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.
In an advertisement that ran in the New York Times on September 26, and in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, 39 CEOs and top executives of American companies argued that federally supported scientific research is, “an investment in our prosperity, security, and well-being.”
The ad points out that without federally supported research, we would not have such things as smart phones, the internet, or microprocessors, to name but a few of the examples cited. Some of the companies whose leaders signed the advertisement are members of the Task Force on American Innovation, a coalition which CRA is a member. The Task Force is a coalition of science organizations, American colleges and universities, and high-tech companies, which supports federally-funded scientific research and promote its benefits to America’s economy, security, and quality of life. The advertisement has the full list of signatories, some of which are well known to our community, such as Norm Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Meg Whitman, President and CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprises.
The ad was sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.
First, the good news: the government won’t have to shut down on Saturday, as Congressional leaders have agreed to a continuing resolution (CR) through December 9. As our regular readers will remember, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget year runs from October 1 2015 to September 30 2016 and if Congress has not passed a budget or a CR by this Saturday October 1, federal agencies must stop operations. The last government shutdown happened back in 2013 but we’ve been dealing with the potential of one every year since. The agreed to CR puts funding for federal agencies generally, and science research accounts specifically, on autopilot at Fiscal Year 2016 levels.
Now, the bad news: this in no way clears up how Fiscal Year 2017 (the budget that will technically start on Saturday) will end up looking. First, no Federal agencies will get any new money until a final budget is determined. Secondly, it doesn’t guarantee a finished budget in December. All eyes are now on how the election unfolds in November: if Democrats retake the Senate and/or the House, Congressional Republicans may want to tackle a budget now while they are in power. However, if Republicans retain either, or both, chambers, and potentially retake the White House, they may want to punt the budget to next year when they are in a stronger position. Given the added complications of the Freedom Caucus, who want major cuts in Federal spending and who have been a continuing problem for Republican Congressional leaders, only time will tell what happens.
Stay tuned, as we will have the latest developments for the Fiscal Year 2017 on our blog.
Do you have expertise in technological issues? Are you interested in how legislation impacts tech issues? There’s a Congressional fellowship for you! Tech Congress, an organization that, “brings tech talent, ideas and training to Congress…to build a practical and pragmatic understanding of Washington within the tech community,” is accepting applications for its 2017 class of Congressional Innovation Fellows.
The Congressional Innovation Fellowship is a program to inject, “desperately needed technological expertise into the Legislative Branch.” To that end, Tech Congress provides benefits and assistance in placement in a Congressional personal or committee office. The program is geared for, “early – mid career technology professionals to get hands on experience working in Congress and learn about the policymaking process.”
Tech Congress’ website has detailed information on what they’re looking for in applicants. If you’re interested in the intersection of public policy and technology, this is a great opportunity to pursue.
Back in July, we got a good sense of how Hillary Clinton would approach science and technology policy in her presidency when her campaign released her Technology and Innovation agenda, which we covered here. At the time, there wasn’t much information about how a President Trump would approach similar issues. Today, the folks behind ScienceDebate.org have released the answers provided by Clinton and Trump, along with Green Party candidate Jill Stein, to 20 questions about science policy issues facing the country. While Clinton’s answers are consistent with those she outlined in her Tech and Innovation agenda, the answers Trump provided give us a first real glimpse at the candidate’s views on things like innovation policy and the importance of the federal investment in fundamental research. I thought I’d highlight two question responses in particular, but invite you to read the whole 20 questions.
On what policies should be at the forefront of ensuring the U.S. continues to lead in innovation:
Trump: Innovation has always been one of the great by-products of free market systems. Entrepreneurs have always found entries into markets by giving consumers more options for the products they desire. The government should do all it can to reduce barriers to entry into markets and should work at creating a business environment where fair trade is as important as free trade. Similarly, the federal government should encourage innovation in the areas of space exploration and investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia. Though there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous.
And on science and engineering priorities in a budget restricted climate:
Trump: The premise of this question is exactly correct—scientific advances do require long term investment. This is why we must have programs such as a viable space program and institutional research that serve as incubators to innovation and the advancement of science and engineering in a number of fields. We should also bring together stakeholders and examine what the priorities ought to be for the nation. Conservation of resources and finding ways to feed the world beg our strong commitment as do dedicated investment in making the world a healthier place. The nation is best served by a President and administration that have a vision for a greater, better America.
