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 SS&T Committee Introduces Bipartisan AI Research Bill to Significantly Increase Research Authorizations


House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) yesterday introduced long-awaited legislation aimed at solidifying the U.S. leadership role in artificial intelligence research, education, and workforce development. The National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act of 2020 (H.R. 6216) would authorize significant increases to the research budgets at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology over five years, allow for the creation of AI research institutes focused on economic sectors, social sectors, or cross-cutting AI technology challenges, and designate a new policy infrastructure for AI research across the Federal government.

This is a good bill.

The legislation is well aligned with many of the recommendations found in the community-led CCC 20-year AI Research Roadmap document, including the call for center-scale, interdisciplinary research efforts, support for foundational computer science research across a broad range of related areas, and support for education and workforce development efforts at Federal science agencies. The bill is also the product of a long drafting process that involved extensive consultation with academic, industry, and government stakeholders that sought to ensure not only the bill represented a clearly interdisciplinary approach to funding this area of national priority, but also that the committee’s concerns about ethics, safety, security and equal opportunity were baked in. To their credit, Chairwoman Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas sought to move beyond incremental improvements to the Federal AI research ecosystem, authorizing hefty increases to three key science agency budgets for AI research. NSF would see authorizations for its current level of investment (~$478 million in FY20) grow to $1.055 billion in FY25, including an increase of $390 million in FY21. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would see its ~$120 million in FY20 investment authorized to $262 million in FY25. And NIST, which will spend ~$23 million on its AI research and standards efforts in FY20 grow to $93.7 million in FY25. All told, the bill would authorize $6.34 billion in spending on AI research over five years at those three agencies.

In addition to funding authorizations, the bill also formalizes a policy/advisory infrastructure for AI research by establishing a NITRD like interagency coordination committee and national coordination office, as well as a PITAC-like advisory committee for AI research. The bill also calls for a National Academies report on AI Impact on Workforce, creates AI Fellowship and Traineeship programs at NSF, funds AI education efforts at NSF, and calls on GAO to assess thee composition of computing resources supported by the Federal government and evaluate future computational needs to maintain U.S. leadership in AI.

The bill isn’t perfect. In an effort to ensure that researchers consider the ethical dimensions of their research, as well as the safety and security of their work, the bill will require all grant proposers to NSF (and DOE) to include a “Statement of Ethics” — perhaps similar to a broader impacts statement — along with their proposals. What that statement will include is left to the NSF Director and the Secretary of Energy to determine respectively, within 18 months of the bill’s passage. While we fully support the goal of making researchers more aware of the ethical dimensions of their work, we’re not sure this is approach is going to be the most effective way to do that.

Nevertheless, CRA supports this effort and has provided an endorsement of the bill.

The bill has a better than reasonable chance of passage. We know the House SS&T Committee will consider the bill (mark it up) at the end of this month, pending any further schedule chaos caused by the pandemic. Given its bipartisan sponsorship by the Chair and Ranking Member of the committee, it likely will pass and make it to the House floor, where it’s also likely to pass. The Senate is a little further behind the curve. They also have a National AI Initiative Act (S. 1558) that is less comprehensive, though similar to the House version, but it has not yet received any consideration in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Ideally, H.R. 6216 would be the bill that Senate Commerce takes up after passage in the House.

The bill is also well-aligned with the AI research goals of the Administration. You may recall in the President’s FY21 Budget Request released back in February, President Trump called for significant boosts in funding for AI research at NSF, NIST and DOE (along with cuts to just about everything else). Whether that translates into the President’s approval should this bill cross his desk is an open question, but the odds are good. And though this is “just” an authorization bill — it authorizes appropriators to spend money in certain ways, but the appropriators aren’t obligated to do it — AI and Quantum Information Science have been shown pretty clear priority by congressional appropriators in the last few budget cycles. Indeed, funding for Quantum Information Science has generally followed the levels authorized in the National Quantum Initiative Act passed back in 2016. So there’s reason to be optimistic that funding could also follow this bill.

