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.

CRA Welcomes Emily Tang as its 2017 Eben Tisdale Fellow

By Emily Tang, 2017 Eben Tisdale Fellow

Emily Tang, 2017 CRA Eben Tisdale Fellow

I’ve just finished my second year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I’m majoring in electrical engineering and computer science with additional focuses in linguistics and applied international studies. I’m currently figuring out whether I’d like to pursue studying education technology (in particular technology to assist bilingual learning), technology policy, or law.

Outside of classes, I’m heavily involved in student government as president of my dorm, New House, which encompasses nine smaller communities. As part of my duties, I sit as a voting member on additional student government bodies such as the Dormitory Council and the Undergraduate Association. In my position, I also serve as a bridge between the students of my dorm, and the MIT administration, a role that is more critical than ever as we undergoing displacement due to construction over the upcoming year. In my smaller community within New House, French House, I serve as social chair and help plan social events and study breaks. I’m also involved as a mentor in a teaching program that trains freshmen how to use laser cutters and 3D printers in an effort to increase student access of MakerSpaces around campus.

Outside of class, I like to read, cook, bake, and listen to or make music. I’m always keen to try new recipes, and enjoy exploring southern food and Chinese food, my two sources of comfort. I’m known for always having a steady supply of all sorts of tea and books, and always have a recommendation of either or both ready.

I’m excited to be working for the CRA this summer as a Tisdale fellow.

President’s Budget Request Round-Up: NSF, NIST, NIH, and NASA Budgets Are All Cut

President Trump released his annual budget request last week. As we have done in years past, the CRA Policy Blog will be doing a series of posts on the assorted budget requests for key science agencies, particularly highlighting the ones that are of importance to the computing community.

As a reminder, Trump released a budget outline, nicknamed the “skinny budget,” back in March. That blueprint did not paint a good picture for the federally science agencies and, sadly, there weren’t any major changes in this full budget released earlier this week. Let’s get in the details.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF is the largest supporter of basic research in IT, accounting for 83 percent of the funding in the field. That fact makes the cuts to NSF generally, and the CISE Directorate specifically, very concerning.

Under the President’s budget request (PBR), NSF would receive an 11 percent cut, going from $7.47 billion in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Omnibus to $6.65 billion for FY18. That is an $819 million cut. The majority of that cut ($672 million) comes out of the Research and Related Activities (RRA) account, which is where the majority of the research that NSF funds is located. RRA goes from $6.03 billion in FY17 to $5.36 billion in the FY18 PBR. The other large part of the cut ($119 million) comes from the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account, which goes from $880 million in FY17 to $761 million in the FY18 PBR.

Drilling down into RRA, the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE), which handles NSF’s computer and computing research portfolio, fairs no better than the agency as a whole. CISE is slated to receive a 10.3 percent cut, going from $935 million in FY17 to $839 million, a cut of $96 million, in the President’s FY18 request.

For some insight into how NSF leadership decided what would need to be cut, it is worth reading this piece in Science by Jeffrey Mervis. To see how the CISE leadership plans to contend with this budget request, see their letter to the community.

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $7.47B $6.65B -$819M -11.0%
RRA $6.03B $5.36B -$672M -11.2%
EHR $880M $761M -$119M -13.5%
CISE $935M $839M -$96M -10.3%

National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)

NIST is slated to be hit particularly hard under the President’s request, receiving a 24.6 percent cut, going from $954 million to $725 million (a $237 million cut).

Of most interest to the computing research community is NIST’s Scientific and Technical Research and Services account, or STRS. This part of the agency’s budget handles the research grants, special programs, and laboratory operations of NIST. STRS fairs only relatively better than the agency as a whole; receiving a 12.1 percent cut, going from $690 million in FY17 to $600 million in the FY18 PBR (a $89 million cut). The rest of the cut to the agency’s budget comes out of the Industrial Technology Services (ITS) account, which is effectively eliminated.

