Computing Research Policy Blog

The Computing Research Association (CRA) has been involved in shaping public policy of relevance to computing research for more than two decades. More recently the CRA Government Affairs program has enhanced its efforts to help the members of the computing research community contribute to the public debate knowledgeably and effectively.

House Passes CRA-Endorsed Bill to Combat Sexual Harassment in the Sciences


[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2019, Jesse Anderson.]

On July 23rd, the House passed by voice-vote H.R.36, The Combating Sexual Harassment In Science Act of 2019, which aims to advance efforts to decrease the prevalence of sexual and gender harassment in the STEM research fields. Regular readers will recall that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee recently held a hearing about sexual harassment in the STEM fields and what federal research agencies can do to reduce its negative impact. H.R. 36 was mentioned during that hearing by both the chair and ranking members of the committee, Chairwoman Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Lucas (R-OK), the original sponsors of the bill. Upon its introduction in January, CRA publicly endorsed the bill.

The bill will now head to the Senate, which does not currently have a companion bill, and it’s unclear whether it will progress further in the legislative process. But, the passage of this bill in the House should be viewed positively, as it means that Congress will take note and continue to monitor. Hopefully, this Congressional action will encourage action from Federal research agencies that have yet to develop their own sexual harassment policies.

Get to Know a Budget Deal: What the New Budget Deal Means and How Does it Impact Research?


As we reported in the House Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) Defense appropriations post, the Trump Administration and Congressional leaders were homing in on a budget agreement. Well, it sounds like a deal has been struck. This would provide top-line numbers for both defense and non-defense appropriations spending for FY20 and FY21, in addition to lifting the debt ceiling. All this would mean the Senate’s long delayed work on FY20 appropriations bills could start to move forward. Let’s get into the details.

The deal would set FY20 defense spending at $666.5 billion and non-defense spending at $621.5 billion; spending for FY21 would be set at $671.5 billion for defense and $626.5 billion for non-defense. Those non-defense numbers are not tremendously far off from the House Democrat “deemed” numbers of $631 billion for FY20 and $646 billion for FY21. Remember that Congressional Democrats are most concerned with non-defense spending keeping pace with any increases with defense spending, which is a priority for Congressional Republicans and the Administration. With the National Science Foundation and many of the other federal research agencies being in the non-defense side of the federal budget, increases there should translate into increases for research.

Two additional points of information: first, the deal would set a $2.5 billion exemption for the 2020 Census. This is good news because the Census sits in the same appropriations bill (ie: the same pot of money) as NSF, NIST, NASA, and NOAH; so, there is less likelihood of cuts to these accounts. Additionally, the budget deal includes $77.4 billion in offsets; however, those offsets sound to be pretty benign and mostly gimmicky.

What is not covered under this agreement? There is no guarantee that FY20 appropriations will be completed, so there is still that political fight to be had. And with Congressional Democrats and the Trump Administration being far apart on policy issues with regard to the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, we can expect those bills to get dragged out (similar to last year). While there was an agreement to not include “poison pills or additional policy riders” in final appropriations bills, that’s likely to be skirted or outright not followed (after all, one person’s poison pill is another’s reasonable policy change). Additionally, the deal does have to be accepted by both caucus’s rank-and-file, which is not a foregone conclusion. Bottom line: there is still a long way to go before Fiscal Year 2020 is completed, but at least there’s a path forward. Keep checking back for new updates.

Appropriations Update: House Defense FY20 R&D Numbers are Better than the Administration’s, but are not Great


In our continuing series looking at the House of Representative’s actions on Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20), we turn to the House Defense Appropriations bill, which was passed in June. The Department of Defense’s Science and Technology (DOD S&T) program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced technology development). These accounts are themselves made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a section under the Defense Wide account. Unfortunately, the numbers that the House settled on for these accounts are not good, but they are better than what the Administration requested.