And there’s also reason to be optimistic that the funding will be quite interdisciplinary, with AI defined quite broadly. The bill notes the types of interdisciplinary work the committee expects would benefit, including (but not limited to) computer vision, robotics, hardware for accelerating AI systems, information theory, causal and statistical inference, data mining, information extraction, human-robot interaction, intelligent interfaces, computational neuroscience, reasoning and representation, speech and language, multi-agent systems, intelligent interfaces, human-artificial intelligence cooperation, artificial intelligence-augmented human problem solving, developmental biology, zoology, botany, morphological computation, organismal systems, algorithmic explainability, methods to asses, characterize, and reduce bias in datasets, safety and robustness of AI systems including assurance, verification, validation, security and control, privacy and security, fields and research areas that address the application of AI systems to scientific discovery and societal challenges, social, ethical, safety and security implications of AI systems, social impact of AI systems on different groups within society (especially historically marginalized groups) and qualitative and quantitative forecasting of future capabilities and applications. And that’s just at NSF. Agency heads will have a fair amount of flexibility for meeting the goals of this act with any of the funding that results.

So, of all of the approaches to prioritizing AI research to meet the national imperative to maintain leadership in this crucial area, this bill seems to hold the most promise. The committee has produced a one-pager on the bill. You can read the full text as well.

We’ll be following the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process. Stay tuned here for updates.

Roundup of FY2021 Research Agency Requests: NIST, NIH, and NASA, A Familiar Theme of Cuts


In our continuing series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget request, we close out with a roundup of an assortment of Federal research agencies. These include the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NASA. There’s a familiar theme to all of these accounts: cuts to research (even when it looks like an agency was a budgetary winner).

First, we’ll go into the agency that, at first blush, looks like a big winner: NASA. The top line for the space agency is one of the big winners in the President’s budget request; it received a 5.3 percent increase, going from $22.63 billion in FY20 to $25.25 billion in FY21. However, that increase goes almost entirely to the Human Exploration (+46 percent) and Space Technology (+43 percent) accounts. NASA Science, which handles the research funding at the agency, gets a significant cut of 12 percent, going from $7.14 billion in FY20 to $6.31 billion in FY21. Additionally, the STEM Engagement account at NASA would be eliminated under the President’s plan. So much for being a big winner.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NASA Total $21.50B $22.63B $25.25B +$2.62B +5.3%
NASA Science $6.91B $7.14B $6.31B -$830M -12%

The trend continues with NIST. The top line for the agency would see a significant cut of 28 percent, going from $1.03 billion in FY20 to $738 million in FY21. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see a not as large, but still significant, cut of 13 percent; going from $754 million in FY20 to $652 million in FY21.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NIST Total $986M $1.03B $738M -$292M -28%
STRS $725M $754M $652M -$102M -13%

Finally we come to the National Institutes of Health; even this popular agency doesn’t escape the budgetary chopping block. Under the President’s plan, the agency would go from $41.7 billion in FY20 to $38.7 billion in FY21, a reduction of $3 billion or 7.2 percent.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NIH $39.1B $41.7B $38.7B -$3.0B -7.2%

As with the other research accounts we’ve profiled, these cuts are unlikely to make it into a final FY21 budget. However, this is a bad place to begin the process; as just one example, Congress could provide flat funding and say they “saved” the agencies from worse budget cuts. Additionally, when the FY21 budget will be finalized is anyone’s guess; almost certainly it won’t be done before the November election.

Next steps in the FY21 budget process are for each chamber of Congress to come up with their individual funding plans; that process should start within the next month. You’ll have updates; so keep checking back for more information.

Department of Defense FY 2021 Request: With Few Exceptions, this is a Very Bad Budget


In our continuing series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Defense (DOD). The 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, with few exceptions, most of these accounts are cut under the Trump Administration’s plans for FY21.