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NIST Total $954M $725M -$237M -24.6%
STRS $954M $600M -$89M -12.1%

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

NIH gets hit nearly as hard as NIST, as a percentage of their budget. The agency is requesting a FY18 budget of $26.9 billion, a 21.2 percent cut from their FY17 budget ($34.1 billion, or a $7.2 billion cut).

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NIH Total $34.1B $26.9B -$7.2B -21.2%


NASA is the relative winner in the President Budget Request, being slated to receive only a 2.6 percent cut. While not a historically large supporter of basic IT research, NASA’s Science account is still important to track. At the top line number, NASA would receive $19.1 billion for FY18 under the President’s plan; that would e a cut of $561 million from the FY17 budget. The Science account would fair slightly better than the agency as a whole, with a 1.1 percent cut; the budget would be $5.71 billion for FY18, a $53 million dollar cut from FY17 levels ($5.77 billion).

FY17 Omnibus FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
NASA Total $19.6B $19.1B -$561M -2.6%
Science $5.77B $5.71B -$53M -1.1%

Final Analysis

As we said on Tuesday, these cuts are very bad. At the NSF’s public rollout of their budget request (the only science agency to do a public rollout), the recurring line used by the agency’s leadership is that the PBR is, “the first step in the (budget) process.” And while that is true, the PBR tends to set the tone for the proceeding steps, which only makes the impact of this request worse.

The good news is many Congressional leaders have already said that Congress will take a different track with the budget they will produce. As an example, there was pretty quick dismissal of the President’s NIH request. This is good to hear, but the rest of the Federal science investment will need to be protected as well. Considering three of the agencies (NSF, NIST, and NASA) covered in this article are in the same appropriation subcommittee bill (the Commerce, Justice, Science, or CJS, subcommittee), will only further hamper efforts to avoid these cuts.

Put simply: the community needs to get out and sing the praises of these science agencies. Now would be a good time to join CRA’s Computing Research Advocacy Network (CRAN), if you’re not already a member. A good place to start is with your home Representative and two Senators. We’ll keep track as the process unfolds in Congress, so please checking back for updates.

NSF Funded IoT Security Research Excites at the 2017 CNSF Exhibition

On May 16th, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an alliance of over 140 professional organizations, universities, and businesses, held their 23rd Annual Capitol Hill Exhibition. CNSF supports the goal of increasing the federal investment in the National Science Foundation’s research and education programs, and the exhibition itself is a great way to show members of Congress and their staff what research the American people have funded.

AAAS CEO and former Congressman Rush Holt (far left), speaks with (from left to right) Gudrun Jonsdottir, Daniel Wood, and Rohan Doshi, all students from Princeton University.

This year the Computing Research Association, a member of CNSF, sponsored Nick Feamster and his students from Princeton University. They demonstrated multiple pieces of technology for monitoring security of consumer Internet of Things (IoT) devices on a home network. Dr. Feamster’s students, all undergraduates at Princeton, are: Daniel Wood, Gudrun Jonsdottir, and Rohan Doshi.

NSF Director France Cordova (left) listens to Gudrun Jonsdottir (left), while Nick Feamster and Rush Holt (center) look on.

Each student presented a different piece of technology to the exhibition’s attendees. Daniel Wood demonstrated an algorithm used to monitor IoT devices to determine what information is being transmitted and whether it is a privacy risk to the consumer. Gudrun Jonsdottir showed her program, which can check devices to determine if they have default passwords and automatically change them to be more secure. Rohan Doshi demoed his algorithm that monitors the internet traffic of devices to determine if they have been compromised by hackers and are being used in cyber attacks (similar to the 2016 Dyn cyber attack) or other malicious uses. Together the students created an intuitive dashboard, which can present all this information to consumers and allow them to monitor their interconnected devices.

Jim Kurose, Assistant Director of CISE at NSF, speaks with (from left to right) Rohan Doshi, Gudrun Jonsdottir, and Daniel Wood.

All of this work is supported from the CISE directorate at NSF. All three projects were well received by the attendees of the exhibition; in fact, the students fielded questions from Congressional staffers; NSF Program Officers; the Assistant Director of CISE, Jim Kurose; and even the NSF Director, France Córdova, and the President of AAAS, former Congressman Rush Holt.

