After a year’s worth of warning that the final funding levels for American science agencies would likely be austere, congressional appropriators surprised many in the science community by passing a slate of funding bills that would have increased funding slightly for federal research at several agencies, including a 3 percent increase at the National Science Foundation. However, the increases proved to be symbolic as Congress, under pressure to reduce federal discretionary spending in the wake of unanticipated payouts to areas hard-hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, passed an across-the-board 1.0 percent reduction in all FY 2006 appropriations, including those already enacted, eliminating much—and in some cases all—of the approved spending increases for science.
Computing Research News
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For more than 50 years the United States has attracted the best minds in the world to study, teach, and work—an influx of talent that has helped the nation become the world’s dominant economic power, driven its military ascendancy, and improved the lives of its citizens. But changing government policies may put that influx at risk, as regulators threaten to clamp down on the freedom of foreign nationals to pursue research and work with cutting-edge technologies in U.S. universities, federal labs, and companies.
The concerns of computing researchers about the overall underinvestment in the federal IT research portfolio—and specific concerns about DARPA’s steady withdrawal from long-term IT research, especially in universities—have gained new prominence in Congress thanks to a series of recent news reports, studies and congressional actions. That attention has so far culminated in a hearing of the full House Science Committee on the future of computer science research in the United States and questions about the implications of the shift in the overall landscape for federal support of computing research.
As the fiscal year 2006 budget process heats up in Congress with an austere outlook for federal research and development funding, a loose coalition of industry and scientific groups is taking its case to Capitol Hill to advocate for increased federal support for fundamental research, especially in the physical sciences. In the wake of an FY 2005 appropriations deal in Congress that led to a two percent cut in the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the President’s FY 2006 budget submission that included a 4.5 percent cut to information technology research and development (as well as cuts to several science agencies), companies, academic institutions, and professional societies are making the case for research support by arguing that it plays a critical role in fueling the innovation necessary to keep the United States competitive in a global economy. The resonance of the message in Congress and in the national press appears to have put the Administration on the defensive.
Citing a need to continue to foster economic growth and address the deficit, as well as continue to prosecute the War on Terror, President Bush released an austere FY 2006 Budget Request that would sharply limit overall discretionary spending, including a significant reduction in the overall federal investment in information technology research and development. The President’s budget plan, released February 7, 2005, would cut overall spending in FY 2006 for the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program—the federal crosscut for all agencies involved in funding information technology R&D—by 7 percent compared with FY 2005, decreasing the federal investment to $2.127 billion from $2.282 billion planned for FY 2005.