All three of DOD S&T’s accounts are pretty grim. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, is cut heavily at 11 percent; going from $2.6 billion in FY20 to $2.32 billon under the Trump Administration’s plan (a cut of $280 million). The details for 6.1 accounts make it look worse: the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts are cut at 23.6, 30.4, and 9.5 percent, respectively.

Additionally, the overall Applied Research (6.2) account is also cut at 11 percent; going from $6.07 billion in FY20 to $5.39 billion under the Administration’s framework, a loss of $680 million. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would receive the largest cut, going from $7.40 billion in FY20 to $6.33 billion in FY21, a cut of $1.07 billion (or 14 percent). All very bad.

The one bright spot would be DARPA, which would see an increase. It would go from $3.46 billion in FY20 to $3.57 billion in FY21, an increase of 3.2 percent (or $110 million).

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.53B $2.60B $2.32B -$280M -11%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $6.07B $5.39B -$680M -11%
DOD 6.3 $7.36B $7.40B $6.33B -$1.07B -14%
DARPA $3.43B $3.46B $3.57B +$110M +3.2%

It’s hard to explain these numbers, especially when you factor in that the Department of Defense, as a whole, was a big winner under the Administration’s budget plan. The typical view of the policy community is that this is normally a deliberate budget tactic by Pentagon leadership. 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 moved money “sticks” elsewhere in the DOD budget. And it isn’t a new strategy; both the Bush and Obama Administrations did this same thing. However, given that this Administration cut so much from elsewhere in the Federal budget, and that DOD as a whole is taken care of so well, it make little sense that Defense research is hit so hard under this budgetary plan.

The reality is, like with the other research agencies, this budget plan is DOA and will not be taken seriously. It will be interesting to see how both chambers of Congress approach these budgets though; Congress sees Defense research as a national priority, but there are many priorities to take care of this year. As with NSF and DOE, this is not a good place to start the process and we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. So please keep checking back for updates.

Department of Energy FY 2021 Request: Office of Science is Hit Hard with Cuts; Computing Research Fairs Better


In our continuing series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Energy (DOE). There are similarities with the NSF budget request we detailed earlier, including large funding reductions.

The two key parts of DOE for the computing community are the Office of Science (SC), home of most of the agency’s basic research support, and ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

For SC, the President’s FY21 request of $5.84 billion is a cut of 17 percent, compared to the FY20 enacted level of $7 billion. While that is pretty horrible, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which is within the Office of Science, and where most of the computing research at the agency is located, would fair better. The program would be funded at $988 million, which is an increase of $8 million, or plus 1 percent, over last year. In comparison, the Fusion Energy Sciences and Biological and Environmental Research programs would be the hardest hit, and see cuts of 37 percent and 31 percent, respectively. ASCR’s modest increase is to support research in artificial intelligence and quantum information sciences, just like NSF’s funding, in addition to the long running Administration priority of achieving exascale (pages 47 and 48).

As for ARPA-E, it would once again be zeroed out, as it was in the President’s budget requests for the last two years. Despite that record of requests, Congress has maintained ARPA-E funding and provided an increase of 16 percent in FY20 (which happened after a 4 percent increase in FY19).

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $6.59B $7.00B $5.84B -$1.16B -17%
ASCR $936M $980M $988M +$8M +1.0%
ARPA-E $366M $425M $0 -$425M -100%

In terms of Administration priorities, it’s again similar to NSF’s request with an emphasis on artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences (QIS), and (unique to DOE) exascale. The Administration is still planning for the first exascale system to be deployed in 2021 at Argonne National Lab, and a second to come on line at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the, “2021-2022 timeline.” This has been an Administration priority since the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request (ie: the Administration’s first). There is also a mention of a third exascale system for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the national security part of the Department tasked with civilian oversight of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and infrastructure. This system will be located at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and is expected to be delivered by FY 2023.

