It was a busy day on Capitol Hill yesterday for members of the computing research community as they worked to make the case to Congress of the importance of the federal investment in research from a couple of different angles. From one direction, a panel of current and former CRA board members joined the head of the National Coordinating Office for IT R&D (George Strawn) at a hearing of the Research and Science Education subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee to comment on the adequacy of the federal effort in IT research. CRA’s Computing Community Consortium Chair (and University of Washington CS professor) Edward Lazowska, current CCC council member and former Oracle Labs head Bob Sproull, and former CRA board member and current head of ACM’s Education Policy Committee Bobby Schnabel all carried the message to the subcommittee that the federal investment is critical to the overall IT ecosystem, and that the payoff from that investment has been extraordinary.

From another direction, computing research community members Luis von Ahn (from Carnegie Mellon) and Ben Bederson (from UMD) joined Physics Nobelist William Phillips and Texas Instruments Vice President of R&D Martin Izzard at a series of briefings for Members of Congress and their staffs intended to make the case for the federal investment in early-stage scientific research by telling the story of the federal role in some of the key technologies of the iPad. Called “Deconstructing the iPad: How Federally-Supported Research Leads to Game-Changing Innovation” the well-attended briefings sought to take an object familiar to most Members and staffers and show that it didn’t spring wholly from the minds of engineers at Apple, but that the key technologies that enable it all bear the clear stamp of federal support.

Both events were received very well and probably helped the case for computing generate a little more traction in Congress. We’ll break down the iPad event in the next post (though Pat Thibodeau has a bit of coverage of the event in Computerworld today). In this one, we’ll summarize yesterday’s hearing.

Lazowska, Sproull and Schnabel were all invited to testify to help the committee members, who have jurisdiction over the federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program — the ~$3.6 billion, 15 agency effort that comprises the federal investment in IT research — understand whether the program is delivering on its goals, or whether there are areas in which the federal government’s effort might better be directed. These sort of informational hearings — as opposed to a hearing focused on advancing a specific piece of legislation or a particular aspect of a program — are especially useful this Congress, as the membership of the Science, Space and Technology Committee is comprised in large part by freshmen members who are largely unfamiliar with the programs they oversee. Even the Chair of the Subcommittee, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), is serving in his first term — so the need for “educating” the members about the nature of the federal investment and its importance to the overall ecosystem is pretty crucial.

Lazowska began by noting the incredible pervasiveness of computing in our lives and it’s role in driving our economy, competitiveness, and in creating new industries and literally millions of new jobs. “Federal support is a key part of the vibrant ecosystem that drives IT innovation,” he said. “While the vast majority of industry R&D is focused on the engineering of the next release of products, it’s the role of Federally funded research to take the long view, creating the ideas that can later be turned into game-changers like the Internet, the Web browser and GPS.”

As the “industry” witness on the panel, Sproull amplified this point by noting that research funded by industry alone will not sustain the IT economy. “The explosive growth and dramatic advances in [the IT] sector over the last 50 years have depended on long-term research, mostly performed in academia and funded by the U.S. government. Industry works closely with academic researchers to harness their finding and expertise.”

Sproull also took a couple of minutes to detail for the subcommittee members the National Research Council’s “Tire Tracks” chart, which tries to illustrate some of the complex interactions between federally supported researchers and efforts in the private sector, making the point that federally supported research (usually in universities) doesn’t supplant industry research, there’s often a long lead time between the initial investments in fundamental research and the payoff in terms of a commercial product (though those products often turn into billion-dollar sectors of the economy), and that research often pays off in unexpected ways (another reason investments there aren’t attractive to industry).

Schnabel focused most of his comments on the computing workforce and education issues, in particular the need for the NITRD program to focus more attention on computer science education issues, especially K-12.