First, let’s take a moment to look at the Trump Administration’s request for these accounts from back in March. The Administration requested cuts, relative to FY19, to all three accounts (-8 percent for 6.1; -12 percent for 6.2; and -13 percent for 6.3), while recommending an increase to DARPA (+3.8 percent). While disconcerting, especially given the Administration’s push to increase overall defense spending, this has been the norm for the past three years. The general view from the policy community is that Pentagon leaders do this as a deliberate budget tactic; namely that they pull money from what is seen as a Congressional priority (ie: research funding) to put toward something else that does not have the same support. If it works, Congress puts money back into R&D and the money “sticks” elsewhere in the DOD budget. The obvious pitfall is if Congress doesn’t put that money back into research, then these accounts are cut.

That’s what it looks like the problem is this year, at least with the House numbers. For all three accounts, the House’s plan calls for less money than last year’s budget but more than what the Administration requested (see the chart below; I’m including the Presidential Budget Request (PBR) in the chart below for comparison). And DARPA would see an increase over FY19 funding, but less than what the President requested for FY20. The argument could be made that the House is simply mitigating Administration cuts.

FY19 FY20 PBR $ Change % Change FY20 House $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.53B $2.32B -$210M -8.4% $2.51B -$220M -0.8%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $5.32B -$750M -12.6% $5.56B -$510M -8.4%
DOD 6.3 $7.36B $6.42B -$940M -13.8% $6.78B -$580M -7.9%
DARPA $3.43B $3.56B +$130M +3.8% $3.53B +$100M +2.9%

Another possibility is that the House is setting up their own negotiating ploy. In the ongoing negotiations over the whole Federal budget, the Democrat controlled House wants to make sure that domestic spending is increased to the same extent as defense spending; while the Trump Administration’s stance is to boost defense, while cutting domestic. The House Appropriators’ thinking could be, by cutting an Administration priority now, they could get concessions in later negotiations. Assuming this is correct, it makes the Senate Defense numbers all the more important, as they are likely to be somewhere in the middle and close to where a final number would end up.

With regard to the Senate numbers, there is potentially good news on the horizon. News reports say that the Administration and Congressional leaders are close to agreeing to a budget deal that would allow the Senate to begin work on their appropriations bills. While short on details, it sounds like the agreement is done in principle, with specifics still needing to be worked out. This is a big change from what we reported with the Energy and Water appropriations bill.

It’s important to understand what would be agreed to with this budget deal and what wouldn’t. It would set a top line number for the entire federal budget; this would allow the Senate to quickly work on their individual appropriation bills and hopefully have a conferenced budget deal for consideration in the October/November timeframe. It would not guarantee those bills to be passed. And the Administration remains an unknown variable in this equation; how will the President act? Fiscal Year 2020 is far from over, so be sure to check back for new developments.

Appropriations Update: House FY20 Energy & Water Bill is out and there are Reasons for Optimism


[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2019, Jesse Anderson.]

In June, the House of Representatives passed their version of the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) Energy and Water appropriations bill, including increases for some key computing programs at Department of Energy. This bill contains the budgets for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC) and ARPA-E, as well as funding for the Exascale Computing R&D program, for which DOE is the lead federal agency. While the increases are probably positive news for the computing research community, uncertainty about overall Federal spending levels likely puts these specific appropriations levels in doubt. Nevertheless, the bills at least send a signal about the areas House Democrats see as priorities for the Federal government in FY20.

The bill proposes a healthy increase for the Office of Science of $270 million (a 4 percent increase from FY19 levels), bringing the agency’s budget to $6.8 billion for FY20. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see an increase of 2.2 percent – going from $936 million in FY19 to $957 million in FY20. Additionally, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility would receive increases of 7 percent and 21 percent, respectively; while the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s funding level is flat. The committee also included language in its report that expressed its commitment to advancing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning research with increases in funding for infrastructure to augment STEM programs. The committee also recommended $15 million for AI research programs, and provided an increase of nearly 19 percent to the Math and Computer Science program within ASCR. It’s not clear how much of that increase will go towards research efforts and how much will be targeted towards enabling deployment of the Department’s two exascale computing systems in FY21-FY23. But overall, these increases appear to reflect the committee’s dedication to advancing scientific research.