Like at NSF, the Administration is steering new money into DOE’s existing programs in AI and QIS. According to the Administration, DOE’s AI investment will be $125 million for FY21, an increase of $54 million dollars over last year. Additionally, the Department’s spending on QIS will increase to $237 million in FY21, which is an increase of $70 million over FY20. Finally, the Budget includes $25 million for the Office of Science to support early stage research for a quantum internet.

As with NSF’s request, it is unlikely that Congress will take this proposed budget seriously; just looking at Congress’s history of ignoring the Administration’s recommended ARPA-E budgets show that. However, like with NSF’s request, this is a bad way to begin the budget process for the year. Please keep checking back for more updates and additional information.

NSF FY2021 Request: AI and Quantum Research Get Priority but it’s Paid for with Cuts to Other Research Fields


On Monday, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) Budget Request. Despite administration signals and bipartisan calls for a budget request in line with the funding agreement made in July, the President decided to ignore that agreement and release a funding blueprint with deep reductions to domestic discretionary spending. The federal research portfolio, which is a part of domestic discretionary spending, didn’t escape cuts.

As we have done in years past, we’ll be writing a series of posts on the assorted agency budgets that are important to the computing research community. First up: the National Science Foundation.

Overall, NSF’s top-line doesn’t fare well in the President’s request. Under the Administration’s plan, the agency would see a 6.5 percent reduction compared to FY20, in overall funding. NSF would go from $8.28 billion in FY20 to $7.74 billion in FY21, a reduction of $540 million.

The majority of that reduction would come from Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for research grants. R&RA would decline from $6.74 billion in FY20 to $6.21 billion in FY21, a cut of $530 million. Comparatively, Education and Human Resources (EHR), the subaccount that contains the agency’s education programs, would see a reduction of $9 million, going from $940 million in FY20 to $931 million under the President’s plan.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.08B $8.28B $7.74B -$540M -6.5%
R&RA $6.52B $6.74B $6.21B -$530M -7.9%
EHR $910M $940M $931M -$9M -1.0%

These reductions to NSF mask large new investments in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Sciences (QIS). According to the Administration, they are increasing AI R&D by more than 70 percent over FY20 and doubling the agency’s QIS investment. While good news for these specific sections of the computing research community, this is the literal definition of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” As CRA made clear in our statement on the Administration’s budget request, “failing to adequately fund a broad portfolio of research puts the nation at risk of missing key breakthroughs,” and, “it also threatens to constrain progress in the same critical fields the President has chosen to highlight.”

How likely is this request to being passed into law? Very unlikely. The budget process heads to Congress, where the President’s funding recommendations will likely will be largely ignored (especially by the Democratic controlled House of Representatives), as have the three previous budget requests the Administration has submitted. Still, it’s worrisome that even when this Administration prioritizes key research investments, it does so at the expense of all other fields. This is not a great place for the budget process to begin.

CRA Statement on the FY2021 Presidential Budget Request


CRA commends the Administration for recognizing the importance of Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Science to the Nation’s security and competitiveness, and for addressing that with significant new investments in the President’s Budget Request for FY2021. However, we take issue with the proposed cuts to a large number of other areas of science. 

Failing to adequately fund a broad portfolio of research puts the nation at risk of missing key breakthroughs and the leadership position to capitalize on them. It also threatens to constrain progress in the same critical fields the President has chosen to highlight. For example, the social sciences will be crucial to developing appropriate ethical guidance for the development of AI systems, economic scientists will help us understand the impact of AI and quantum computing on our workforce, and breakthroughs in materials science will be required for advanced manufacturing and quantum science progress. 

A broad Federal research investment portfolio also builds the science and technical workforce that is vital to support design, building, operation, and extending technologies fundamental to industry and defense. Cutting research funds will have a long-term, negative effect on the growth and training of that crucial community. Additionally, our technical workforce has consistently benefitted from adding personnel who are well-educated in the liberal and fine arts. Their perspective in human-centric design, aesthetics, cultural norms, psychology, history, and other aspects outside the STEM disciplines has resulted in a more robust and global set of solutions within the STEM space. Furthermore, those individuals bring new problem-solving insights and paradigms to bear on technological problems, giving us a distinct, innovative advantage over countries that consistently devalue non-STEM disciplines. 

