Computing Research Policy Blog
[This article originally appeared in the CRA Bulletin.]
Today the Computing Research Association (CRA) released the first of more than a dozen planned white papers produced through its subcommittees, exploring areas and issues around computing research with the potential to address national priorities over the next four years. Called Quadrennial Papers, the white papers attempt to portray a broad picture of computing research detailing potential research directions, challenges, and recommendations for policymakers and the computing research community. The release of the 2020 Quadrennial Papers covers five thematic areas: Core Computer Science, Broad Computing, Socio-Technical Computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Diversity & Education.
CRA today released the first set of four papers from the Core Computer Science theme, papers that explore the foundations of our algorithmic world through theoretical computer science, ponder computing challenges in the post-Moore’s Law world, address the opportunities with next generation wireless technologies, and prepare us for the challenges of security in a post-quantum computing world. Over the next several weeks, CRA will release papers in the four other thematic sets.
The Quadrennial Papers are a part of CRA’s mission to catalyze the computing community to advance future research directions in the field. CRA’s Computing Community Consortium subcommittee (CCC), Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research (CRA-WP), and Education subcommittee (CRA-E), all contributed white papers to the effort. The topics chosen represent areas of mutual interest among the committee members spanning various subdisciplines of computing research.
CRA, primarily through the CCC, has been producing these white papers every four years since 2008 on topics as wide-ranging as Robotics and Synthetic Biology to Intelligent Infrastructure and the Internet of Things. The papers have frequently had notable impact, including helping motivate a re-envisioning of DARPA, establishing the need for a Big Data Initiative, buttressing support for a National Robotics Initiative, and laying the groundwork for an Artificial Intelligence Research Roadmap. Contributors have included members of CRA committees, as well as experts in academia and industry inside and outside the computing research community.
CRA thanks all those authors, contributors and reviewers who were part of the effort to bring these papers to fruition. As each of the 2020 Quadrennial papers is released, it will be available at https://cra.org/cra-quadrennial-papers/.
The Trump Administration continues to issue regulatory rule changes that impact the US higher education and research communities. Regular readers of the Policy Blog will recall that earlier this year the Administration issued multiple proclamations and other policy changes, with regard to legal immigration that impacted the US research community in some way. While the Administration backed off in some of these instances, they never did so completely; in fact, the rhetoric and desire to make lasting changes to the American immigration system remained.
In the last month, the Trump Administration has issued three new rule changes that will impact the higher education and high-tech research communities. Mostly these changes centered around rules and requirements for holders of H-1B visas, however there are changes to holders of F, J, and I visas as well. Let’s get into the details.
The first changes were announced on September 25th and it was a proposed rule change to the “duration of status” for holders of F academic student, J exchange visitor, and I representatives of foreign information media nonimmigrant visas. The change would require a fixed time schedule for the visa holder (2-4 years), allowing for a request to extend, rather than the current “duration of status” (ie: the length of time required to complete their studies). The proposed rule allowed for 30 days for comments before being reviewed for possible adoption; the expectation is the rule will be adopted regardless of the public comments made.
The likely impact of this rule change is obvious to anyone in the higher education community, particular those with experience in masters or PhD programs. Two to four years is frequently not enough time for students to complete their degree programs. This creates uncertainty for foreign students – will they have sufficient time to earn their degree? will they have to reapply? will they be readmitted if they apply? — making the United States a less attractive place for international students to come for their education. Our place as the world leader in computing technologies rests in part in our ability to attract the best and brightest minds to do research in our colleges and universities. Policies that make it more difficult to attract that talent threaten that leadership.
Two other rules were issued jointly on October 8th, though they are technically separate; one by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the other by the Department of Labor (DOL). They were issued using an “Interim Final Rule” mechanism (more on this in a moment). Let’s look at the DHS rule first, which is titled “Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program.” The new rule will revise the definition of “specialty occupation” for all H-1B petitions. The new definition requires that employers show that a university degree in a particular field, or in alternate, multiple fields, is “always” required and that the degree must be “directly related” to the job offered. It will also make a degree a requirement to apply for a visa. The previous definition required 1) “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge” and 2) “attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty.” This new rule will create special hurdles for jobs in new and emerging fields, especially in fields where multidisciplinary hiring is prevalent (such as with artificial intelligence) and will create risks concerning the ability of professionals currently in country on H-1B visas. This rule is open for comments until November 9th, and the rule will go into effect on December 7th.
