As we mentioned, President Obama released his budget request for the Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) on Tuesday. We’ll be doing a series of posts on the assorted agencies’ budgets that are important to the computing research community. The first agency that we want to highlight is the Department of Energy (DOE), as they released their top line numbers on March 4th (most of the other science agencies are releasing their numbers next week).

Two key parts of the agency for the computing community are the Office of Science (SC), home of most of the agency’s basic research support, and ARPA-E. For SC, the office would only see a 0.9 percent increase from FY14 to FY15 (going from $5.07B to $5.11B). However, that small overall increase masks significant gains for the subaccount that matters most to computing researchers: ASCR or Advanced Scientific Computing Research. ASCR would see a significant increase in funding, going up by 13.2 percent (or $478M in FY14 to $571M in FY15). Much of the justification for this increase is tagged to work on achieving exascale computing, application of high performance computer simulation and modeling, and operations & upgrades to ASCR facilities. ASCR would receive the largest increase within DOE SC’s request. This is obviously good, but the details are important, and we should get those soon.

As for ARPA-E (or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy), it would see a large increase of 16.1 percent (or $280M in FY14 to $325M in FY15). This increase is to support, “transformational energy R&D…as part of a $5.2 billion DOE investment in clean energy technology programs.” While this number is encouraging, it is important to note that a large increase in ARPA-E’s budget has been a regular occurrence with Obama Administration budget requests over the years. And Congress doesn’t have a good record of passing those suggested increases. In the FY14 Omnibus, for example, the agency received just enough funding to roll back much of what it had lost to the sequester in FY13 ($275M in FY12; $252M in FY13; and $280M in FY14) but still fell well short of the President’s request for FY14 ($379M).

It is both important, and not important, to note that the President has signaled DOE as a major agency in his “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative,” or his wish list of programs that ought to receive extra funding beyond the FY15 budget caps. It is important because it demonstrates that the Administration is still concerned about scientific research. However, it is not important because the Initiative is dead on arrival with Congress. Whether this is good or bad, to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, “depends greatly on a certain point of view.”

To sum up, the President’s DOE request is good news for the computing research community, at least at the top line level. Remember, detailed budget info has not been released yet and, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. As more information is released, we’ll be posting it here, so stay tuned.

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The House Appropriations Committee released their spending cuts version 2.0 — after having their previous attempt to cut $74 billion from the President’s request for non-defense discretionary spending savaged by conservative Republicans in the House –  and NSF and DOE both face significant cuts. The appropriators went back and took another look at their first proposal, which cut about $74 billion from the President’s budget request, and found another $26 billion. The new proposed cuts mean real cuts for agency budgets (not just cuts to requested increases).

Here’s a list of the proposed cuts in the CR, which will be taken up on Monday in a vehicle that combines the CR and the FY 11 Defense Appropriation.

Notable cuts for science:

National Science Foundation’s Research and Related Activities account – cut $150 million compared to NSF’s FY10 budget.

NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction – cut $62.5 million vs. FY 10.

NSF’s Education and Human Resources – cut $147 million vs. FY 10.

DOE’s Office of Science – cut $893 million.

DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – cut $786 million

NIST’s Scientific and Technical Research Services – cut $45.5 million

About the only positive — and that’s a very qualified positive — is that ARPA-E does manage to get an appropriation in the bill ($50 million), averting some concerns that the agency would receive $0. That’s significantly lower than their original funding of $400 million, but the agency is in an awkward spot because it has never had a “normal” appropriation (it was authorized in the America COMPETES Act and given a one-time appropriation in the 2009 stimulus bill), so a CR could very well have included no funding for it.

We’ll have more as we figure it out, but these numbers show the community has a lot of work to do in the House and Senate to prevent the country from taking a big step backwards in trying to improve our long-term innovative potential….

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Two weeks after the House Science and Technology Committee approved it, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 will get consideration from the whole House today. The bill, which we’ve discussed previously, would extend funding authorizations through 2015 for a few key science agencies at levels that would double their budgets over ten years, in addition to reauthorizing a number of programs designed to increase the participation of U.S. students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and creating or modifying a few programs designed to assist U.S. businesses commercialize new technologies.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chair of the House S&T Committee, hits the floor with 101 co-sponsors – all but two (by my count) Democrats. Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Judy Biggert (D-IL) are the only GOP Members of Congress to lend their name to the effort. While this is markedly less bipartisan than the original bill (which, though it had fewer overall co-sponsors, had a much higher percentage of GOP endorsers), it’s not terribly surprising given the current election-year politics.

In fact, the House Republican Conference is opposing the bill, and they cite three bases: it expands government spending at a time of large federal deficits; it creates new government (they cite six new programs they feel are duplicative or not related to the original research focus of the bill), and it changes the original focus of COMPETES from the laudable goal of buttressing basic research to a more “technology commercialization” focus, “which many members may consider to be corporate welfare.”

Though it would be nice if the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, like the original version of COMPETES, in this election-year climate, where the GOP has visions of picking up as many as 100 seats, it’s not terribly surprising that a large number (perhaps a large majority) of Republicans will likely vote against it. It should pass, regardless.

CRA has expressed its support for the bill. In a letter to Rep. Gordon, the bill’s sponsor, we wrote:

We believe this bill continues the strong commitment to U.S. innovation and competitiveness set out in the original America COMPETES Act of 2007 by strengthening the federal investment in basic research – including a particular focus on federal government’s investment in information technology research and development – by bolstering programs designed to increase participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and by fostering a environment conducive to innovation for American business.

We are particularly pleased that H.R. 5116 includes the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Act of 2009, which we supported last year when it passed the house as H.R. 2020. We believe the NITRD Act makes the NITRD program stronger by enacting several of the recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) review of the NITRD program in 2007. In particular, we are pleased that the NITRD Act includes a requirement that the NITRD program undergo periodic review and assessment of the program contents and funding, as well as develop and periodically update a strategic plan – both key recommendations of the PCAST and necessary in helping ensure the significant federal investment in IT R&D is used as effectively as possible.

Overall, H.R. 5116 sends a strong signal that Congress remains committed to the belief that federal investment in research remains a key part of the vibrant innovation ecosystem that helps preserve U.S. leadership in an increasingly competitive world – a belief CRA shares. The investments outlined in COMPETES will help ensure we continue to produce the ideas and the talent that drive American science and industry, creating new technologies, new industry sectors, and new high value jobs.

The debate could be long. Quite a large number of amendments were submitted to the Rules Committee, though its likely not all of those will be ruled “in order” or will be offered by the original sponsors. I’d guess that most of the most-worrisome ones – those that freeze authorization levels or eliminate whole titles of the bill – will fail with at least a party-line vote. But we’ll keep an eye on the action and have a final wrap-up here when all is said and done.

UPDATE: (5/13/2010) – The bill has just been derailed.

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