The United States has maintained its scientific, economic and military leadership in part because of its broad support for research across disciplines; recognizing that the interplay among scientific fields has provided extraordinary benefits; and understanding that perfect knowledge of where the next great breakthrough will arise is impossible. While we agree that areas such as AI and Quantum Science are ripe for priority, any additional investment should not come at the cost of progress in all other fields. 

President’s Budget Proposes Big Cuts to R&D, but Big Boost to AI/Quantum


President Trump yesterday released his budget request for FY2021, calling for sharp cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, including a 9 percent overall cut to non-defense basic research. At the same time, the President announced significant new investments in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Science research, providing increases to those research accounts that would double them by FY2022.

However, the Administration’s deep cuts to research at the National Science Foundation (-6 percent vs. FY20), DOE Office of Science (-17 percent vs. FY20), NIST (-19 percent), and science programs at NASA (-11 percent) take much of the luster away from the President’s AI/Quantum announcements. And that’s disappointing, because elements of the White House plan to boost the “Industries of the Future” are laudable and well-aligned with the AI research community’s efforts to establish a roadmap for AI research that would keep the U.S. in a leadership role in AI technologies for the foreseeable future.

The President’s AI/Quantum initiative would double research spending in those areas at the National Science Foundation, NIST and DOE’s Office of Science by FY2022 and bring the overall Federal investment in Artificial Intelligence research to $2 billion a year. NSF would see its research funding for AI grow from $487 million across the Foundation in FY19 to $830 million in FY21, a 70 percent increase. DOE’s investment would increase $54 million to $125 million. DARPA and NIH would also see plus ups. The plan would also include investments in education and job training, including $50 million for AI workforce development with a focus on community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions.

So while CRA commends the President for the focus on AI and Quantum and hopes to see Congress enact much of what he’s proposed, the totality of the President’s request for research funding is not supportable. CRA issued a statement on the President’s budget today that makes this case:

CRA STATEMENT ON THE

FY2021 PRESIDENTIAL BUDGET REQUEST

CRA commends the Administration for recognizing the importance of Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Science to the Nation’s security and competitiveness, and for addressing that with significant new investments in the President’s Budget Request for FY2021. However, we take issue with the proposed cuts to a large number of other areas of science.

Failing to adequately fund a broad portfolio of research puts the nation at risk of missing key breakthroughs and the leadership position to capitalize on them. It also threatens to constrain progress in the same critical fields the President has chosen to highlight. For example, the social sciences will be crucial to developing appropriate ethical guidance for the development of AI systems, economic scientists will help us understand the impact of AI and quantum computing on our workforce, and breakthroughs in materials science will be required for advanced manufacturing and quantum science progress.

A broad Federal research investment portfolio also builds the science and technical workforce that is vital to support design, building, operation, and extending technologies fundamental to industry and defense. Cutting research funds will have a long-term, negative effect on the growth and training of that crucial community. Additionally, our technical workforce has consistently benefitted from adding personnel who are well-educated in the liberal and fine arts. Their perspective in human-centric design, aesthetics, cultural norms, psychology, history, and other aspects outside the STEM disciplines has resulted in a more robust and global set of solutions within the STEM space. Furthermore, those individuals bring new problem-solving insights and paradigms to bear on technological problems, giving us a distinct, innovative advantage over countries that consistently devalue non-STEM disciplines.

The United States has maintained its scientific, economic and military leadership in part because of its broad support for research across disciplines; recognizing that the interplay among scientific fields has provided extraordinary benefits; and understanding that perfect knowledge of where the next great breakthrough will arise is impossible. While we agree that areas such as AI and Quantum Science are ripe for priority, any additional investment should not come at the cost of progress in all other fields.