So the good news from our vantage point is that both the major party candidates continue to believe that an important part of supporting American innovation is to continue federal investment in research and development, even if their level of specificity varies. There’s a measure of relief in seeing Trump’s responses here as some of his early comments on the campaign trail cast some doubt on whether he believed the federal investment was worthwhile when there were other issues facing the nation (he once replied when asked about support for NASA, that while he was a fan, “we’ve got bigger problems, you understand that? We have to fix our potholes. You know we don’t exactly have a lot of money.”) But these particular responses are not markedly different from a traditional GOP perspective on federal investment in science — an emphasis on removing regulatory barriers to innovation and a focus of the government’s role supporting fundamental research. We know how to make that case for computing research.
Those who attended this year’s CRA Snowbird conference may have heard Moshe Vardi’s provocative panel session on Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work, discussing the potential impact of computing technologies on employment and the nature of work over the coming years. Vardi makes a compelling case that the computing research community ought to be concerned with the impact its innovations will have on society, both positive and negative. To that end, Vardi has led an effort to pull together some of the leading thinkers from the computing, economics, and social science communities to consider the issue in Houston in December. The De Lange Conference on Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work will be held December 5-6, 2016, at Rice University. Here’s an announcement from the organizers (CRA is a co-sponsor).
The conference will focus on issues created by the impact of information technology on labor markets over the next 25 years, addressing questions such as:
- What advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and automation are expected over the next 25 years?
- What will be the impact of these advances on job creation, job destruction and wages in the labor market?
- What skills are required for the job market of the future?
- Can education prepare workers for that job market?
- What educational changes are needed?
- What economic and social policies are required to integrate people who are left out of future labor markets?
- How can we preserve and increase social mobility in such an environment?
CALL FOR POSTERS DEALINE IS SEPTEMBER 5TH, 2016!!
REGISTRATION AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, VISIT delange.rice.edu.
Renowned Speakers and Panelists:
Associate Professor, School of Information
The University of Texas at Austin
Vice President, Cognitive Computing
John Seely Brown
Co-chairman Deloitte’s Center for the Edge; Advisor to the Provost USC
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Directorate for Education and Skills
Professor of Economics
Delaney Family Professor Affiliation
Communication Studies Department, Northwestern University
John Leslie King
W.W. Bishop Professor of Information
University of Michigan School of Information
Nemirovsky Family Dean, School of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Pennsylvania
New York Times
Economic Policy Institute
Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University and Sackler Professor, (by spec. appnt.) Eitan Berglas School of
Economics at Tel Aviv University
Co-Founder and Co-Chair
I4j Innovation for Jobs
Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society, Professor of Philosophy, Senior Associate Dean for the Humanities and Arts, J. Frederick and Elisabeth Brewer Weintz University Fellow in Undergraduate Education
Herbert A. Simon University Professor School of Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University
Anthony Giddens Professor of Sociology
The London School of Economics
For more information, see delange.rice.edu.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2016, Satoe Sakuma.]
On June 28th, Secretary Hillary Clinton unveiled her “Tech and Innovation Agenda” which outlines how her administration will approach technology. The presumptive Democratic nominee is positioning herself as a strong supporter of the advancement and expansion of technology through education, entrepreneurship, and infrastructure. This agenda in many ways continues the Obama Administration’s efforts to expand federally supported research efforts and expand their impact on the nation’s economic ecosystem.
Of most importance to our community is her promoting of science and technology R&D. In the agenda she recognizes “the benefits of government investment in research and development (R&D) are profound and irrefutable” and plans to increase research budgets for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and DARPA. The agenda goes on to say that the country should make certain to remain international leaders in High Performance Computing, green energy, and machine learning. She also plans to create an easier, more efficient means of technology transfer, which is the movement of research and breakthroughs from government laboratories to industry for economic benefit and job creation.
Another section of Secretary Clinton’s agenda focuses on computer science education. Voicing her support for, and plans to expand, the Obama Administration’s “Computer Science for All” initiative. Clinton states that she will launch the next generation of Investing in Innovation grants and double the investment in pre-existing programs. She also plans on training 50,000 new CS teachers while assisting current teachers in gaining additional training to accommodate the projected growth. In order to support the expansion of CS faculty, Clinton promises to “improve CS Education certification pathways, and to broaden ongoing learning opportunities for CS teachers so they can remain up to date on the cutting edge developments in the field.” Addressing the issue of diversity in the Tech Workforce, Clinton promises to create a $25 billion fund for colleges with minority students and invest $20 billion to build a pathway for underrepresented youth through “models like linked learning, P-Tech, apprenticeships, and Career Academies.”