The panelists generally received a favorable reception from the Members in attendance. Chairman Brooks wanted the community to be mindful of the dire budget situation facing the country when they come to Congress asking for more money for Science. He made reference to a briefing he’d attended as a member of the Armed Services Committee in which he learned the devastating impact of some of the cuts proposed for the Defense Department — 1000s of defense contractors out of work, cuts to the naval fleet, etc. So, how ought we prioritize our spending?, he asked. Lazowska, in a moment of relative drama for the hearing, hopped on his iPhone and determined that the projected cost overrun of just one of the Navy’s submarines was equal to four years worth of spending in total at DARPA and NSF for computer science. And yet the payoff from that “rounding error” in the overall budget was extraordinary in its  impact.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) was very supportive of the overall case, but raised concerns about the workforce issues in computing. Specifically, he raised concerns about whether we were training students now for jobs that might not exist in the future — either because the technology moves so fast or because companies were moving those jobs offshore. The panelists didn’t get much time to answer the questions (a vote was pending on the House floor), but brought up the generally optimistic projections for job growth in the sector — Lazowska testified that “the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 60% of all new jobs in all fields of science and engineering in the current decade will be jobs for computer specialists – more than all of the physical sciences, all of the life sciences, all of the social sciences, and all other fields of engineering combined” — and Schnabel shared that demand for graduates, including those at his own institution, was exceptionally strong.

The committee seems interested in moving another version of a reauthorization bill for the NITRD program, especially now that PCAST has reviewed the program and come up with a series of recommendations. However, its unlikely anything will come of it this year. Lipinski suggested that he’d still like to push for something before the end of this Congress next year. As that process moves forward, we’ll have all the details.

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The Nation’s CTO and CIO joined other key White House advisors at a briefing today to announce the release of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) report on the state of federal IT research and development and offered a strong words of support for the role of information technology in driving the economy, enabling the sciences and accelerating the pace of discovery, and addressing national priorities.

The final PCAST report, “Designing a Digital Future,” appears essentially unchanged from the report presented to the committee last month and which we’ve detailed previously. The committee reviewed $4 billion, 14-agency Networking and Information Technology and Research and Development (NITRD) program and found that while it handles coordination of the agency programs “very successfully,” it’s not particularly effective at providing vision or strategic leadership for the federal effort. Among its recommendations, PCAST calls for the creation of a new standing committee, housed in some unspecified place in the Administrative branch and comprised of experts in IT from academia and industry, to help guide NITRD and provide strategic advice for the program. PCAST also found that current budget reporting mechanisms in use by NITRD don’t accurately detail the federal investment in IT R&D. As we noted in that previous post, much of what gets reported by participating NITRD agencies as “IT R&D” is actually “IT that’s used in R&D in other fields,” a fact which leads to a substantial overstatement of the true federal investment in IT research. A review of NIH’s investment, for example, found that of the over $1 billion the NIH reported to NITRD as IT R&D for FY09, only 2 to 11 percent of it could actually be described as true IT research. The rest was more accurately described as IT infrastructure used to support research in other fields.

PCAST’s report also recommends significant new investments in research areas that will advance national priorities — like health, energy, transportation and education — as well as research aimed at advancing specific research frontiers in IT. Our colleague Erwin Gianchandani has a detailed look at some of the research areas recommended by PCAST over at the CCC blog.

One other interesting recommendation – in light of the recent news of a Chinese supercomputer heading the list of the world’s fastest – is the panel’s call for the U.S. to abandon the competition to stay atop the Top500 rankings based on FLOPS (floating point operations per second). Calling it “an arms race we don’t really find beneficial,” PCAST member David Shaw derided FLOPS as a metric for high-performance computing. Shaw and PCAST NITRD Working Group Co-Chair Ed Lazowska (who also Chairs CRA’s Computing Community Consortium) both noted the finishing at the top of the Top500 is exceptionally expensive and doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll build a machine that’s particularly useful. Far more valuable a priority, Shaw noted, is to invest in research that could allow for a leap-frog of current high-performance computing technology. “We need to make sure we don’t allow procurement to crowd out research funding,” he said.

Administration Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra ran the lively briefing, calling on fellow advisors Vivek Kundra, the administration’s Chief Information Officer; Phil Weiser, Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation to the National Economic Council Director; and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, to testify to the impact of IT on government, on the U.S. economy, and on making progress on national priorities like energy, transportation, health and national security.