We’ll have much more detail on the President’s Budget Request in our agency-by-agency breakdowns over the next couple of weeks. The “good” news for overall science investments is that Congress has essentially ignored the President’s funding requests — particularly the funding cuts — over the last three years. Nevertheless, the President’s budget does provide a blueprint for Members of Congress to follow if they want to demonstrate their support for these critical technologies but also want to slash Federal spending on research, so we will continue to follow developments and continue advocating for broad, sustained investments in fundamental research across disciplines.

President Intends to Nominate Computing Researcher Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan as Next Director of National Science Foundation


Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan

On an otherwise uneventful day, President Donald Trump yesterday announced his intention to nominate Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan as the next Director of the National Science Foundation, succeeding Dr. France Córdova, whose six-year term ends next year. Panchanathan is a computing researcher and the Executive Vice President of Arizona State University’s Knowledge Enterprise, Chief Research and Innovation officer, Director of the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC), and Foundation Chair in Computing and Informatics. Panchanathan is also a member of the National Science Board, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, AAAS, Canadian Academy of Engineering, IEEE, and the Society of Optical Engineering.

“Panch” is well-known and well-respected in the computing research community. If confirmed by the Senate, Panchanathan would join Erich Bloch as the only Directors in the Foundation’s history from the the computing community. Panchanathan will join Princeton’s Margaret Martonosi, recently announced as the new head of NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate effective February 1, 2020, leaving the computing research community well-represented in an agency so important to the field — NSF supports approximately 85 percent of all fundamental computing research performed at U.S. universities, nearly $1.4 billion annually.

The current NSF Director and head of the National Science Board both released statements after the President’s announcement:

Dr. Córdova issued the following statement:

“For five years, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan has been a bold, energizing presence on the National Science Board and he was a leader in every sense of the word in the research community prior to that. I was delighted to learn that the White House named him as nominee to serve as the next director of the National Science Foundation. This position requires the ability to connect with all stakeholders in the U.S. science and engineering community, walking the fine line between serving and leading. Panch has the character and knowledge that make him an ideal fit for the job. As my own term draws to a close, I am heartened at the idea of Panch as my successor.”

National Science Board Chair Dr. Diane L. Souvaine issued the following statement:

I’m delighted by the President’s nomination for NSF Director. It’s been a privilege to have worked with Dr. Panchanathan for the past five years, and I know he is drawn to public service for the right reasons — a passion for our country and how our discoveries and innovations can make the world a better place. His leadership at Arizona State University has been key to their growth and emergence as an innovator in higher education, especially in terms of partnerships and entrepreneurship. He is the best kind of disruptor, one who understands that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. In working together with the National Science Board, I have been impressed with his care for and understanding of the National Science Foundation’s unique mission. I saw the same qualities in our current Director, Dr. France Córdova, and they have underpinned her exceptional leadership.”

Read the official White House announcement. And the release from NSF.

Final FY20 Appropriations: Mostly Increases for Research but There is Some Bad News


Just in time for the calendar year 2020, and almost three months after the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) began, Congress is finally finishing up its work on the Federal budget with two Minibuses of all the appropriations legislation. For the research community, it’s mostly good news but there are a few clouds in the sky: the National Science Foundation will see very modest increases under the bill, and the defense research accounts are essentially flat-funded.

But first the good news: the big winners in this year’s budget are the Department of Energy Office of Science (6.2 percent increase over FY19), the National Institutes of Health (+6.7 percent), and DOE’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E (+16 percent). Additionally, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which is within the DOE’s Office of Science, and where most of the computing research at the agency is located, would see a healthy 4.7 percent increase. Rounding out the good news, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would see an increase of 4.5 percent to their top line, while the institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see an increase of 4.0 percent; and NASA would see an increase of 5.3 percent, while NASA Science would receive an increase of 3.3 percent. More specific numbers are below ($ and % changes are FY20 Final against FY19; PBR stands for “President’s Budget Request.”).