Additionally, to encourage advancement in technology, Secretary Clinton looks to “ensure the patent system continues to reward innovators” and deploy 5G technology to enable the Internet of Things (IoT) development. The idea being that IoT has tremendous potential to create jobs and improve the quality of people’s lives, and having the federal government invest in infrastructure now can speed the arrival of those benefits. To close the Digital Divide, Clinton states that “by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband that delivers speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs.”
A few questions and concerns were not addressed. Clinton outlines launching various grant programs, but does not mention how the new educational programs will be funded. Another possible seed for tension is her support for funding “commercialization capacity building and accelerator grants, and expand[ing] proven models like the Regional Innovation Program and the NSF I-Corps program,” by taking a small portion of federal research budget, which has been consistently flat funded or even reduced in recent years. Lastly, due to her unclear stance of “support[ing] efforts such as the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield to find alignment in national data privacy laws and protect data movement across borders. And… [to] promote the free flow of information in international fora,” there is likely to be pushback concerning the agenda’s position on privacy laws and encryption.
Secretary Clinton’s tech agenda is the first to be released by either candidate. We will provide an update regarding Donald Trump’s tech agenda once it is released.
UPDATE: On June 29th the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation reported S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, out favorably. There were a number of amendments but nothing of note to our community, besides the expected amendment (described in the original post below) including authorized funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
What is worth noting is that the bill was approved on a bipartisan basis with only one dissenting vote, Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE). Citing the fact that the authorization levels approved in the legislation are not off-set by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, the Senator voted against the bill. This is likely a preview of what S. 3084 will encounter when/if it reaches the full Senate, even though the bill is not an appropriations bill (it only sets a target for the appropriators to aim for and has no binding budgetary power).
CRA endorsed the bill before it was passed by the committee.
Original Post (06/23/2016):This morning, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee released their long awaited reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. The bill, called the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), would set federal science policy at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). As our long time readers will remember, the House Science Committee introduced and passed their own reauthorization of COMPETES in 2015, called the FIRST Act. The Senate bill is scheduled to be marked up next week, on June 29th. Let’s get into some of the details with the bill.
The first thing to notice is what’s not in the bill, namely authorization for funding levels for NSF and NIST. Quick note: this is an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill; the difference is an authorization bill sets a goal for how much money should go to programs, while an appropriations bill actually assigns the money. We have heard from members of the S&T policy community that an amendment will be filed tomorrow, which will authorize funding for the two agencies for two years. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the bill authorizes $7.5 billion for NSF, which is the same level of funding included in the Senate’s FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill. For FY2018, the bill authorizes a four percent increase in funding for NSF. It’s worth pointing out that this is still tentative and could change. Lastly, it worth pointing out that there is also no directorate-by-directorate level funding for NSF in the bill, and we don’t anticipate there will be any offered at the markup. That is a big difference with the House’s FIRST Act and a big win for the NSF research community, particularly the Social and Behavioral scientists.
As for what’s actually in the bill, it contains a number of policy provisions. Of interest to our community are the following items:
– “Title 1 Section 101 – Reaffirmation of merit-based peer review” – this is a “Sense of Congress” reaffirming the importance of peer review. It is likely a counter to the House’s FIRST Act, which calls for more scrutiny of the peer review process at NSF. The language is quite strong and supportive of NSF; for example, “as evidenced by the Foundation’s contributions to scientific advancement, economic development, human health, and national security, its peer review and merit review processes have successfully identified and funded scientifically and societally relevant research and should be preserved.”
– “Title 1 Section 105 – Networking and information technology research and development (NITRD) update” – This is the Senate version of the NITRD reauthorization, which the House passed recently. This section is similar to the House bill in its call for more strategic planning by NCO and the participating agencies, and in identifying some new areas of focus for the program, including:
- “provide for research on the interplay of computing and people, including social computing and human-robot interaction;”
- “provide for research on cyber-physical systems and improving the methods available for the design, development, and operation of those systems that are characterized by high reliability, safety, and security;”
- “provide for the understanding of the science, engineering, policy, and privacy protection related to networking and IT;” and,
- “provide for the understanding of the human facets of cyber threats and secure cyber systems.”