Gudrun Jonsdottir (left-center) presents her research to Jim Kurose, Assistant Director of CISE at NSF, as Rohan Doshi (far left) and Daniel Wood (far right) look on.

A number of other organizations had displays and were demonstrating NSF funded research at the event. From the American Mathematical Society’s “Berry Smart: Mathematics for Food and Water Security,” to the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences’ “Neuroscience Discoveries in Reading and Dyslexia,” to Vanderbilt University’s “Nanoscale Manufacturing of Next-generation All-Carbon Materials,” the exhibition was a great display of the different types of research being supported by NSF. Look here to see a list of the participating organizations and what other exhibitors presented.

First Look: President Trump’s FY18 Budget Request is Rough for Science

FY2018 Budget Request: "A New Foundation for American Greatness"Today President Trump released a more detailed budget request for FY 2018, a follow up to the “skinny” budget released in March, and science agencies fare pretty poorly (as do a lot of other government programs), though U.S. efforts to develop “exascale” computing capabilities were prioritized. Here are some quick details: 

  • The National Science Foundation would see a cut of $841 million overall vs. FY 17, to $6.65 billion — a cut of 11.2 percent. NSF’s Computing and Information Science and Engineering Directorate would see a decrease of 10.3 percent under the plan. Within CISE, the priority is core research and research in national priority areas.
  • DOE’s Office of Science would see a $862 million cut from FY16 levels to $4.43 billion — a cut of 16 percent. However, the agency’s efforts to deploy an Exascale-class supercomputer were bolstered by a $101 million increase (16 percent) to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research’s (ASCR) Exascale Computing Program (ECP). With the increase, ECP is expected to begin site-prep and initial engineering for the deployment of two different exascale architecture machines, the first in 2021, and the second in 2022. Research funding in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science accounts has been transferred to the ECP program, with no change in scope (according to the administration). 
  • The National Institutes of Health would see a cut of 20 percent, or $6.2 billion less than FY 16.
  • National Institute for Standards and Technology research and development cut 15 percent.
  • NASA R&D cut 23 percent.
  • Defense basic research (6.1) would see a 6 percent increase; Defense applied research (6.2) would see a 3 percent increase.
  • Department of Homeland Security S&T cut 27 percent.
  • EPA S&T cut 47 percent.

I can’t recall a time in my 15+ years of working science policy that science agencies across the board have endured these levels of proposed cuts. You’d have to look back to the early years of the Reagan administration to find similar levels of reductions.

The good news is that it appears many in the leadership in Congress are ready to look past much of this request. While applauding the idea of a budget that “balances,” most of the key players have indicated that much of the rest is problematic and that many of the proposals will have a hard time finding fans in either chamber.

That noted, though the President’s budget is just the first step in the annual appropriations process and Congress will have much to say about it, we are undoubtedly in a more difficult position than if the President’s request had been more favorable to investments in research. If you wanted a blueprint for how the U.S. could cede its global S&T leadership, this budget would be a good start at one. We’ve got our work cut out helping the science community make its case for the importance of these investments.

We’ll have more details as they come available today and in the days to come….

Call for Nominations! — 2017 CCC Leadership in Science Policy Institute

Update: The nomination period has been extended through June 23, 2017! 

As part of its mission to develop a next generation of leaders in the computing research community, the Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium (CCC) announces the fourth offering of the CCC Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI), intended to educate computing researchers on how science policy in the U.S. is formulated and how our government works. We seek nominations for participants.

LiSPI will be centered around a two day workshop to be held November 6 – 7, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Full details of LiSPI are available here.)

