Screenshot 2015-04-22 12.30.40The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is currently marking up the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), introduced by Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) — a bill designed to provide three key science agencies with authorizations for funding for FY 2016 and FY 2017 and implement other policies. The bill is cast as a reauthorization of the original America COMPETES Act of 2007, which, inspired by the seminal National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, was a bipartisan attempt to buttress Federal support the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in recognition of the critical role they play in fostering U.S. innovation and competitiveness in an increasingly competitive world. That original bill attempted to put those agencies on a path to doubling their research budgets over seven years — an important symbolic goal that demonstrated Congress’ commitment to support the physical sciences (which, in DC parlance, is anything not in the life sciences) after years of relative underinvestment.

H.R. 1806 also would authorize funding at NSF, DOE’s Office of Science, and NIST, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, but does not provide for the steady and real growth in the Federal investment in research called for by the Gathering Storm report or enacted by past COMPETES authorizations. While the bill includes authorized increases for some programs in FY 2016, the bill holds agency funding flat in FY 2017 — and that means a cut in real dollars when inflation is considered.

Though the bill also shows strong support for investments in computing research at NSF and DOE, it does so at the expense of other science disciplines, including the social, behavioral and economic sciences (SBE) and geosciences (GEO). CRA, along with many partners in the science community, opposes this approach, especially given the importance of research in fields like SBE in informing computing research — particularly in computing areas like cyber security research and human-computer interaction. The insight into human behaviors provided by SBE is critical to understanding how best to design and implement hardware and software that are more secure and easier to use.

For these reasons, CRA opposes passage of H.R. 1806 as introduced. CRA released the following letter to Committee Chair Lamar Smith and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) explaining our lack of endorsement.

April 21, 2015

The Honorable Lamar Smith
Chairman
House Committee on Science, Space and Technology
2321 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson
Ranking Member
House Committee on Science, Space and Technology
394 Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Johnson,

As an organization representing over 200 PhD-granting departments in computing, 16 industrial computing research labs, and 6 affiliated computing societies, we commend you both on your long-standing efforts to support the Federal investment in fundamental computing research. While we are pleased to see elements of that support continue in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), other concerns — including the overall level of support provided to key science agencies in the act — prevent us from offering our endorsement of the bill.

In particular, we are disappointed to note that the bill, by flat-funding science agencies in the second year of authorizations, fails to provide for steady and real growth in the Federal investment in research, something we believe is critical to our Nation’s ability to compete, prosper and be secure in the coming years and decades. Indeed, when inflation is considered, the authorizations for FY 2017 represent real reductions in research investments, including investments in computing research.

We are also disappointed to note that research at the National Science Foundation in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) sciences, along with the Geosciences, would be curtailed under this authorization. As you are aware, research in several key areas of computing — including cyber security and human-computer interaction (HCI) — is significantly informed by work emanating from the SBE directorate. The insight into human behaviors provided by SBE-funded work is critical to understanding how best to design and implement hardware and software systems that are more secure and easier to use. In cyber security work, where the human is often the weakest link in the chain, it is especially crucial to understand the varying motivations and usage patterns that dictate how people interact with their machines, and the expertise in studying those issues in large part resides in the social, behavioral and economic sciences. In HCI work, expertise in social, behavioral and economic sciences is critically valuable in creating workplace systems that foster collaboration and creativity, creating disaster response systems that influence people to effectively find shelter and assistance, and creating systems that motivate medical adherence and compliance with medical treatment.

We would be happy to work with you and your staff to help address these concerns and create legislation we could support wholeheartedly. However, as the act stands, we are unable to offer our endorsement.

Sincerely,

J Strother Moore
Chair

Information on the ongoing markup, including a live stream, can be found here. CRA joins with a large number of academic, scientific and industry groups in opposition to H.R. 1806. We’ll have more detail about the results of the markup soon. 

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President Obama released his annual budget request on Monday February 2nd (interesting note: Fiscal Year 2016 is the first time his administration released the budget on time). 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. Check back for more agencies.

First up is the Department of Energy (DOE). The two key parts of DOE 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 see a very healthy increase of 5.4 percent from FY15 to FY16 (going from $5.07B to $5.34B). Seeing as the agency has limped through the Sequestration era with up-and-down budgets, this request is very good.

Perhaps most important for computing researchers is the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program. ASCR would see a huge increase in funding, going up by 14.8 percent (or $541M in FY15 to $621M in FY16). Most of the justification for this increase (~$87M) is set aside for the exascale computing initiative. In fact, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz said that exascale computing, both hardware and software, is a “top priority across the Office of Science.” Some other details from ASCR’s request are that their user facilities are operating, “optimally and with >90% availability;” and “deployment of 10-40 petaflop upgrade at NERSC and continued preparation for 75-200 petaflop upgrades at the Leadership Computing Facilities” continue. Also, the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship is restored at $10M to, “fully fund a new cohort.” (You’ll recall we joined with the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) to call on Congress to preserve the CS Grad Fellowship program.)