The Department of Labor rule, released on the same day as the DHS rule, concerns High-Skilled Wages (both H-1B and permanent residency). As with the other rule, comments are due by November 9th, however this rule took effect immediately upon being issued. The new rule resets so-called “prevailing wages” for each of four skill levels, by raising each by increment of two to three deciles within the surveyed wage sets, often resulting in salary figure increases of 50% or more. The rule applies to all employers sponsoring professionals for H-1B status or green card status, whether the employer is H-1B cap-exempt or H-1B cap-subject and regardless of the sector of activity. The DOL wage rule will result in US employers being required to pay foreign-born professionals more than their similarly situated American colleagues and present the largest percentage of increase for early career professionals, like international students being hired by US employers from on-campus recruitment. The effect of this rule is to either price out H-1B visa holders or create an untenable conflict for employers between their native-born workers and the visa holders.
Both rules were released as “interim final rules” (IFR). In most cases, Federal agencies must go through a detailed rule making process before issuing new or modify existing regulatory rules. However, the IFR mechanism allows agencies to issue rules immediately, without going through a comment review period, for “good cause.” The rules are final, and as with the above DOL wage rule, they take effect immediately. However, using this mechanism can be problematic for the agencies because it typically sets up immediate legal challenges. Indeed, there are already lawsuits being organized by the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, joined by other organizations, to some of these new rules.
CRA is working with our partners in the science advocacy community and the higher education community to make the case to policymakers that these rules will hurt, not help, the US research community. In the case of the DHS “duration of status” change, multiple members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have sent letters to the DHS acting Secretary voicing opposition to the rule. And members of the higher-ed community, as well as the high-tech sector, are preparing for legal challenges against the other two rules. We will keep an eye on all the proceedings and will update the community as news happens, so please check back for updates.
Despite appearances, Congress has not forgotten about the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The problem has been the ongoing disagreement on how to respond to the COVID pandemic. Since Congress hasn’t been able to get beyond that issue, it hasn’t been able to focus on other high-level topics. However, the approaching November election, and a desire to not have a government shutdown just before voters go to the polls, has necessitated a continuing resolution (or CR) to be considered.
Released today, the CR would fund the government at Fiscal Year 2020 levels through December 11th. However, because of Congress’ inaction on a number of must-pass issues, this bill is not “clean,” meaning it is not free of other policy and funding issues. While unlikely to completely derail the process on its own, these other items could slow down or delay final passage of a CR. In fact, the initial language has already caused bickering between House and Senate leaders over topics that weren’t included in the bill’s language.
However, the bigger concern, and big question mark, is how the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Senate Republicans desire to confirm her replacement before the election, will impact all legislation in Congress. Will Senate Democrats throw up any and all legislative roadblocks to halt a vote on a proposed replacement? Would the Republicans acquiesce if such a tactic were employed? Would the Democrats be willing to risk a government shutdown just before the election? These are unprecedented circumstances and it’s hard to say what will happen. More so than ever, it’s a wait and see situation; we’ll have more updates as they happen, so please check back.
In case you missed it — the CCC Blog has coverage of National Science Foundation’s recent announcement, “establishing new artificial intelligence institutes to accelerate research, expand America’s workforce, and transform society in the decades to come.” This move is in line with one of the recommendations in the CCC-led AI roadmap report, A 20-Year Community Roadmap for AI Research in the US. This is great news; and, when combined with the efforts in Congress to bolster AI research — including adding the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act of 2020 to the House National Defense Authorization Act, which is a piece of “must pass” legislation — signals that AI research is likely to stay a hot-topic in Washington for some time. Keep checking back for more updates.
There has been a flurry of activity over the last few weeks on a number of AI related pieces of legislation in Congress. The most significant is that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s (HSST) National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act (HR 6216) was included in the House version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA; aka: the defense policy bill). You’ll recall that HR 6216 was heavily influenced and informed by the CCC’s work and their AI roadmap report (and CRA endorsed the bill). Its inclusion in the House NDAA is a major win for the computing research community.
As of right now, there is no equivalent language in the Senate NDAA, but CRA is working with our allies in the community to make sure it stays in the conference language of any final bill.