LiSPI will feature presentations and discussions with science policy experts, current and former Hill staff, and relevant agency and Administration personnel about mechanics of the legislative process, interacting with agencies, advisory committees, and the federal case for computing. A tentative agenda is viewable from the link above. LiSPI participants are expected to

  • Complete a reading assignment and a short written homework prior to attending the workshop, so that time spent at the workshop can focus on more advanced content,
  • Attend the November 6 – 7th workshop, which includes breakfast both days, lunch, and a reception with the speakers and invited guests at the conclusion of the first day, and
  • Complete an assignment afterwards that puts to use the workshop content on a policy problem that has significant projection onto computing and information.

LiSPI is not intended for individuals who wish to undertake research on science policy, become science policy fellows, or take permanent positions in Washington, DC. Rather, we are trying to reach work-a-day academics who appreciate that our field must be engaged in helping government.

The CCC will provide funds for hotel accommodations for two nights of local expenses (hotel, meals) for the November 6 – 7th workshop. Nominees are expected to pay their own travel expenses, though there will be a limited fund available for participants who cannot attend unless their travel is provided.

Eligibility and Nomination Process

LiSPI participants are expected to have the experience and flexibility in their current positions to engage with government. University faculty members should be from CS or IS departments and be post-tenure; industrial researchers should have comparable seniority. Participants should be adept at communicating. They must be nominated by their chair or department head and must have demonstrated an interest in science policy, especially as it relates to computer science (and closely allied fields).

Specifically, the nomination process is as follows:

  • A chair or department head proposes a LiSPI candidate by visiting the nomination page and providing the name and institution of the nominee, along with a letter of recommendation.
  • The candidate will then be contacted by the workshop organizers and asked to submit a CV, a short essay detailing their interests in science policy, and an indication of whether they would require financial aid to attend.

All nominations and material from nominators and nominees must be received by JUNE 23, 2017.

Selection Process

The LiSPI selection committee will evaluate each nomination based on record of accomplishment, proven ability to communicate, and promise. Selections will be announced by July 15, 2017. We plan to open the workshop to 35 participants.

Please discuss this opportunity with your colleagues, identify those you believe would be interested in participating, and submit nominations!

Defense Research in the FY17 Omnibus

Earlier this week, we published a breakdown of the research agencies in the Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus spending bill that had been agreed to by both political parties in Congress. There was one significant research agency that was left out of that breakdown: the Department of Defense (DOD). As one would expect, given President Trump’s campaign pledge to increase defense spending, DOD did relatively well in the agreement, with Defense Science and Technology (DOD S&T) accounts being no exception.

As a reminder, the DOD S&T program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced technology development). These accounts are made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide (DW) account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is included under the Defense Wide account.

With a few exceptions, DOD S&T accounts saw increases from both Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) level and the Obama Administration’s request from last year. As a whole, DOD S&T would be funded at $14.0 billion, which is a 5.7% increase over FY16 ($13.25 billion). The Obama Administration had requested a 4.1% cut. As for the individual accounts:

  • DOD 6.1 basic research would see a slight cut of 1.4% below FY16’s numbers, going from $2.31 billion in FY16 to $2.28 billion in FY17. However this cut is small compared to the 9% cut that the Obama Administration had recommended in February.
  • DOD 6.2 applied research would see a healthy increase of 5.8%, going from $5.0 billion in FY16 to $5.3 billion in FY17. That would be a full 10% above the Obama Administration request, which had recommended a 3.6% cut.
  • DOD 6.3 advanced technology development would receive an even larger increase of 8.4%, going from $5.94 billion in FY16 to $6.44 billion in FY17. The Obama Administration had requested a 2.6% cut.
  • DARPA has the misfortune of not fairing as well under the Omnibus than under the Obama budget request. It is slated to receive a 1.7% increase, going from $2.89 billion to $2.94 billion. However, this is half of the 3.4% increase that had been recommended back in February of 2016.

Now, what does this all mean? As we stated in our budget request round-up last year, this shows that defense research continues to be a Congressional priority. Many of the cuts that the Obama Administration had recommended in their request could be explained by the Pentagon’s budget gamesmanship; namely removing money from a known Congressional priority (DOD S&T), expecting Congress to put it back during the budget process, and use it to fund other areas in the request that are not Congressional priorities, in the hope that some of that money will stick during appropriations. The worry with this ploy is that Congress will not put the money back in; by all appearances, this gamble seems to have worked this year, which is obviously good.