Kalil summed up the Administration’s position on why IT R&D is so important with four succinct points:

  • The IT revolution is far from over — there are many core challenges in computing still to addressed that have the potential to revolutionize further our economy, our standard of living, our national defense;
  • Information and communication technologies (ICT) are accelerating the pace of discovery in more and more disciplines; in fact, some disciplines like astronomy are becoming information-based fields;
  • ICT has had and continues to have a huge impact on our economy – a point discussant Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation amplified later in the briefing, noting that ITIF research showed that IT’s contribution to the U.S. economy is worth $2 trillion annually, and that IT jobs between 1999-2008 grew 4 times faster than non-IT jobs;
  • And, ICT has a role in every one of our national priorities, including health, education, energy, transportation, open government.

Kalil also noted the reasons why it’s important the federal government continues to invest substantially in IT research. The payoff from the federal investment in IT research historically has been dramatic – every billion-dollar subsector of the IT economy bears the stamp of federal support for research. Investment in basic research isn’t attractive to industry for a host of different reasons, not the least of which being that because of the nature of fundamental research, it’s nearly impossible for firms to capture all the benefit from their research investment. He also pointed out that many areas of IT research are critical to the missions of government agencies. And he noted that an investments in university research not only often produce good ideas, but just as importantly, they produce people – the next generation of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who will power our future.

In all, the briefing was a great showcase for the esteem in which the Administration holds IT research and its contributions to the nation. As federal budgets tighten, its crucial that U.S. policymakers understand that there are areas in which the U.S. must be allowed to maintain its science leadership, and it appears that the message that IT is one of those areas has gotten through to PCAST and to the White House.

The briefing is available as a webcast and well worth watching. The two “independent” discussants on the panel – Atkinson and Tom Leighton, founder of Akamai Technologies – are particularly worth a look (towards the last third of the broadcast).

In the coming year, we’ll keep an eye on how the recommendations of the committee fare and have all the details here.

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[Each year, AAAS asks CRA to prepare a chapter on IT research funding in the federal budget request for their Research and Development FY 20XX report, and so we plow through the various agency budget documents and the White House releases and come up with 2000 words or so that attempt to sum up the Administration’s thinking, the current policy environment, and provide a little background on the program. While our attention will soon shift from budget requests and authorizations to actual appropriations, it’s useful to understand the “starting point” in the process: the President’s request. Given the immensity of the request ($4.3 billion) and space constraints imposed by AAAS, there’s not a ton of analysis here. But for those trying to get a sense of the composition of the NITRD portfolio, this is probably a good starter. For a more in-depth look at individual agency spending, there’s always the Budget Supplement prepared by the National Coordination Office for IT. In any case, here’s what we saw and submitted to AAAS:]

Computing Research in the FY 2011 Budget
Peter Harsha and Melissa Norr
Computing Research Association

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Funding for the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program would decrease by 1.0 percent in the President’s FY 2011 Budget Request versus the FY 2010 request.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF), the primary supporter of university-led computer science research in the United States, would see its share of the NITRD program increase $80 million to $1.17 billion, or just over 7.3 percent, in FY 2011 under the President’s request.
  • Changes in leadership at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have members of the computing research community optimistic that the agency will attempt to reengage its historically fruitful relationship with university computer science researchers.

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

The importance of computing research in enabling the new economy is well documented. The resulting advances in information technology have led to significant improvements in product design, development and distribution for American industry, provided instant communications for people worldwide, and enabled new scientific disciplines like bioinformatics and nanotechnology.

Information technology has also changed the conduct of research. Innovations in computing and networking technologies are enabling scientific discovery across every scientific discipline – from mapping the human brain to modeling climatic change. Researchers, faced with research problems that are ever more complex and interdisciplinary in nature, are using IT to collaborate across the globe, simulate experiments, visualize large and complex datasets, and collect and manage massive amounts of data.