– “Title II Section 201 – Interagency working group on research regulation” – This sections concerns reducing the administrative burden on researchers. The bill cites that, “researchers spend as much as 42 percent
16 of their time complying with Federal regulations,” and, as a Sense of Congress, directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to work with OSTP to establish an interagency working group to coordinate how to reduce the burden.
– “Title II Section 202 – Scientific and technical collaboration” – Asserts the importance of Federal scientists attending symposia and conferences. Directs OMB to work with OSTP and other science research agencies to “revise current policies and streamline [approval] processes.” Decision should be based on whether attendance at the workshop would meet the mission of the organization and whether there are sufficient funds available for that purpose.
– “Title III Section 311 – Computer Science Education Research” – Directs NSF to award grants to support CS education research. The language notes, “the Foundation is well positioned to make investments that will accelerate ongoing efforts to enable rigorous and engaging computer science throughout the Nation.”
– “Title VI Section 601 – Innovation corps.” – Sense of Congress that, “I-Corps is a useful tool in promoting the commercialization of federally-funded research by training researchers funded by the Foundation in entrepreneurship and commercialization.” The bill directs NSF to, “encourage the development and expansion of I-Corps and other training programs that focus on professional development, including education in entrepreneurship and commercialization.”
The bill contains a number of provisions on expanding the opportunities of STEM education, reducing administrative burdens on researchers, and improving the transferring of technology and research from federal labs to the marketplace. On the whole, the bill is very supportive in tone of the science agencies.
So, what happens next? As noted above, the bill is scheduled to be marked up next week by the full Senate Commerce Committee and is expected to pass with bipartisan support. After that, the bill heads to the full Senate and the path forward becomes less clear. There are only two more weeks of legislative work days before Congress breaks for their respective July Presidential Conventions and the August recess. When the legislature comes back into session in September, the expectation is very little work will get done before they gone on break for October to campaign for reelection. All that means is it is unlikely that the bill will get floor time on the Senate until November, at the earliest. That leaves the lame duck session after the November election; how that session unfolds will depend greatly on the outcome of the election. So check back, as we will be watching this legislation very carefully.
CRA today released a letter to Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI), and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), expressing support for their efforts to pass S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which will be marked up in committee tomorrow (June 29, 2016).
June 27, 2016
The Honorable Cory Gardner
The Honorable Gary Peters
The Honorable John Thune
The Honorable Bill Nelson
Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson, Senators Gardner and Peters,
As an organization representing over 240 industry and academic institutions involved in computing research and six affiliated professional societies, the Computing Research Association is pleased to support your efforts to bolster Federal innovation policy and American competitiveness through the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084). We believe the bill represents a reaffirmation of the importance of key elements of the nation’s science and technology enterprise, including the strength of the merit-review process at the National Science Foundation, and the importance of the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program.
Indeed, we are pleased to see a number of provisions in the bill reflect the importance of Federal investments in computing research. As you are aware, advances in information technology are transforming all aspects of our lives. Virtually every human endeavor today has been touched by information technology, including commerce, education, employment, health care, energy, manufacturing, governance, national security, communications, the environment, entertainment, science and engineering. The profound reach of IT is enabled in large part by the innovations that spawn from the IT research ecosystem — that incredibly productive, yet complex interplay of industry, universities and the Federal government. Indeed, nearly every sub-sector of the IT economy today bears the stamp of Federal support. The program responsible for overseeing this crucial investment is NITRD.
We believe this Act makes the NITRD program stronger by improving the planning and coordination of the National Coordination Office for NITRD, requiring that the NCO and the NITRD agencies engage in strategic planning, and requiring the periodic review and assessment of the program contents and funding. All have been recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology in their recent reviews of the program.
We are also pleased to note that you plan to amend the bill during its markup to include an increase to the funding authorizations for NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Last year, CRA joined with more than 500 companies, universities, and national business, science and university organizations in endorsing “Innovation: An American Imperative,” which called on Congress and the Administration to provide at least four-percent real annual increases in funding for key research agencies, including NSF and NIST. The amendment under consideration would meet this target for FY 2018. We would urge that you and your colleagues on the committee continue your strong support of the U.S. innovation ecosystem, fueled in part by this Federal investment, and adopt it.
We thank you for your work on this legislation and for your long-standing support of the Federal investment in research, particularly in computing. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues as you endeavor to move the legislation forward this session.