On the whole, this is a good budget for DOD research accounts. It is certainly better than where this process stated in February of 2016. Hopefully this heralds a new commitment to DOD S&T with Fiscal Year 2018 coming up soon.

Update: 5/5/17 President Trump has signed the FY 2017 Omnibus bill, H.R. 244, into law this afternoon.

Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Released; Not Great, but also not Terrible, for Science

Late last night, the House Rules Committee released the agreed upon omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17), which Congress has been negotiating for the past few months. As a quick recap, the Federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution, or CR, since the present fiscal year began on October 1st. The bill released last night, which incorporates all twelve unfinished FY17 appropriations bills into one, must-pass $1.1 trillion spending bill, doesn’t provide for increases to most science research agencies. However, it also doesn’t have cuts to those agencies or proscriptive policy provisions. The negotiators also have mostly ignored President Trump’s proposed cuts to science programs in this final version. So it’s pretty much even for our community; not great but also not a catastrophe either. Let’s get into the details.

National Science Foundation
NSF would see funding of $7.46 billion in FY17, an increase of just $9 million over FY16. Research & Related Activities (R&RA) funding, where the majority of the research funding resides, and Education and Human Resources (EHR) funding would be flat. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) is the source of the $9 million increase. This flat budget approach essentially aligns with President Obama’s FY17 request for discretionary funds for the agency. You’ll recall he submitted a budget that was relatively flat in terms of discretionary spending, but also submitted a request for a new non-discretionary funding stream to bolster some science budgets, a funding stream that had no chance of passage in Congress.

As well, there’s no directorate-by-directorate funding guidance for NSF, which means Social, Behavior, and Economic (SBE) and GEO directorates avoided specific targeting in the bill. This has been a recurring concern given House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) repeated efforts to get directorate-by-directorate funding included in authorization bills (meaning policy bills) for the agency.

Department of Energy Office of Science
DOE would see slight growth in the Office of Science — up $45 million over FY16 to $5.39 billion in FY17. Over half of that increase would go to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR); this is where most of the computing research at the agency is located. ASCR’s budget would go from $621 million in FY16 enacted to $647 million (an increase of 4.2% or $26 million) for FY17. An increase of $10 million would go to the Exascale Computing Project line item. While this is relatively good, it is not as much as the Obama Administration had requested last year (which was a 6.8% increase or $42 million).

Somewhat surprisingly, given how Trump proposed to nearly wipe it out, the Advanced Research Project Agency, Energy, or ARPA-E, would grow $15 million under this bill to $306 million in FY17.

National Institute of Standards and Technology
NIST overall would see a $12 million cut from FY16. Drilling down into the details, the Scientific and Technical Research Services (STRS), where the majority of the research that NIST funds is located, would be flat funded at $690 million. The rest of the cuts to NIST come from a $2 million cut to the Industrial Technology Services account and a $10 million cut to the Construction of Research Facilities account. This is much less than what President Obama had requested last year.

NASA came out quite well in the omnibus, increasing its budget to $19.6 billion, an increase of $368 million over FY16. The majority of that increase went into the Science and Exploration accounts (+$175 million and +$294 million, respectively). The Science account in particular would fair better under the omnibus than last year’s Presidential request; the Obama Administration had recommended a $287 million cut to the account. Within the omnibus, there were cuts to Space Operations (-$78.5 million), Education (-$15 million), and Construction (-$28 million), so some of the increases to Science and Exploration are due to money being moved around in the agency’s budget. Generally speaking, NASA would benefit under the omnibus.

National Institutes of Health
If there’s a “big winner” among the research agencies, NIH is it. The agency would see an increase of $2 billion in FY17, to $34.1 billion. That’s a 6.2 percent increase, though it includes $352 million already approved as part of the 21st Century Cures Act that was part of the last CR in December. The omnibus also increases funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative by $120 million, and the BRAIN Initiative by $110 million.