The Exascale Computing program, which has received significant increases over the last three fiscal years, would see a cut of $36 million under the House’s plan. While this represents a 16 percent decrease from FY19 (to $225 million), it falls in line with what the agency requested as DOE moves the program further from R&D and towards deployment.

Also of note is the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E. It would receive $425 million for FY20, a 16 percent increase from $366 million in FY19. The committee dismissed the President’s request to zero the agency’s budget as “short-sighted” and instead chose to increase funding for the agency. Interestingly, in testimony before the House Science, Space, and Technology committee in June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry — who, as a cabinet secretary, is expected to defend the President’s budget request — instead agreed with the House’s thinking about ARPA-E, telling the committee “I respect [the White House’s Office of Management and Budget’s] work and what they do, but I’ll be honest. I respect this Congress more.”

The failure so far of Congress to reach a budget resolution setting spending caps for Congressional appropriators will make reconciling spending bills between the House and Senate — who potentially will be using different spending caps — very difficult. It will likely also set up a confrontation with the President, who has already vowed to veto the House spending levels. It may be some time before we see any progress on the Senate side. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) recently announced that he won’t be doing any markups on the Senate spending bills until a budget caps deal is agreed upon by both chambers of Congress and the President. The likely outcome is an impasse on the entire federal budget until at least the end of the fiscal year (end of September), and perhaps well after that. Only time will tell how this plays out; CRA will continue to follow the budget and will provide updates on future developments.

House Science Committee Explores the Ethical and Social Implications of AI


[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2019, Jesse Anderson.]

On Wednesday, June 26 the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing titled Artificial Intelligence: Societal and Ethical Implications to review the diverse ethical and social implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The committee heard from panelists about the complications of AI as well as several policy recommendations.

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) emphasized the need for more conscious involvement of ethics at every stage of the AI research and development process, noting that, “while a few individual agencies are making ethics a priority, the Administration’s executive order and strategic plan fall short in that regard.” Chairwoman Johnson noted that, though ethics have been considered in the creation of AI technology, they are largely seen, “as an add-on rather than an integral component of all AI R&D.” Johnson called for more investment in AI R&D to maintain the nation’s global dominance in the field. Johnson noted that more investment in the field is critical for continued US leadership in AI, and that leadership will have the added benefit of instilling American values into AI systems. Jim Baird (R-Indiana) reiterated Johnson’s call for more investment toward resources for researchers. He underscored the need for investment in the field to sustain America’s superiority in AI R&D.

The witnesses before the committee were Meredith Whittaker, Co-Founder, AI Now Institute, New York University; Jack Clark, Policy Director, OpenAI; Joy Buolamwini, Founder, Algorithmic Justice League; and Georgia Tourassi, Director, Health Data Sciences Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They illuminated several of the ethical challenges that AI presents and suggested some policy solutions. Among the solutions discussed, many of the panelists emphasized the need for interdisciplinary research in AI and the direction of more advanced resources to researchers.

The panelists spotlighted the issue of bias encoding in AI technology, where innovators code human biases into the technology. Whittaker noted several instances of gender discrimination – such as studies that show that, “voice recognition hears masculine sounding voices better than feminine sounding voices.” Clark agreed, saying that the need for value judgments when programming AI can lead to the passage of biased values. The concentration of AI institutions, Whittaker argued, helps companies purvey marketing materials that only explain the benefits of AI. She also noted that many of these companies are “non-diverse.” Whittaker, like Johnson, said that further research necessitates more investment. This investment would go toward resources that researchers would otherwise have to access through employment at large technology companies. These resources would allow researchers to reinforce America’s technological prowess in the AI field. Clark also suggested increased funding for interdisciplinary research, arguing that bringing together diverse professionals will help combat the bias issues. Clark called for the government to convene with academia and industry to devise more effective policy. He too underscored the importance of broadening the scope of resources available to researchers.