FY19 FY20 PBR FY20 House FY20 Senate FY20 Final $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $6.59B $5.50B $6.87B $7.22B $7.00B +$410M +6.2%
ASCR $936M $921M $957M $1.03B $980M +$44M +$4.7%
ARPA-E $366M 0 $425M $428M $425M +$59M +16%
NIH $39.1B $34.4B $41.1B $42.1B $41.7B +$2.6B +6.7%
NIST Total $986M $687M $1.04B $1.04B $1.03B +$44M +4.5%
STRS $725M $612M $751M $754M $754M +$29M +4.0%
NASA Total $21.50B $21.02B $22.32B $22.75B $22.63B +$1.13B +5.3%
Science $6.91B $6.30B $7.16B $6.91B $7.14B +$230M +3.3%

Considering how terrible the President’s Budget Request was at the start of this process, all these accounts made out very well.

But, regular readers will notice that we haven’t mentioned the NSF’s numbers. That’s because, while the agency will get an increase, the numbers are below both the House and Senate numbers that came out during the year. The likely reason is that there were a large number of demands in the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, with the 2020 Census probably taking up the majority of any increases in the bill. NSF’s top line will only increase by 2.5 percent, while the Research and Related Activities (RRA) and Education and Human Resource (EHR) both received larger increases (+3.4 percent and +3.3 percent, respectively).

FY19 FY20 PBR FY20 House FY20 Senate FY20 Final $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.08B $7.10B $8.64B $8.32B $8.28B +$200M +2.5%
R&RA $6.52B $5.66B $7.10B $6.77B $6.74B +220M +3.4%
EHR $910M $824M $950M $937M $940M +$30M +3.3%

Finally, the appropriations deal contains essentially flat funding for most defense research accounts. As a reminder, 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 only account to receive any type of meaningful increase was the 6.1 account (+2.8 percent). The other three received 0 percent, 0.5 percent, and 0.9 percent respectively. In short, not good numbers for DOD research.

FY19 FY20 PBR FY20 House FY20 Senate FY20 Final $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.53B $2.32B $2.51B $2.63B $2.60B +$70M +2.8%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $5.32B $5.56B $5.98B $6.07B 0 0
DOD 6.3 $7.36B $6.42B $6.78B $7.10B $7.40B +$40M +0.5%
DARPA $3.43B $3.56B $3.53B $3.36B $3.46B +$30M +0.9%

Where is this in the legislative process? The House passed both spending bills on Tuesday; the Senate is expected to pass them before the Friday December 20th deadline, and then send them to the President’s desk for signing into law. Assuming he does sign them, Fiscal Year 2020 will be in the books and we can look forward to the Fiscal Year 2021 process…which starts, with the President’s Budget Request, at the beginning of February.

Budget Update: Got a Little Good News but More Bad News


When we last discussed the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations, we were hopeful that the process was finally starting to move toward completion. A week later, we have some good news but we also have more bad news.

First, the good news: the Senate passed their minibus bundle of appropriations legislation, which includes the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill. This is the legislation that contains funding for the National Science Foundation, NIST, and NASA (House and Senate numbers). It means that Congressional leaders in both the House and Senate can start work on a compromise bill, which can then be considered by both chambers and passed into law.

Now, the bad news. First, Senate Democrats have blocked consideration of the Defense appropriation bill, citing no agreement on the spending allocations for all of the appropriations bill (called 302(b) allocations), as well as policy differences over funding the President’s proposed border wall. This would impact research at the Defense Department. Also, the likely impeachment of President Trump, and resulting Senate trial, are expected to consume all of Congress’ time for the next several months. With the current continuing resolution set to expire on November 21, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) is quoted as saying that without a “miracle” another stop-gap bill would be necessary. The likely time frame for that is to push completion of FY20 into February or March of 2020.

Please keep checking back for more updates.

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