Environmental Protection Agency
EPA, despite being targeted for major cuts in Trump’s FY18 “skinny” budget, would see only a 1 percent reduction in FY17 under the omnibus and no staff reductions.


Generally speaking, this is not a great budget for science, but it could have been far worse. Had Congress gone along with the Trump Administration proposals for FY17, we’d see cuts across many of the agencies we care about. NSF, for example, was slated for a $350 million cut under the Administration’s proposal. But while we’ve avoided that for FY17, we’ve already seen in the President’s “skinny” budget proposal for FY18 that many of these same agencies are slated for big cuts in his full request. We should have that document sometime in May or early June. Be sure to check back.

Update: 5/5/17 President Trump has signed the FY 2017 Omnibus bill, H.R. 244, into law this afternoon.

Congress Passes Week Long FY2017 CR, Averting Shutdown for One More Week

Filing under “not entirely surprising news,” Congress passed a week long continuing resolution (CR) to fund all Federal agencies at Fiscal Year 2016 levels for one more week. The bill is likely to be signed by the President immediately. The delay is to finalize negotiations on the final bill for the last five months of Fiscal Year 2017, the current budgetary year. Congress had until midnight tonight to pass a bill or a CR in order to avoid a government shutdown.

By all reports, this is what’s called a “clean” continuing resolution, meaning that it has no policy riders or cuts/boosts in funding for any departments or agencies. That also means there are no specifics to report. If all goes to plan, we’ll have the final bill next week and we will update with details once we have them. Be sure to check back.

Trump Budget Blueprint Slashes Science, Boosts Defense

President Trump today released his “budget blueprint to make America great again” that calls on Congress to boost Defense spending by $54 billion in FY 2018 and offset that increase by slashing non-defense spending an equal amount. As a result, the budget request would make deep cuts to Federal research agencies and eliminate other popular programs entirely.

This budget is short on details — the President will release a more traditional, detailed budget in early to mid-May — but what is included will not breed much faith that the new Administration sees much value in federal investments in research.


    • NIH would be cut by *$6 billion* — that’s a fifth of its current budget

    • DOE’s Office of Science would see a cut of $900 million…that’s nearly a fifth. No details yet on the Advanced Scientific Computing Research. Eliminates ARPA-E.

    • EPA’s budget is down a third. Cuts Office of R&D in half.

    • NASA would lose the entire education office and $102 million of the earth science budget (including 4 climate change programs)

    • NSF isn’t mentioned by name, but is probably included in the “other agencies” category, with an expected cut of ~10 percent.

    • Cuts $250 million from coastal research programs at NOAA and eliminates the $73 million Sea Grant Program;

    • Eliminates funding to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at NIST

    • Cuts $9.2 billion at the Department of Education

    • Department of Defense would see a 10 percent increase.

    • Department of Homeland Security would see a 7 percent increase

The budget also includes ~$4 billion for a southern border wall; eliminates funding for National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities; eliminates funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services; eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; eliminates funding for the Legal Services Corporation; eliminates funding for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Though this budget appears pretty objectively bad for the research community, keep in mind this is only the President’s proposal. Congress will ultimately decide how these programs are funded, and there is significant opposition to many of these cuts on both sides of the aisle. The final budget will likely not look much like this one. However, as a starting point for the negotiations, this one is pretty poor.

We’ll have more details on the budget as the specifics become available over the next weeks and months. We’ll also detail some of the steps that the computing research community is taking to urge Congress and the Administration to protect America’s leadership role in innovation by buttressing investments in science. We’ll be making the case that ensuring that America remains tops in global competitiveness and job creation requires maintaining a healthy and robust research ecosystem in the U.S., and a key part of that ecosystem is the federal role in supporting basic research. Indeed, there have been few investments the federal government has ever made that have provided bigger return than the investment in fundamental research. Research investments need to be a priority, not a target of cuts as they are in this request.

House Science Committee Releases Views & Estimates for FY 2018; Prioritizes Computing at Expense of SBE Again

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.

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