As of FY 2010, the Federal IT R&D effort is now a $4.3 billion multi-agency enterprise called the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program and coordinated by the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Information Technology Research and Development of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). NITRD is the successor of the High Performance Computing and Communications Program established by Congress in 1991. NITRD agencies now coordinate research in eight Program Component Areas (PCAs): High End Computing Infrastructure and Applications; High End Computing Research and Development; Human Computer Interaction and Information Management (HCI&IM); Large Scale Networking (LSN); Software Design and Productivity; High Confidence Software and Systems (HCSS); Social, Economic, and Workforce Implications of IT; and Cyber Security and Information Assurance (CSIA). The NSF is the lead agency out of 13 member agencies in NITRD. Additionally, NITRD intends to formally recognize the Department of Homeland Security as a member agency this year after several years as a participating agency.

CURRENT POLICY ENVIRONMENT

Over most of the last decade, policies at DARPA have discouraged university-based computing researchers from participating fully in DARPA-sponsored research. During that time, DARPA – which, along with NSF, has been responsible to some significant degree for most of the major innovations in computing over the last 40 years – adopted a series of policies that hampered the ability of university researchers to participate in DARPA research. As a result, DARPA’s share of support for university computer science dropped from nearly 50 percent in FY 1998, to less than 15 percent in FY 2008.

However, new leadership at the agency has many in the community optimistic that DARPA will again play a key role in advancing university computer science. The new Director, Regina Dugan, has announced she has already, or intends to reverse each of the problematic policy requirements that hampered university participation. These include removing the requirement for “go/no-go” decisions on DARPA-sponsored research and publication pre-clearance review (except in exceptional cases of national security). Dugan has also promised the agency will be more cautious in its use of classification and will revamp the proposal process to give office directors and program managers more authority to pursue promising research.

In addition, Dugan announced the creation of a new office – the Tactical Convergence Technology Office (TCTO), headed by former Carnegie Mellon Department of Computer Science Chair Peter Lee. The TCTO is charged with reengaging the agency with the university research community and will house much of the fundamental computer science research programs that the community believed had gone neglected under the previous agency leadership. As a result, the computing community is optimistic that a crucial part of the federal computing research portfolio – the DARPA model for research – may be restored.

Cybersecurity R&D will also receive continued attention this year as both chambers of Congress look to move comprehensive cybersecurity bills before the end of the session. In the Senate, S. 773, sponsored by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) would authorize $395 million in cybersecurity R&D through FY 2014. In addition, the bill contains a number of more controversial provisions for the community, including a requirement that professionals in cybersecurity be certified, a focus on training to mitigate cybersecurity risks rather than education, and a requirement that NSF promote and enforce a particular “secure coding” curriculum at colleges and universities. The House passed a more limited cybersecurity bill, H.R. 4061, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act, which would also authorize $395 million in cybersecurity R&D through FY 2014, as well as language to improve the coordination of federal cybersecurity R&D activities. While it is not clear how the House and Senate will align these two differing approaches to cybersecurity policy, it does seem likely that a healthy increase to the authorization for cybersecurity R&D will be part of any final package.

FY 2011 BUDGET REQUEST

Eight agencies included requests for FY 2011 funding as part of the NITRD activity. Under the President’s plan, NSF would once again be designated the lead agency for the initiative. For FY 2011, the President has requested $4.3 billion for the NITRD initiative; a decrease of 1.0 percent over the FY 2010 estimated level. The NITRD budget continues some significant declines within the National Security Agency (NSA) and the DOD service agencies, including the Department of Defense Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). NIH, NSF, DOE, and NIST’s IT R&D budgets would receive the bulk of the increases. The remainder of the participating agencies will see flat or slight declines in their budgets under the President’s plan for FY 2011.

National Science Foundation. The National Science Foundation would spend $1.2 billion on NITRD-related research in FY 2011, an increase of $80 million, or 7.3 percent, over its FY 2010 estimated level.

The locus of NSF’s NITRD activity is the Foundation’s Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate, which would account for $685 million of NSF’s NITRD-related funding in FY 2011, an increase of $66 million (or 10.6 percent) over the FY 2010 request. CISE would continue to be the lead directorate for the Foundation-wide “Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation” initiative, with funding of $50 million in CISE in FY 2011. Additionally, CISE would contribute $15 million to the cross-foundation “Science and Engineering Beyond Moore’s Law,” initiative, which aims to “position the U.S. at the forefront of communications and computation capability beyond the physical and conceptual limitations of current systems.”

