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.

President Announces Huge New “Computer Science for All” Initiative!


Dec12_WeeklyAddress“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill, right along with the three ‘Rs.'” — President Obama, Jan. 30, 2016.

President Obama used his weekly radio address today to announce a new Computer Science Education initiative that would allow states to take the lead in increasing access to CS in K-12 classrooms. The initiative, which will be included in the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request to Congress on February 9th, will designate $4 billion for states available over 3 years, and $100 million directly for districts, to increase access to K-12 computer science education “by training teachers, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships.” He will also direct NSF to spend more than $120 million over the next five years to support and train CS teachers. 

The White House released a fact sheet describing the new initiative, called “Computer Science for All.” That the President would choose to highlight this in the run-up to the release of his final budget request to Congress is pretty huge news — I’m not sure CS has ever gotten quite this much Presidential visibility. But it’s a clear sign of the growing understanding in Washington of the importance of computing education.

Our economy is rapidly shifting, and educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that CS is a ‘new basic’ skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility,” the President said in his remarks.

The plan would grant every state with a “well-designed strategy” for providing “Computer Science for All” funding from a $4 billion fund at the Department of Education. In addition to these state-level grants, the plan includes $100 million in competitive grants specifically “for leading districts to execute ambitious CS expansion efforts for all students, including traditionally underrepresented students and serve as models for national replication.”

With the funds, states and districts can train both existing and new teachers to teach CS, build regional collaborations, and expand access to high-quality learning materials and online learning options. They would also be encouraged to build robust collaborations with industry, non-profits, and out-of-school providers. And states are the real key to this effort. State governments have to take the lead (as many are already doing) in driving the efforts for their local districts. This Federal funding could provide much needed buttressing for those states with ongoing efforts and impetus for those states that haven’t yet ramped up their efforts.

The computing industry is already a big supporter of efforts to increase the viability of computer science education, including $23 million in investments in CS education support from Google, $75 million from Microsoft, support from Apple, Facebook, Salesforce.org, Qualcomm, and lots of other computing industry partners. And the efforts of non-profit groups like Code.org, ACM, NCWIT (and all of their corporate partners), along with the work of champions inside a range of Federal agencies like NSF, DOD, Education, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Commerce have all been a big part of moving this effort forward.

It’s fortunate that the support for CS education is so broad and deep, as it’s likely that it will take a lot of additional effort to bring this plan to fruition. Despite the bipartisan recognition and support of the importance of computer science education, the legislative lift required to implement the funding called for in the initiative will be steep. But for those of us who believe that our students deserve a solid grounding in computer science education to compete in the new economy, it’s an effort worth making. So expect to see more on this issue from CRA in the coming weeks and months. And we’ll have more information about the nuts and bolts of the plan as we get it!

Update

The announcement of the Computer Science for All Initiative has received a hugely positive reception from leaders in high-tech industry. We’ve collected a few notable statements below, and will continue to update this as more come in.

ACM, Code.org, & CSTA Announce K12CS, a Framework For K-12 Computer Science Education


A new initiative for crafting a framework for K-12 computer science education was announced today. Lead by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and Code.org, the plan is to answer a complicated question: “What is the appropriate scope and sequence for CS instruction to guide high-quality computer science?

The goal of the effort is to create a high level framework, not education standards, for states and school districts to build individual frameworks around. The framework, “is not an exhaustive list of everything in computer science that can be learned within a K-12 pathway, but instead describes what it means to be literate in computer science.” As said in the announcement, “underpinning this effort is our belief that computer science provides foundational learning benefiting every child. Computer science gives students a set of essential knowledge and skills important for students’ learning and for their future careers and interests.”

The goal is to have a completed framework sometime in the summer of this year. You can get more information and regular updates by visiting the group’s website: K12CS.org.

FY16 Omnibus: A mixed bag for researchers; heads towards passage


The news is pretty mixed for supporters of the Federal investment in fundamental research as Congressional leaders yesterday released the text for the FY 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, in advance of its consideration in the House on Friday (and the Senate shortly thereafter). The bill, which incorporates all twelve unfinished FY16 appropriations bills into one, must-pass $1.1 trillion spending bill, provides decent increases to research programs at the Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, and NASA, but far more modest gains for programs at the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense.