Digging a little deeper, the majority of the ASCR increase — $77.5M — is provided for the High Performance Computing and Networking Facilities (HPCF) subaccount. The Mathematical, Computational, and Computer Sciences Research subaccount would receive a more modest increase of $2.5M.

As for ARPA-E (or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy), it would see the same increase the President requested last year: 16.1 percent (or $280M in FY15 to $325M in FY16). The agency, “advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.” This increase has become something of a tradition for ARPA-E, where the White House recommends a significant increase but Congress decides to flat fund the agency. There are few indications that this dynamic will change with this budget.

The big question now is will Congress pass this request? While it is true that support for computing research is widespread and bipartisan, it is still unlikely that this budget will breeze through the legislative process. For starters, throughout his request, the President has rejected funding levels called for by the budget deal that brought us sequestration, or the mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts, that are still US law. In rolling back sequestration, Obama is making an argument that the country is coming out of the recession and that these cuts need to be replaced with something more targeted. It’s unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress shares that view. In addition to the sequestration rollback, it’s likely that congressional Republicans will have a different set of priorities within the Dept of Energy budget about things like climate change, sustainable energy, and clean coal programs, and those will require adjustments throughout the proposed budget to accommodate. So chances are very good that the final FY16 budget for DOE will look very little like the President’s request. But there appears to be strong bipartisan support for DOE computing programs (see, for example, last week’s hearing), and ASCR has recently fared well even when other aspects of the Office of Science budget have been flat-funded (or worse). So perhaps a little cautious optimism is warranted.

We’ll be watching this budget, and the other science agencies’ budgets, as they progress through Congress this year. Check back for more updates.

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[Editor’s Note: This post marks the debut of CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2014, Yiyang Shen. Yiyang is a sophomore at NYU, with an interest in Mathematics and Computer Science, and will spend this summer with CRA working on science policy issues, including tracking the progress of efforts to reauthorize the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Expect to see more of him on the blog!]

On June 11th the Energy Subcommittee, of the House Science, Technology, & Space Committee, held a markup of the Department of Energy Research and Development Act of 2014. Surprisingly, this hearing was very contentious and Democratic members used procedural tactics to obstruct consideration of this bill to reauthorize research and development (R&D) programs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The hearing was finally adjourned by the Republicans on a party line vote after Democrats refused to waive the reading of the bill.

The markup was originally scheduled at noon, but the subcommittee chairwoman, Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), did not convene the hearing until ~12:10pm. Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) surprisingly started the “parliamentary game” then, interrupting the chairwoman’s opening remarks by requesting a recorded vote to change the official start time in the subcommittee records. His point of order was ultimately tabled by vote but it signaled Democrats’ strong opposition to the bill.

In her opening statement, Lummis stated that, “the draft bill provides a $250 million increase in funding for basic research. The bill provides deficit reduction by making cuts to outdated, wasteful and duplicative programs within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.” The main point, as Republicans hold for the previous FIRST Act of 2014, is to use money wisely, provided the limited resources.

In response, the Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA) conveyed two central problems with this “premature” markup in his opening statement. The first relates to process: the bill was not shared with Democratic members of the Subcommittee until the last Friday before the markup. Given that this 103-page bill proposes to reauthorize all of DOE’s research and development programs, Mr. Swalwell said, “that means we’re being asked to make tough decisions about how to allocate billions of taxpayers’ dollars after having less than three business days to consider the bill.”

Mr. Swalwell then pointed out the second problem the minority has with the bill. The budget for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is substantially cut; ARPA-E funding is largely reduced; and the bill includes burdensome limitations on what research DOE can fund. In addition, it includes particularly objectionable language that bars the results of DOE-funded R&D activity from being, “used for regulatory assessments or determinations by Federal regulatory authorities.” Specifically, this language is meant to keep the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using research data to support their operations and any environmental regulations. Of interest to computing researchers, the bill does include increased authorizations for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research activity, ramping the authorization for the program up to $600 million in FY 2015, $59 million more than the President requested.

After hearing the opening remarks from both sides, Ranking Member of the Full Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) also gave a brief comment on the markup that day. She criticized how dysfunctional the committee has become, and strongly opposed the consideration and passage of the bill.

The markup ended awkwardly. After the opening remarks, the bill is then read into the record, a procedural process which is usually dispensed with under unanimous consent. However, in this instance the Democrats used it to their advantage: they withheld their consent and required that the bill be read, in full, into the record. As this would have tied up the subcommittee for hours, the Republicans instead adjourned the meeting.

The prospect of the bill moving forward this summer is unlikely. The real news from this markup is that the House Science Committee has become increasingly polarized and neither side intends to cooperate with the other. This does not bode well for future science legislation.