Buolamwini criticized the lack of transparency in the tech industry as well as a reliance on poor data. Like other panelists, she provided real-life examples of AI’s implications. Buolamwini called attention to a June 2019 study that, “showed that for the task of pedestrian tracking children were less likely to be detected than adults.” Like Clark, she emphasized the need for more funding toward AI research. This government-funded research on human centered AI needs to be interdisciplinary and inclusive, as Buolamwini noted that marginalized demographics bear the brunt of AI’s negative implications.

As Johnson indicates, “leadership is not just about advancing the technology, it’s about advancing it responsibly.” The committee widely agreed that a focus on interdisciplinary research, further investment in resources for researchers, and the retention of global dominance in the AI field will be critical aspects of future policy solutions. AI will continue to be a significant policy concern for Congress and the Federal government as a whole. CRA will continue to monitor developments that arise in government and policy circles; be sure to check back for new updates.

“This Is a Moral Issue”: Hearing Calls Attention to Sexual Harassment in Science


[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2019, Jesse Anderson.]

On Wednesday, June 12 the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee convened a hearing, titled Combating Sexual Harassment in Science, to explore what the federal research agencies are, and are not, doing to confront sexual and gender harassment in the Federal research community. The committee received important insights regarding the measures that have been implemented across different Federal agencies and research fields. Though the committee agreed that the agencies need to do more to confront this issue, there was not a consensus on specific policies Congress wants to see.

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), in her opening statement, outlined many issues that panelists later discussed; specifically, that the reporting process is often convoluted for victims, that addressing the prevalence of sexual harassment in the STEM field is “a moral issue,” and how investing in the brightest minds in the field is vital to advancing STEM research. Johnson noted that the country’s investment in research “needs to draw on all of our nation’s talent to return the best possible science for the benefit of society,” which is less likely to occur in the absence of a safe work environment. Johnson pointed out that it is easier and more fiscally advantageous for institutions to “allow a bad actor to quietly resign and often move on to another institution.” This culture contributes to the fact that a mere 6 percent of graduate students and faculty who are sexually harassed formally report their experience to their institution.

Ranking Member Congressman Frank Lucas (R-OK), echoing the chairwoman, stressed the economic and social costs of the problem of sexual harassment in the research community, saying that, “engaging more women in STEM studies and careers is essential to America’s competitiveness.” The primary factor driving women away from computing research fields, according to expert opinion highlighted by Lucas in his testimony, was the “culture in science.”

The committee heard testimony from John Neumann, the Managing Director of Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics in the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Paula A. Johnson, the President of Wellesley College; Jean Morrison, the Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Boston University; and Philip H. Kass, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and a Professor of Analytic Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis. The witnesses provided insights into what Congress can do to bolster efforts against sexual assault in scientific research fields. During the hearing, the Representatives on both sides of the aisle agreed that harassment and gender discrimination cannot be tolerated within the Federal science research enterprise and that research granting agencies need to do more. However, what specific actions need to be taken by the agencies was not discussed.

The panelists called attention to inconsistencies in the way in which different agencies handled sexual assault cases, which can leave survivors confused and unclear of what options are available for accountability. Newman – who specializes in overseeing federal research and development programs – noted that these discrepancies in reporting and policies mean that agencies, “rarely learn about instances of sexual harassment from voluntary reporting from universities or other federal agencies and instead rely on other sources such as news reports.” Newman argued that it’s incumbent on these agencies to enforce Title IX standards at universities due to the fact that they provide billions of dollars in research grants annually. Paula Johnson, who testified in her capacity as a co-chair for the National Academies report “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,” echoed Newman’s sentiments, arguing that federal research agencies need to see the issue of sexual and gender harassment in science fields as a public health concern. In addition to the potential for women to leave the field due to sustained harassment, Johnson argued that, “progress in closing the gender gap in science, engineering, and medicine is jeopardized by the persistence of sexual harassment in these fields…women are often bullied or harassed out of career pathways.” Johnson argued that this problem necessitates system-wide changes.