Let’s get into the details of importance to our community:

NSF
The agency’s Research and Related Activities Account (R&RA), which includes funding for all the agency’s research directorates, would see an increase of $100 million over FY15, or 1.7 percent. This is a somewhat disappointing outcome, as the recently enacted two-year budget agreement that sets budget caps for top-line Federal spending accounts in theory provided enough room for an average increase of about 5.2 percent to Federal agencies. This is an indication that congressional priorities were elsewhere in the omnibus. The report accompanying the omnibus also includes language referencing the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate, capping funding for research in the area at the FY15 level. That’s not great but is far from the catastrophic cuts envisioned in the House Science Committee’s COMPETES Act legislation. The agency’s Education and Human Resources (EHR) directorate would see an increase of 1.6 percent vs. FY15 levels.

NSF Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
RRA 5,933 6,033 1.69 100
EHR 866 880 1.62 14

Defense
Overall defense basic research (6.1) would see an increase of 1.4 percent to $31 million in FY16, a significant improvement on the President’s proposed 9 percent cut to the budget. Applied research (6.2), where much of CS research lives, would see a much more robust 7.7 percent increase to $356 million. Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would grow 11.5 percent, up $611 million from FY15 levels. DARPA would see its budget decline slightly to $2.9 billion in FY16, a decrease of $25 million or 0.9 percent.

DOD Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
6.1 Basic Research 2,278 2,309 1.4 32
6.2 Applied Research 4,648 5,004 7.7 356
6.3 Advanced Research 5,326 5,937 11.5 611
DARPA 2,916 2,891 -0.9 -25

Department of Energy (DOE)
The DOE Office of Science (SCI) appears to fare well in the omnibus with $5.35 billion slated for the office, an increase of $282 million, or 5.6 percent. Within SCI, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which is where the majority of the computing research at DOE is located, appears to be funded at about requested levels, or just above. The omnibus language doesn’t provide aggregated totals, but notes specific funding levels for some programs and facilities: Exascale Initiative, $157.9 million (request was $177 million); $77 million for Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (at the request level); $104.3 million for Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (+$10 million vs. request); $86 million for National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) (+$10 million vs request); $38 million for Energy Sciences Network (ESNet) (= request level); and $10 million for the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program. We’ll keep an eye on this and will update if there is any new information.

DOE Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
SCI (Total) 5,068 5,350 5.56 282
ASCR 541 621 14.8 80

NIST
Not much to report for the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST). The Scientific and Technical Research Service (STRS) account, where NIST’s core research lives, would grow $8 million to $690 million in FY16, an increase of just 1.2 percent.

NIST Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
STRS 682 690 1.2 8

In the larger science research community, the big winners appear to be NIH and NASA. NIH would receive a $2 billion increase to $32 billion, or 7 percent above FY15. NASA would see a 4 percent increase, bringing its budget to $19.3 billion for FY16. On the positive side, the bill doesn’t appear to contain any of the problematic policy provisions passed by the House as part of the COMPETES Act reauthorization this summer, though the language capping spending for NSF’s SBE account at FY15 levels did find its way into the report language.

So, what’s next? The bill is under a two-day review period, where members of Congress are able to wade through the language of the bill and see what they find is good or bad. Congress has given itself a deadline of December 22nd to get the budget passed and to the President’s desk for signature. Odds are good it will pass, but likely with a Republican minority. It’s certainly an interesting way for Speaker Ryan (R-WI) to start off his tenure as Speaker of the House, but it sounds like he convinced the Republican caucus to accept it and move on to start fresh next year. We’ll continue to monitor the omnibus as it progresses, so check back to see if there are any developments.

FY16 Budget Update: Still Waiting on Congress


When we last talked about the FY16 budget, it was early October and it was looking like the next Speaker of the House would be Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). As we now know, in early December, the Speakership is very different but we still don’t have a passed-into-law budget. Congress has until this Friday, December 11th, to either pass a budget into law or to pass a stopgap continuing resolution (CR). Or let the government shutdown.

At this point, it’s safe to say that Congress will miss its deadline and will have to pass a short term CR (probably for a week) in order to continue to hammer out a compromise bill. The sticking point is almost completely policy provisions, called riders. Democrats are adamant that any riders on abortion, Syrian refugees, and campaign finance reform, to name but three issues, will be poison pills; Republicans, particularly the very conservative members of the caucus, are saying no bill will move without such riders. A government shutdown is unlikely, though not beyond the realm of possibility.