Susan B. Davidson
Chair, Board of Directors
At a briefing of the congressional Diversity in Tech Caucus,
hosted by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the Capitol yesterday, CRA-W board member Rebecca Wright explained why efforts to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields — particularly computing — were worthy of continued Federal support. Wright, a professor of computer science at Rutgers University, was a member of a panel of experts assembled by the Diversity in Tech Caucus to explore the issue of diversity within the research and STEM Education communities.
Wright explained that a lack of diversity in the tech fields ought to pose a real concern for policymakers for three reasons:
- A diverse talent pool working on tech problems leads to better tech outcomes — not only because you have a range of different perspectives that can be brought to bear on a problem, but because a diverse workforce understands the needs of a diverse populace and can help tailor solutions to them.
- There’s an economic necessity — projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the demand for tech workers over the next ten years is likely serious, demand that won’t be met without increasing the draw from these underrepresented pools.
- There are also social justice benefits of providing equal opportunities in these high-paying, high-skill jobs for women and other underrepresented groups.
She also detailed social science research conducted by CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline explaining some of the factors that underlie women’s low participation rates in computing fields, and gave examples of how a few key CRA-W programs, like the CRA-W Research Experiences for Undergraduates and CRA-W’s Grad Cohort programs do an effective job of addressing those factors.
Wright was joined on the panel by economist Adams Nager, from the Information Technology Innovation Foundation (ITIF); Njema Frazier, a nuclear physicist, representing the National Society of Black Engineers; Gloria Washington, a computer scientist from Howard University (and recent CCC participant!), representing IEEE-USA; and Janet Koster, from the Association of Women in Science. All hit similar themes and reiterated the call for continued Federal support for successful programs.
The Diversity in Tech caucus is a recently-formed bi-cameral, bi-partisan congressional caucus driven at the moment by Sen. Klobuchar who has taken a keen interest in improving workforce diversity in this key industry. The caucus hopes to sponsor more events to drill down into the policy details necessary for ensuring that the Federal government is doing what it can to help foster a more inclusive technology workforce. We’ll have all the details when they do.
On June 9th, the Congressional Robotics Caucus, with support from the National Science Foundation, held an all day event on Capitol Hill marking five years of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI). The event was broken up into a lunch briefing, where members of Congress and their staff would be able to hear from a panel of experts on the past accomplishment of the NRI and future challenges and benefits of continued funding of robotics research; and an afternoon exhibition of roboticists and their work, where guests were able to interact one-on-one with the researchers. CRA is a member of the steering committee for the Congressional Robotics Caucus.
Some background on the NRI: launched in 2011, the goal of the initiative is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside or cooperatively with people. The NRI is supported by multiple agencies of the federal government including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The purpose of the program is to support the development of the next generation of robotics, to advance the capability and usability of such systems and artifacts, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative application areas. It addresses the entire lifecycle from fundamental research and development to manufacturing and deployment. In its first five years, the NRI has awarded more than $150 million to support over 230 projects in 33 states.
The lunch briefing had a distinguished list of panelists to speak on what the NRI has accomplished, the research challenges that still remain in the field, and what benefits the country can potentially reap from both past and future breakthroughs in robotics. Giving the perspective of the research community was the Computing Community Consortium chair, Greg Hager of Johns Hopkins University. Representing the federal funding agencies was Lynne Parker, co-chair of the NITRD Interagency Working Group on Robotics and Intelligent Systems. Giving the industry perspective was Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association. And finally, providing the perspective on the economic impacts and potential gains of robotics research was Robert Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The Congressional co-chairs of the Robotics Caucus, Representatives Rob Woodall (R-GA) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) also gave some remarks on the importance of continued federal funding of research in this area. It was a standing room only briefing, with the speakers fielding many questions from the audience of Congressional staffers and interested groups.
Dr. Hager had some thoughts on the return on investment of federal research dollars, which were pertinent to the discussion at the Capitol Hill event.
The afternoon of demonstrations were particularly well received. From Ekso Bionics’ exoskeleton; to the Robo Raven of Satyandra Gupta, of the University of Southern California; to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Cang Ye’s Co-robotic Cane, all the demos gave a picture of the benefits the country has reaped from the NRI, as well as giving an idea of gains still to come. Dozens of attendees kept the open house crowded for the entire day, with multiple members of Congress stopping by to see the exhibits. As well, the exhibition was the subject of a PBS News Hour segment, which showcased some of the researches and their robots.
All around, it was an excellent day for robotics researchers. Hopefully, the Representatives and their staff members walked away with a better idea of the benefits of the federal investment in robotics research.
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