However, the downside to this news is the NDAA has an uncertain future right now. Not only is Congress distracted with the negotiations over the latest COVID relief bill, but the House NDAA has drawn a veto threat from the President over stipulations about renaming military bases. This would typically not be an issue, as both the Senate and House NDAA bills passed with very similar base-renaming provisions, and both passed with veto-proof majorities. But Senator Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and someone who will have significant influence on any conference language, has publicly promised the President he will have these provisions removed. Given that the House Democrats are very much in favor of these provisions, that likely means the bill will not move any time soon.
The other news is the Senate Commerce Committee passed a stand alone AI bill; S. 3891, the Advancing Artificial Intelligence Research Act of 2020. This bill is similar to the House HSST bill, in that it authorizes six national AI research institutes at NSF, and authorizes $50M a year for five years. However it also gives NIST a significant seat in the Federal AI research space by requiring that agency to set up AI standards and establishing a, “national program to advance (AI) research” at the agency. This bill’s future is a little uncertain; with everything going on, there’s no telling if it will make it to the full Senate for a vote. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this gets added on to a piece of moving legislation.
We’re keeping our eyes and ears open on both pieces of legislation and will update as news becomes available, so please check back.
Continuing our review of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) federal budget, we turn to the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water bill. 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 House’s numbers are significantly better than the 17% cut that the Administration requested in February, they represent a fairly small increase over last year’s budget. Let’s get into the details.
The bill proposes only a slight increase (+<1%) for the Office of Science over FY20 levels; bringing the agency’s budget to $7.05 billion for FY21, an increase of just $50 million. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see a more generous increase of 4.1 percent – going from $980 million in FY20 to $1.02 billion in FY21. When you look at the other programs within the Office of Science, ASCR is the only one that received more than a 1% increase or wasn't flat funded.
It's worth noting that the Appropriations Committee repeatedly spoke highly of DOE's research in CS and IT fields. Topics such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Exascale, and Quantum Information Sciences are repeatedly mentioned, with high praise, in the committee’s report.
Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would receive $435 million for FY21, a 2.4 percent increase from $425 million in FY20. For another year, the committee dismissed the President’s request to zero out the agency’s budget.
|FY20||FY21 PBR||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$7.00B||$5.84B||$7.05B||+$50M||+<1%|
The House Appropriations Committee approved this bill on Monday; next step is for it to go before the full House chamber for passage. After that, as with the other FY21 funding legislation, we have to wait and see what happens with the Senate counterparts. While the Senate Appropriations Committee have said they plan to move on their bills this month, very little has actually happened publicly. It’s a wait-and-see situation; please check back for more updates.
The Trump Administration on Tuesday reserved course and rescinded its change that would have stripped visas from international students whose courses move exclusively online during the pandemic. The announcement was made by the judge who was expected to preside over oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT. This is still a developing story, which we are tracking closely, but this is decidedly good news. We will provide updates as information becomes available.
Continuing our review of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) federal budget, we turn to the House Appropriations Committee’s bill for the Department of Defense. DOD’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.
Taking a moment to look at the President’s budget request from February, it’s worth remembering that it was particularly bad. All three accounts, 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3, were cut by 11 percent, 11 percent, and 14 percent, respectively. Only DARPA received an increase of 3.2 percent. This is where the “from a certain point of view” comes in: when compared against the Administration’s request, these accounts do quite well under the House’s plan. It’s when you compare them against their current budgets (i.e.: what the programs are working with right now), that we see the House’s numbers are not good. Let’s take a look.
Basic Research (6.1) gets a slight increase against FY20 numbers. The account goes from $2.60 billion to $2.62 billion in FY21, an increase of 0.8 percent or $20 million.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is in much the same spot, looking terrible compared to last year’s budget but seems good in comparison to the Administration’s request. The full account would see a 2.5 percent cut compared to last year’s budget, going from $6.07 billion in FY20 to $5.92 billion under the House’s plan (a loss of $150 million). But when compared against the requested budget in February, the account would receive a bump of 9.8 percent.
Finally, the Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would receive the largest cut, going from $7.40 billion in FY20 to $7.08 billion in FY21, a cut of $320 million (or 3.3 percent). As before, when compared against the President’s request, the account would receive an 11.8 percent boast.