CRA is continuing to monitor the situation as it unfolds. Once we have some resolution, we’ll be posting the parts that impact our community right here, so keep checking back.

Could it be? ESEA Nears Final Passage!


As our readers will have noticed of late, Congress has a well-earned reputation for doing little-to-nothing, legislatively speaking. So when the newly installed Republican House and Senate majorities promised in January to move on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a bill that had not been reauthorized since No Child Left Behind was passed into law in 2001, and had expired eight years ago, most people (myself included) thought it would go nowhere. Over the last year Congress has proved the naysayers wrong.

Both the House and Senate education committees worked throughout the year to pull together bills that would move the issue. During the spring and summer each chamber was able to pass their own bills and, starting in September, negotiations between the Republican and Democratic staffs in both chambers worked out a compromise bill that would pass through conferenced and that would be acceptable to all sides. Most observers assumed this was the stage where the bill would die, especially with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), a big supporter of education and a huge cheerleader for reauthorizing ESEA, retiring; the three month wait over the early fall only validated the idea that the bill would have to be taken up in the 2016 session of Congress.

But the week before Thanksgiving, both committee chairmen and ranking members announced they had worked out a compromise bill and it would go to conference. In fact, the legislation sailed through the conference stage without a problem. On December 2nd the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (as this version of ESEA is being called; it is being moved under the Senate bill number S. 1177) 359 to 64. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week and the White House says it strongly supports it. The expectation is that the bill will be signed into law by the end of the year.

Depending on how you feel about the Federal role in K-12 education, the broad policy points of the bill could be good or bad. However, for CS, it’s quite good and significantly elevates the field’s visibility within the STEM disciplines. For starters, CS is now specifically included in the Federal definition of core subjects (called “well rounded education subjects” rather than “core subjects”). While this may appear to be a wonky or bureaucratic gesture, it’s actually quite important. Many states follow the Federal government’s lead in what are core subjects to offer and computer science is now added to the list. Additionally, the bill specifically includes CS teachers as being eligible for Title II professional development funds. These are big wins for the community.

In fact, the CS and larger STEM communities were not silent during the lead up to the conference bill. CRA specifically signed on to three letters that supported different provisions in the House and Senate bills. The first letter, organized by Code.org and signed mainly by CS related organizations, pushed for more specific CS provisions in the two bills. The second letter, organized by an informal group of STEM organizations, led by Boston Museum of Science, covers a more broad range of STEM fields. The final letter, organized by the STEM Education Coalition, of which CRA is a member, also covers more broad range of STEM fields. All these actions had an impact on the final form of the bill.

500+ Organizations Urge Congressional Leaders to Make Strong Investments in Research


Thirteen different coalitions, representing over 500 individual organizations, who are concerned with the federal investment in research and development, have sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, urging them, “to make strong investments in America’s innovation ecosystem one of your highest priorities by increasing federal research funding by at least 5.2 percent above FY 2015 levels—the same level of increase to discretionary spending.” This is in light of the new budget deal that Congress approved last week and President Obama signed yesterday.

Four groups that CRA is a member of are signatories of the letter: the Task Force on American Innovation; the Coalition for National Security Research; the Energy Sciences Coalition; and the Coalition for National Science Funding. The other signatories represent other scientific and engineering fields, such as the Coalition for Aerospace and Science, and United for Medical Research. The 500+ organizations range from industry voices to science societies to education advocates, all making the case to, “urge…[Congress]…to take this opportunity to act decisively in favor of American innovation so that our nation’s economic, health, and national security will prosper for many years in the future.”

House Science Committee Reviews Federal IT Research


Greg Hager (left) and Keith Marzullo (right) prepare to give testimony before the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Education on Oct 28, 2015.

Greg Hager (left) and Keith Marzullo (right) prepare to give testimony before the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology on Oct 28, 2015.

Experts from academia and government, including CCC Council Chair Greg Hager, told a congressional panel yesterday that the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program remains a crucial part of the extraordinarily productive computing research ecosystem that has made the U.S. the world leader in IT and deserves further support.