Morrison, of Boston University, stressed the university’s commitment to fundamentally changing the “tough, unforgiving, and unwelcoming workplace,” that many STEM fields have adopted. She too advocated for the implementation of “one clear set of rules at the federal level,” in conjunction with data-driven research into the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. Morrison highlighted many measures that have proven successful for curtailing rates of sexual harassment on campus, such as a mandatory online sexual misconduct prevention training for over 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students and 11,000 faculty and staff. Kass, from UC Davis, highlighted a similar pilot program that has functioned as “a pre-screening deterrent,” which has resulted in “14 candidates requiring reference checks, 23 academic institutions contacted, 19 responses received, and zero instances where discipline was provided.” This pilot program has allowed UC Davis to identify those whose, “behavior is inconsistent with the university’s faculty code of conduct and principles of community.” Both Kass and Morrison lauded the recommendations present in the bill, as they included many core elements featured in successful programs at their respective universities.

As highlighted by Dr. Johnson during her testimony, “if half of us are held back, we squander potential.” Judging by the questions from the members of the Science Committee, Congress agrees with this viewpoint. The general consensus during the hearing was the need to strengthen efforts at the Federal research agencies to challenge the culture of sexual harassment in the their fields. The issue of sexual and gender harassment in the sciences is likely to receive more attention from Congress going forward; CRA will continue to follow this and will report back with new developments.

UPDATE: On June 20th, the House Science Committee marked up H.R. 36 and passed it unanimously. The legislation will now move to the full House for consideration; it will likely pass the full chamber, though it’s unclear when that will happen.

Appropriations Update: House Numbers for NSF, NIST, and NASA are out and they are quite good!


Congress has begun the yearly appropriations process, divvying up tax-payer dollars to the assorted federal agencies. As is the norm, the House Appropriations Committee has begun its work first. The bill of most importance to the CS and IT research community is the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill; it contains the funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA. And there is good news: increases all around!

First, the National Science Foundation is the big winner, with a 6.9 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) funding. NSF would get $8.64 billion for FY20, with an increase of $560 million over last year. Getting into the details, the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive an 8.9 percent increase, increasing from $6.52 billion in FY19 to $7.10 billion for FY20. As well, the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would see a relatively modest increase of 4.4 percent, going from $910 million in FY19 to $950 million in FY20. If this bill were to become law, NSF would see significant growth for the first time in a decade.

FY18 FY19 FY20 House $ Change % Change
NSF Total $7.77B $8.08B $8.64B +$560M +6.9%
R&RA $6.30B $6.52B $7.10B +$580M +8.9%
EHR $902M $910M $950M +$40M +4.4%

While not making out as well as NSF, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) does get a healthy budget. The agency would see an increase of 5.5 percent, going from $986 million in FY19 to $1.04 billion in FY20. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see an increase for FY20; $751 million for FY20, which is $26 million more (3.6 percent) than it received for FY19.

FY18 FY19 FY20 House $ Change % Change
NIST Total $1.20B $986M $1.04B +$54M +5.5%
STRS $725M $725M $751M +$26M +3.6%

Finally, NASA funding included in the bill would exceed last year’s by 3.8 percent, increasing from $21.5 billion in FY19 to $22.32 billion in FY20. The NASA Science account would also see a 3.6 percent increase, from $6.91 billion up to $7.16 billion for FY20.

FY18 FY19 FY20 House $ Change % Change
NASA Total $20.74B $21.50B $22.32B +$820M +3.8%
Science $6.22B $6.91B $7.16B +$250M +3.6%

How likely is it that these numbers will be passed into law? Unlikely. Given that the Administration released a budget with steep cuts, and has been confrontational with the Democratic led House on multiple topics, these numbers aren’t likely to be passed as is. These numbers are likely the best-case scenario for this year’s appropriations.

However, the Senate is not likely to be too far behind. Keep in mind that Congress has rejected the Administration’s budget requests for the last two years, and that was when Republicans controlled both chambers of the legislature. It’s likely that the Senate numbers, which should come out later in the summer, will at a minimum maintain the current level of effort. And a more modest increase would not be unexpected. So there is reason for optimism. But only time will tell what the final budget numbers will be; keep checking back for more updates.

