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.

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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