The experts were witnesses at a hearing called by the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology to review the status of the NITRD program in advance of possible reauthorization legislation from the committee. Hager, who also served as the co-Chair of a working group of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) charged with reviewing the NITRD program, presented the findings and recommendations of that review. He was joined by Keith Marzullo, who currently heads the National Coordinating Office for NITRD — coordinating nearly $4 billion annually in research investments across 19 different Federal agencies — and Ed Seidel, who heads the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

All three made the case that while the landscape for computing research has changed significantly since NITRD was first established by the High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, the need for the Federal investment in long-term, fundamental research has never been more important. Hager spelled out eight key areas of research highlighted by PCAST: Cybersecurity, Health, Cyber-human systems, Privacy, IT-based Interaction with the Physical World, Data-Intensive Computing, High-capability Computing, and Foundational IT research. (You can read all three witnesses written testimony, or watch a video of the hearing, from the committee website.)

The members of the committee were largely supportive of the NITRD program, many echoing comments of Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) who noted that “focusing our investments on information technology research and development is important to our nation for a variety of reasons, including economic prosperity, national security, U.S. competitiveness, and quality of life.” Encouraging more industry participation in the program was a common theme among the questions posed to the panel by the members of the subcommittee, with Republicans wondering how to use the Federal investment to leverage more industry support for long-term, foundational research and Democrats disappointed that the committee was unable to find witnesses from industry available to testify about the importance of the Federal investment. A visible show of support from representatives in industry will be an important part of making the case for Federal investment in IT research, Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) noted in his opening statement, adding that he was disappointed that all were apparently unavailable for the hearing.

Additional questions from the subcommittee members concerned how we prioritize between infrastructure investments and research investments, where the U.S. remains ranked worldwide in computing leadership, whether the makeup of the Program Component Areas need to be changed to reflect the changing landscape for computing research (they do).

The hearing is groundwork for any legislative action the committee might take to reauthorize the NITRD program. The House has attempted to reauthorize the program — to update the legislation authorizing its operations to reflect the current environment for research — in each of the last three congresses only to see the efforts die in the Senate. The committee appears interested in using the PCAST review to inform a fourth try soon. We’ll have more detail on that as it becomes available.

New CRA Blog – The CRA Bulletin


We’ve launched a new blog! The CRA Bulletin is a news and announcement blog that focuses on topics of interest to the computing research community. The blog will highlight interesting opportunities for researchers and students, news from the field, developments in diversity, and announcements from award programs and other CRA initiatives.

The Bulletin is the perfect complement to the Computing Research Policy Blog! Subscribe to both today.

Microsoft Research VP to Speak to Congress about Importance of Federal Research Funding


Jeannette Wing, a corporate vice president at Microsoft Research overseeing the company’s core research labs and former CRA board member (and current member of CRA’s Government Affairs Committee), has an excellent post on the importance of federally supported fundamental research. Dr. Wing makes several points but the best is this: “Basic scientific research made today’s technology possible, and it will lead to tomorrow’s technological breakthroughs. That’s why we believe it is important for our company and for our country.” Citing, “the Internet, global positioning systems, the laser, multi-touch displays and search engines,” as examples of everyday products and tools, which we take for granted today, that come from federally supported basic research funding from decades ago. It’s a great piece to read.

Today, Dr. Wing will be participating in a roundtable discussion with members of the Senate Commerce Committee to help identify key priorities for the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. We wish her luck!

House STEM Education Caucus Briefing on Building a STEM Education Pipeline for Industry Needs


On Wednesday October 20th, the House STEM Education Caucus is sponsoring a briefing for Congressional staff titled, “Building a STEM Education Pipeline Aligned with Industry Needs: Perspectives from the Field.” The briefing is being moderated by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and is partnering with CRA, ASME, and the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).

The briefing will focus on ways that colleges and universities can creatively engage students in the STEM fields and bridge the gap between education and careers in the field. The panelists will focus on initiatives at the 2-year and 4-year college level, as well as graduate and doctoral levels. Additionally, there will be a focus on improving diversity and inclusiveness within the field and in industry.

Speakers include: Dr. Nancy Amato, Texas A&M University (who is also a co-chair of CRA-W); Dr. Collins Jones, Montgomery College; and Dr. Oscar Barton, George Mason University. Dr. Beth Ambos, Executive Officer of CUR, will moderate the briefing.

The briefing is on Tuesday October 20th from noon to 1pm in B339 Rayburn House Office Building. Please RSVP by October 18th to Mackenzie Yaryura.