber went on recess last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that work on a continuing resolution, to fund federal agencies at Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) levels, would begin. Now the question is: will there be another government shutdown?

That’s an interesting question and the answer isn’t completely clear. While the shutdown in 2013 was embarrassing for all involved, no one really suffered from the bad press (“Exhibit A” being the Republicans making huge gains in the 2014 elections). As Congress will not have to go before voters for another year, the situation is similar to 2013. Throw in how many sitting members of Congress are running for their party’s presidential nomination, grandstanding on the federal budget now, and forcing a shutdown, is very possible. Also, there is a new threat of tying defunding Planned Parenthood to the budget, which Congressional Democrats have vowed to block, and President Obama has vowed to veto if passed. So there are plenty of reasons to see a shutdown as possible.

The flipside of this argument is that senior members of Congress, the members who were furious about the 2013 shutdown and who ultimately compromised to reopen the government, will not allow the budget to be hijacked again. Also, the Republicans are under a great deal of pressure to be seen as able to govern effectively; a shutdown can be used to show they can’t. As well, since both appropriations committees have done their work (i.e.: preparing their 12 bills), they will require much less time to get an omnibus bill together. Lastly, a presidential election is not a midterm election; the voters who come out are less partisan, and care more about the parties working together, and a memory of two shutdowns in four years may be too much for voters to forget.

The science policy community in Washington is divided between pessimists and optimists on the budget:

  • The pessimists see a shutdown as very likely, and a year long CR as the final outcome. This would not be good for anyone, as budget sequestration is still set to restart in October. Any across-the-board cuts would be worsened by the cuts due to inflation.
  • The optimists see a continuing resolution, or a series of CRs, until the end of the year, with no shutdown, and another grand budget deal (like the Ryan-Murray Budget Agreement happening then. This is more likely to be good, but there are no guarantees, especially for science accounts.

Of course, these outcomes aren’t the only possibility, just the likely outcomes. Both sides have their arguments, but it is still very much “reading tea leaves” at this point. We’ll have to get through the August Recess first, and see how much progress, or lack there-of, happens on CR negotiations. Keep checking back for more updates.

Obama Administration Announces Ambitious New High Performance Computing Strategy

Yesterday, President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing the National Strategic Computing Initiative. This new initiative is to ensure the United States’ continued leadership position in High-Performance Computing in the coming decades. As the announcement from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) says, “this coordinated research, development, and deployment strategy will draw on the strengths of departments and agencies to move the Federal government into a position that sharpens, develops, and streamlines a wide range of new 21st century applications.” The initiative is designed to, “advance core technologies to solve difficult computational problems and foster increase use of new capabilities in the public and private sectors.”

The announcement includes examples of the type of problems and potential research areas that this strategy can tackle. From the Precision Medicine Initiative to exascale computing at DOE, the potential for High-Performance Computing is almost limitless. Combined with the fact that advances in computing are helping to drive advancements in other scientific fields, this strategy could be similar to the Larry Smarr moment in the early 1980s, when NSFnet, one of the predecessors of the Internet, was established.

How is this likely to be received in Congress? It’s hard to tell, as Congress and the Administration have been at loggerheads over almost every political issue. That being the case, there is a good chance this Initiative will be received positively; long time readers will remember that the first two hearings the House Science Committee had this session were on HPC. This was done deliberately to educate new members of the committee on the field’s importance to the Federal scientific ecosystem.

In closing out this article, I want to quote the last paragraph of OSTP’s announcement, as it is quite concise as to the importance of this strategy, and HPC as a whole, to the country:

By strategically investing now, we can prepare for increasing computing demands and emerging technological challenges, building the foundation for sustained U.S. leadership for decades to come, while also expanding the role of high-performance computing to address the pressing challenges faced across many sectors.

Coalition for National Security Research Releases Statement on Senate Defense Appropriations Bill

The Coalition for National Security Research (CNSR), a broad-based coalition of 74 members (of which CRA is a member) including industry, research universities and institutes, and scientific and professional associations committed to a strong Defense Science and Technology (S&T) Program, released a statement commending the Senate Appropriations Committee for their work on S. 1558, the Fiscal Year 2016 funding bill for the Department of Defense. CNSR was specifically applauding the committee for their support of Defense S&T at the 6.2 applied and 6.2 advanced research accounts, while also raising concerns about 6.1 basic research funding levels. The statement makes the case that Congress should adhere to the “20/20 Principle,” which calls for investment in basic research to comprise 20 percent of the Defense S&T overall budget and Defense S&T to comprise 20 percent of the RDT&E (or Research, Development, Test and Evaluation) budget. The statement points out that, “the 20/20 Principle is based on the recommendations from the National Academies reports Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2007) and the Assessment of Department of Defense Basic Research (2005).”

The Senate bill would provide the following funding for the different defense research accounts:

6.1 Basic Research – $2.31 billion for FY16, which is an increase of $40 million, or 1.7 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($2.28 billion) and $229 million more than what was in the President’s budget request.

6.2 Applied Research – $4.93 billion for FY16, which is an increase of $280 million, or 6.0 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($4.65 billion) and $214 million more than what was in the President’s budget request.

6.3 Advanced Research – $5.58 billion for FY16, which is an increase of $252 million, or 4.7 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($5.33 billion) and $114 million more than what was in the President’s budget request.

DARPA – $2.87 billion for FY16, which is a decrease of $50 million, or -1.7 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($2.92 billion) and $107 million less than what was in the President’s budget request.

The proposed increases in the 6.2 and 6.3 accounts are quite good, as they will keep the budgets above an inflation increase. However, 6.1’s increase will be mitigated somewhat by inflation and DARPA’s decrease will be amplified.

By way of comparison, the House Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 2685), which was passed by the full chamber in May, has the following numbers for the research accounts:

6.1 Basic Research – $2.10 billion for FY16, which is a decrease of $177 million, or -7.8 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($2.28 billion) and $11.5 thousand more than what was in the President’s budget request.

6.2 Applied Research – $4.84 billion for FY16, which is an increase of $190 million, or 4.1 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($4.65 billion) and $124 million more than what was in the President’s budget request.

6.3 Advanced Research – $5.73 billion for FY16, which is an increase of $409 million, or 7.7 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($5.33 billion) and $271 million more than what was in the President’s budget request.

DARPA – $2.97 billion for FY16, which is an increase of $56 million, or 1.9 percent, over what was appropriated for FY15 ($2.92 billion) and is exactly what the President’s budget request is.

As our readers can tell, the House numbers are better for 6.3, only slightly less good for 6.2, better than the Senate for DARPA (though it will just keep ahead of inflation), but is absolutely horrible for 6.1.

The next step in the process for S. 1588 will be to go before the full Senate for consideration. It’s likely to hit a brick wall there, as Senate Democrats have vowed to filibuster all spending bills unless their priorities are considered in the budget and the ongoing spending debates. The expectation within the science advocacy community is that this will stall the budget process for the rest of the year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed to return the Federal budget to regular order (meaning to pass the budget on time), but he has an uphill battle if Democrats stay united on their filibuster. We will continue to monitor the situation and will report any new developments that arise.