CISE would be heavily involved in two new Foundation-wide programs for FY 2011. CISE would contribute $29.3 million to the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program, a Foundation-wide program with a total budget of $765 million, and $15 million to Cyberlearning for Transforming Education (CTE), which has a Foundation-wide budget of $41 million.

NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI) would also see an increase in the President’s budget for FY 2011. Under the Administration’s plan, the office would grow 6.4 percent over FY 2010 to $228 million.

Department of Defense. Overall funding for IT R&D at the Department of Defense agencies would decrease significantly in FY 2011 compared to FY 2010, with cuts of $83.6 million for NSA (or 53.7 percent), bringing its budget to $72.2 million; a $67 million reduction (11 percent) for the service agencies and OSD, bringing their collective budget to $516 million; and $53 million reduction (9.6 percent) at the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA), bringing its budget to $500.8 million under the President’s plan.

According to DOD, the planned decrease at DARPA is largely due to decreases in the CSIA, HCI&IM, and LSN Program Component Areas with a slight increase of $19 million in HEC R&D for extreme computing technologies. The reduction in OSD and the Defense service labs would be due to decreases in HCI&A, CSIA, and HCI&IM. The proposed NSA decrease is due to the elimination of FY 2010’s Congressional add-ons.

Health and Human Services (HHS). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) constitutes the bulk of funding in IT R&D at HHS. For FY 2011, the President’s plan includes $1.3 billion in IT R&D funding at HHS, an increase of $38 million over the FY 2010 estimate. The NIH request of $1.2 billion for FY 2011 includes additional funding for HEC I&A and HCI&IM as well as continued adjustments based on the reporting system NIH implemented last year.

Department of Energy. IT R&D activities in DOE’s Office of Science (DOE SC), National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and the Office of Nuclear Energy constitute DOE’s participation in NITRD. Under the President’s plan DOE NITRD funding would be $510 million, an increase of 5.7 percent, or $28 million, from the FY 2010 estimated level. NNSA would see a $1 million increase in NITRD-related funding to $14 million for FY 2011.

The DOE SC’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program makes up the majority of the department’s participation in NITRD. For FY 2011, ASCR requested $426 million, up 8.1 percent over FY 2010. ASCR’s mission is to underpin and enable the efforts of programs within the DOE SC, as well as “to provide the high-performance computational and networking resources that are required for world leadership in science.” Additionally, the DOE increase in funding includes additional funding for HEC I&A for Leadership Computing Facilities, in particular the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Under the President’s plan, NASA would see a slight decrease of $0.3 million below the FY 2010 request level for its NITRD programs. The President’s request includes $82 million for NASA IT R&D in FY 2011.

Department of Commerce (DOC). The DOC request for FY 2011 contains NITRD-related funding requests from two agencies: NOAA and NIST. NIST IT R&D efforts include working with industry, educational, and government organizations to make IT systems more useable, secure, scalable, and interoperable. In addition, NIST works to apply IT to specialized areas like biotechnology and manufacturing, and to encourage industry to accelerate development of IT innovations. The President’s request includes $92 million for NIST IT R&D in FY 2011, an increase of $15 million over FY 2010. The increase is to support the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, Nationwide Healthcare Information Infrastructure Initiative, and Interoperability Standards Initiative.

NOAA supports IT research in emerging computer technologies for improved climate modeling and weather forecasting, and for improved communications technologies to disseminate weather products and warnings to emergency responders, policymakers, and the general public. The President’s request includes $26 million for NOAA IT R&D in FY 2011, flat funding compared to FY 2010.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA IT R&D would receive $6.3 million in FY 2011 under the President’s plan, the same it received in FY 2009 and FY 2010. EPA intends to use that funding to support IT technologies that facilitate ecosystem modeling, risk assessment, and environmental decision making at the federal, state, and local levels.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA research focuses on the management and preservation of electronic records and fosters the development of advanced technologies for the management of electronic records for the current and future operations needs of government. For IT R&D, the agency requests $4.5 million, the same it received in FY 2010 and FY 2009.

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