Have an Impact on U.S. Science Policy, Attend CRA’s CCC Leadership in Science Policy Institute!


Every two years as part of it’s mission to develop the next generation of leaders in the computing research community, CRA’s Computing Community Consortium, in partnership with CRA’s Government Affairs Committee, holds the Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI) workshop, intended to educate computing researchers on how science policy in the U.S. is formulated and how our government works. We’re seeking nominations for participants for this year’s workshop, scheduled for November 21-22, 2019, in Washington DC.

LiSPI features presentations and discussions with science policy experts, current and former Hill staff, and relevant agency and Administration personnel about the mechanics of the legislative process, interacting with agencies, advisory committees, and the federal case for computing. In this fifth iteration of the workshop, participants will hear from experts in policy from AAAS, CRA, Federal Science Partners, current and former White House and federal agency personnel, and members of the computing research community who have served in roles across the government — including in non-science agencies. They’ll discuss how the policymaking process really works — how initiatives come to be, how priorities get set, and how members of the community can best engage and help shape the process.

LiSPI participants are expected to:

  • Complete a reading assignment and short written homework prior to attending the workshop, so that the time spent at the workshop can focus on more advanced content,
  • Attend the November 21-22, 2019, workshop, which includes breakfast both days, lunch, and a reception with the speakers and invited guests at the conclusion of the first day, and
  • Complete an assignment afterwards that puts to use the workshop content on a policy problem that has a significant projection onto computing and information.

LiSPI is not intended for individuals who wish to undertake research on science policy, become science policy fellows, or take permanent positions in Washington, DC. Rather, we are trying to reach work-a-day academics who appreciate that our field must be engaged in helping government. LiSPI Alumni have gone on to testify before Congress, appear at Congressional briefings, take seats on Federal advisory committees, provide input on legislation, and serve on the CCC Council and CRA Board.

The CCC will provide funds for hotel accommodations for two nights of local expenses (hotel, meals) for the November 21-22nd workshop. Nominees are expected to pay their own travel expenses, though there will be a limited fund available for participants who cannot attend unless their travel is provided.

Eligibility and Nomination Process

LiSPI participants are expected to have the experience and flexibility in their current positions to engage with government. Participants should be adept at communicating. They must be nominated by their chair or department head and must have demonstrated an interest in science policy, especially as it relations to computing.

Specifically, the nomination process is:

  • A chair or department head proposes a LiSPI candidate by visiting the nomination page and providing the name and institution of the nominee, along with a letter of recommendation.
  • The candidate will then be contacted by the workshop organizers and asked to submit a CV, a short essay detailing their interests in science policy, and an indication of whether they would require financial aid to attend.

All nominations must be received by JUNE 14, 2019.

Selection Process

The LiSPI Selection Committee will evaluate each nomination based on record of accomplishment, proven ability to communicate, and promise. Selections will be announced by July 19, 2019. We plan to open the workshop to 35 participants.

Please discuss this opportunity with your colleagues, identify those you believe would be interested in participating, and submit nominations!

-Workshop Organizers –

Fred B. Schneider, Cornell University

Peter Harsha, Computing Research Association

 

“Second Place America?” Major Report Detailing the Nation’s Declining Leadership in Research and Technology Released at Capitol Hill Event


An audience of Congressional staffers and science policy professionals listen as Tobin Smith, Association of American Universities, discusses the findings of the Benchmarks report.

On Tuesday May 14th, the Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), an alliance of leading American companies and business associations, research university associations, and scientific societies, released a major report assessing the United States’ investment in science and engineering research. The report, titled “Benchmarks 2019: Second Place America? Increasing Challenges to U.S. Scientific Leadership,” is the fourth such “benchmarking” report that TFAI has released since it’s founding in 2004. The report found that the trends found in the original Benchmarks report in 2005, and the two subsequent follow-up reports, persist and the U.S. continues to lose ground to other nations in investments in science, technology, and talent.

Nadya Bliss, of the Global Security Initiative at ASU, brought a researcher’s perspective to the panel discussion.