DARPA would see an increase but, in a break with the pattern, would not do as well as the Administration requested (you’ll recall DARPA was the “big winner” of the Defense research accounts in February). The agency would go from $3.46 billion in FY20 to $3.51 billion under the House’s FY21 plan, an increase of 1.4 percent (or $50 million). The Administration requested $3.57 billion for the agency.
|FY20||FY21 PBR||$ Change||% Change||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
What happens next? The bill will be go before the full Appropriations Committee and then on to the full House for approval; it’s likely to not meet any resistance. We then have to wait to see what the Senate numbers will be. As in previous years, the House and Administration being so far apart means the Senate’s numbers are likely to be a compromise between the two. Which means those numbers are likely to be what is agreed to for a final budget. We’ll keep watching as events unfold; please check back for more updates.
After handling the multiple bills responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress is finally turning to handling the annual federal budget. As is the norm, the House Appropriations Committee has begun its work first. A 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. The bill as a whole is good news, with a few exceptions; but it is also pretty good news for NSF.
The House CJS bill provides a 3.3 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) funding for NSF. The Foundation would receive $8.55 billion for FY21 overall, an increase of $270 million over last year. The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a 3.4 percent increase, up from $6.74 billion in FY20 to $6.97 billion for FY21. As well, the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would see a similar increase of 3.2 percent, going from $940 million in FY20 to $970 million in FY21. While not as good as last year’s House numbers, they represent a considerable improvement over the President’s requested FY21 budget for the agency.
|FY19||FY20||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) budget is a bit more mixed. The top line for the agency would effectively be flat funded, receiving just a 1 percent, going from $1.03 billion in FY20 to $1.04 billion in FY21 (a $10 million increase). However, the institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see a healthy increase for FY21; $789 million for this year, which is $35 million more (4.6 percent) than it received for FY20.
|FY19||FY20||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
Finally, NASA’s budget is where we see the bad news. The top line for the agency is flat funded, receiving the same amount for FY21 that it received last year ($22.63 billion). However, NASA’s Science account would receive a small cut of $40 million (or -0.6 percent); the account would go from $7.14 billion in FY20 to $7.10 billion in FY21.
|FY19||FY20||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
What’s next? The bills head to the full House Appropriations Committee for approval and then to the full House chamber; they’re expected to move with little difficulty. After that, we have to wait and see what the Senate Appropriations Committee does with their budget bills. They are supposed to start work on them later this month. Given the unusual state of events, and the forthcoming Presidential election in November, any final decision on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget is likely to happen in December at the earliest. It’s a wait-and-see situation, so please check back for more updates.
UPDATE 7/14: The Trump Administration reserved course and rescinded its policy change.
Continue original post from 7/8: On Monday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) disclosed its intent to remove its current, temporary exemptions on F-1 and M-1 visas. The exemptions allowed students on visas to remain in the USA during the spring and summer even if they were taking all their classes online because of the pandemic. The removal of the exemptions would mean that any students on student visas who are not taking at least some classes in person will cease to be in compliance. Thus, if they are enrolled in colleges or universities that will move their fall classes online for safety of their community, those students would be forced to either (a) transfer to another institution where they must take classes in person, despite any health risk, or (b) leave the country. It also means that foreign students accepted for fall at those institutions will not be granted visas to enter the USA.
The hundreds of thousands of students — across all academic disciplines — who will be affected by this policy are here legally but will potentially fall out of compliance through no fault of their own, as their institutions react to an extraordinary, global pandemic. CRA believes this policy is ill-conceived, cruel and will damage the U.S. research ecosystem greatly, perhaps for years to come. The uncertainty created by this policy, and by the other immigration policy decisions restricting other foreign students and researchers issued over the last several weeks, will certainly discourage more of the best minds in the world from studying and researching in the U.S., to our great detriment.
CRA is working with our partners in the science advocacy community and the higher education community to make this case to policymakers in Congress and the Administration. We are also working to develop resources to help our member institutions contend with this unprecedented situation. For now, members of our community who wish to weigh in on the inadequacy of this policy decision are encouraged to contact their representatives in Congress. Find out who represents you in Congress. Contact information for your Senate delegation.
And specifically to our international students, know that CRA cares about you and will do everything we can to protect and support you.
When there are new developments, we will do our best to bring them to you here.
UPDATE: Wednesday morning, Harvard University and MIT sued the Trump Administration in an effort to block ICE’s Visa order. In a statement similar to CRA’s, the two universities said that they filed a pleading in Federal court, “seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the order.”
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