[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 The bill provides deficit reduction by making cuts to outdated, wasteful and duplicative programs within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.”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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So, the good news this year was that the President and Congress were working from the same set of numbers for the first time in a long time. The bad news is that those numbers are pretty underwhelming. The President introduced his FY15 budget request today, a budget that would remain largely flat — increasing discretionary spending just $2 billion over FY14 ($1.014 trillion in FY15 vs. $1.012 trillion in FY14). NSF would grow just 1 percent (to $7.3 billion) under the “base budget” in the President’s plan. Research at NSF would actually decrease $3 million under the President’s plan ($5.191 billion in FY14 vs. $5.188 billion in FY15). (We’ll have lots more information about NSF’s budget request next Monday when the agency rolls out its detailed budget justification.)

Recognizing that the agreed-to budget caps were overly constraining for all the Administration’s priorities, the President included a $52 billion “wish list” of additional funding proposals — called the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative” — that includes increased funding for key science agencies that could be offset by cuts to farm subsidy programs, tax increases on “multi-million dollar retirement accounts,” and other spending cuts and tax increases identified by the Administration. Were that wish list to be approved by Congress, NSF could see an additional $552 million in funding (and R&D agencies overall would see an increase of $5.3 billion) However, congressional Republicans have already declared the wish list DOA.

Funding for other agencies in the President’s base budget is a bit of a mixed bag:

  • DOE basic and applied research would be up 6.1 percent in the President’s plan ($8.412 billion in FY 15 vs. $7.932 billion in FY14)
  • DOD basic and applied research would see an increase of 4.4 percent ($6.582 billion vs. $6.307 billion
  • NIST basic and applied research would increase 3.3 percent ($598 million vs $579 million)
  • NIH basic and applied research would increase 0.7 percent ($29.403 billion vs. $29.205 billion)
  • Homeland Security basic and applied research would decrease 1 percent ($250 million vs. $251 million).

Keep in mind that the expected inflation rate between FY 2014 and FY 2015 is about 2 percent.

The White House has released an R&D Budget Fact sheet that goes into some of the details.

But we’ll learn more about the agency priorities as the agencies roll out their own budget request over the next week or so.

As always, we’ll have the details as we learn them!

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