In order to assess the country’s standing against competitor nations, the report is broken into five distinct categories of benchmarks: R&D investments, knowledge creation (such as scientific publications and patents), education, workforce, and several high-tech sectors. In all the categories, signs point to the U.S. losing it’s competitive edge, as China and other countries rapidly increase investments in research and workforce development in order to assume positions of global leadership. The report makes clear that the U.S. needs to capitalize on its tremendous assets and make technological pre-eminence a national priority. This can be achieved through a national strategy that includes increased funding for scientific research and human capital development, and targeted investments in new programs to grow, attract, and retain domestic and international STEM talent.

Eric Fanning, Aerospace Industries Association, speaks about the impact on industry.

The report was released at an event on Capitol Hill in the Rayburn House Office Building, with honorary co-hosts Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, respectively.

David Isaacs, Semiconductor Industry Association (podium) moderated the panel discussion at the release of the TFAI Benchmarks Report.

The majority of the event was devoted to a panel discussion of the report’s findings by key industry and scientific leaders. The panelists included Eric Fanning, former Secretary of the Army and current President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association; John Neuffer, President and CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association; Michael McQuade, Vice President for Research at Carnegie Mellon University; and Nadya Bliss, Director of the Global Security Initiative at Arizona State University. These speakers represent the three parts of the U.S. innovation ecosystem (industry, universities, and researchers), and they had a clear message: the nation needs a strong and sustained commitment to increasing federal investments in scientific research and human talent if the nation wants to maintain its global leadership role.

Tobin Smith (AAU), one of the co-chairs of the Benchmarks report, briefs the attendees on the report findings.

Tobin Smith, of the Association of American Universities, and one of the report co-chairs, said, “this is a wake-up call for policymakers in Washington. Maintaining a global lead in science is critical to American national security and economic interests. But this report clearly documents that the rest of the world is catching up very quickly.”

CRA played a key role in the development and release of this report. Dr. Bliss, who provided the researcher perspective at the Capitol Hill event, is a Computing Community Consortium Council member. Additionally, I served as the other co-chair of the report. CRA was among the first members to join TFAI in 2004, and had a major role in authoring the first Benchmarks report in 2005.

NSF Funded AI Powered Microscope Showcased at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition


On April 30th, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an alliance of over 140 professional organizations, universities, and businesses, held their 25th Annual Capitol Hill Exhibition. CNSF supports the goal of increasing the federal investment in the National Science Foundation’s research and education programs, and the exhibition itself is a great way to show members of Congress and their staff what research the American people have funded.

Vito Pastore of IBM Research demonstrates his AI powered microscope to an attendee at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition.

This year the Computing Research Association, a member of CNSF, sponsored Vito Pastore, a postdoctoral researcher ay IBM Research, who works in Simone Bianco’s Cellular Engineering team in collaboration with Thomas Zimmerman. Dr. Pastore demonstrated a low cost microscope which, when used with an artificial intelligence program he created, can identify and monitor plankton, in real time, in water samples. The overall research effort is attempting to see if it’s possible to use plankton as a biosensor to monitor the health of waterways and other water systems. With a cheap, easy to use microscope, combined with the AI program, it would be possible for easy checking of water samples by almost anyone.

Vito Pastore of IBM Research demonstrates his AI powered microscope to an attendee at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition.

This work received support from the Directorate of Biological sciences at NSF. Dr. Pastore’s presentation was well received by the attendees of the exhibition, fielding questions from Congressional staffers, NSF Program Officers, and other attendees of the exhibition.

Vito Pastore of IBM Research demonstrates his AI powered microscope to an attendee at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition.

A number of other organizations had displays and were demonstrating NSF funded research at the event. From the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation’s, “Breaking New Ground: Computational Science at the Forefront of Discovery;” to the American Mathematical Society’s, “Power Domination: How Zero Forcing is Used to Monitor an Electric Power Grid;” to the University of California’s, “Advancing Propulsion and Energy Technologies Using Laser-Based Sensors;” the exhibition was a great display of the different types of research being supported by NSF.

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