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.

President’s Budget Request a Mixed Bag for Science, but it Could Have Been Much Worse


What a difference a budget deal makes…

The President’s budget request for FY 2019, released yesterday, includes some modest gains and some big losses for Federal science agencies — details below, but on the whole a rather mixed bag for those who believe in the importance of the Federal investment in fundamental research. But it could have been much worse.

We’d gotten warning that the budget would likely slash science investments at multiple agencies in fairly dramatic ways. But that was before Congress and the Administration managed to agree late last week — with only a brief government shutdown — on a two year budget deal that increased budget caps on both defense and non-defense discretionary spending. That agreement, reached early Friday morning, boosted the non-defense discretionary spending cap by 26 percent over the next two years, and sent the White House’s Office of Management and Budget back to the drawing board over the weekend, revamping the President’s planned request to reflect the new fiscal reality.

And that’s a good thing, because the President’s planned budget for science was abysmal. We know some of the details about that original plan because the Administration didn’t have time to revamp some of the supporting documentation they’ve traditionally produced to accompany the budget request. An Analytical Perspectives volume is traditionally included with the budget submission and it includes budget breakdowns by theme, including a whole chapter on Research and Development. In that chapter you’ll find descriptions of the President’s priorities for Federal R&D, including “Protecting the Homeland from Physical and Cyber Attacks,” “Harnessing Artificial Intelligence and High Performance Computing,” and “Integrating Autonomous and Unmanned Vehicles into the Transportation Network,” but also several charts that detail what the Administration is requesting for each of the agencies involved in R&D work. Depressingly, most of the charts detail requests with double-digit percentage decreases for Federal science programs. For the National Science Foundation, for example, the only Federal agency whose mission includes support for all the fundamental science and engineering disciplines, here’s what the Administration planned to request for FY 2019:

[The column headings are: 2017 Actual; 2018 Annualized CR; 2019 Proposed; Dollar Change 2018 v 2019; Percent Change 2018 v 2019. So the deltas in the last two columns are compared to a FY18 budget that assumes flat funding from a continuing resolution.] 

But the budget agreement changed most of that. With new caps that made room for $132 billion in additional non-defense spending, President Trump and his OMB Director Mick Mulvaney made the decision to add just $75 billion back to the non-defense budget. In his transmittal letter to Congress, Mulvaney acknowledged that though the President agreed to the new budget caps by signing them into law, he didn’t believe that the increases were completely justified for non-defense spending, so his request effectively leaves $57 billion in potential spending on the table.

Fortunately for the computing research community, NSF — which funds about 82 percent of all fundamental computing research in U.S. universities — was one of the agencies that benefitted from this last minute revamp. The President’s request calls for flat funding for the agency overall, but a 2 percent increase for NSF’s research accounts — a marked improvement over the 29 percent decrease originally considered before the budget deal. The last-minute revamp of the NSF budget means we don’t have much detail about how the agency would plan to spend the 2 percent windfall. In fact, here is the entirety of the agency’s budget justification (last year it was 470 pages):

Other “winners” (loosely defined) among research agencies in the President’s budget include:

  • Department of Defense Science and Technology: overall, up 2.3 percent over FY17; Basic Research (6.1) up 0.5 percent; Applied Research (6.2) down 4.4 percent; Advanced Technology Development (6.3) down 0.9 percent. DARPA is the big winner in DOD S&T with an increase of about 19 percent vs. FY17 in the President’s plan.
  • National Institutes of Health: NIH was also slated for a substantial cut (27 percent) in Trump’s initial plans for FY 2019, but emerged from the weekend with a flat budget request vs. FY17.
  • Department of Energy Office of Science: Slated to receive a 22 percent cut, instead would also get flat funding vs. FY17 in the President’s budget. Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) — primarily because exascale is a clear Administration priority, would see a 39 percent increase vs. FY17, growing to nearly $900 million.

But other agencies still find themselves subject to deep cuts in the President’s plan, even after the budget cap deal:

  • Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E): The President’s plan once again eliminates funding for the ~$300 million agency. The President’s FY 2018 budget called for the program’s elimination, but congressional appropriators are split on whether to follow through. House appropriators agree with the President’s request to close the office, Senate appropriators included $330 million for the agency in their FY18 appropriation.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology: NIST’s Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) would see a 16 percent reduction vs. FY17 under the President’s plan. NIST’s Manufacturing Extensions Partnership would be eliminated under the budget.
  • Climate Research: The President’s budget would eliminate climate research programs at EPA, support only 3 of 8 USGS Climate Science Centers, and cancel five NASA earth science missions.

Of course, the President’s budget request is just the starting point in a year-long (or longer) process of appropriating funding for Federal agencies. Congress has the key role to play in actually putting numbers to these programs, and they’ve already demonstrated no serious commitment to budget suggestions from this Administration. Odds are also good that they’ll find ways to spend that extra $57 billion in non-defense spending the President didn’t see fit to include in his request.

There are also many other details about this budget we’re still waiting to learn — how NSF plans to prioritize its research, what shifts in cyber security research funding at the Department of Homeland Security mean for the character of the work supported, how the Department of Energy expects to ramp up exascale funding…to name just a few.  And, of course, we still don’t know how congressional appropriators plan to put that extra spending towards the unfinished FY 2018 appropriations, something they need to decide before March 23rd, when the current continuing resolution funding government expires.

So while this is an important first step in science funding for FY19, it’s just the start of a long process. It would have been better to find more support from the President for the investments that help fuel the innovation that drives the nation’s economy and our competitiveness, but this is just the first word in the conversation and not the last. We’ll continue to weigh in with policymakers about the importance of the Federal investment in research. And we’ll track it all and report what we learn here, so stay tuned!

Budget Deal for FY18 and FY19 In Sight; Waiting for it to Cross the Finish Line


Update: 2/9/18 President Trump signed the budget agreement into law early Friday morning.

Original Post: Big news out of Washington today is that there is a new budget deal that could provide much needed relief to Federal science research agencies. Similar to the deals from 2013 and 2015, this agreement would suspend the budgetary caps imposed in the 2011 Budget Control Act for two years. It would provide $165 billion in additional spending for defense discretionary accounts over two years, a key demand for Congressional Republicans and the Administration, and $131 billion in additional spending for domestic accounts over two years, a demand of Congressional Democrats. While not the 1-to-1, defense to domestic spending, increase that Democrats were pushing for it is a middle ground both sides arrived at to get the deal done. Additionally, the agreement suspends the debt limit until March 2019. There are a number of other smaller additions to the deal and one big omission (no final decision on DACA, or Dreamers, was included).

Why is this a big deal? We’ve been hearing from key appropriators for some time that if they can get relief from the budget caps (particularly domestic spending, as that includes NSF), increases for research would be a priority. So this is potentially great news for our community and the research community as a whole. Additionally, this can finally put Fiscal Year 2018 funding to bed, a full six months after the fiscal year started on Oct 1st. It also makes Fiscal Year 2019 easier to pass, as there is agreement on funding levels for next year.

The Senate is expected to take votes on the bill Thursday afternoon; it is likely to pass easily (as the deal is predominately Senate negotiated legislation). Then it gets a bit more uncertain, as the House must take it up. This sets up an interesting conflict in both political parties. On the Republican side, they are split between defense hawks, who want large increases to defense spending, and fiscal hawks, who want large reductions to Federal spending; the fiscal hawks are likely to not vote for this agreement. In past cases, Republican leadership was able to count on Democratic votes to make up the votes they lose in their own party. However, the Democratic Caucus is now split because of the lack of DACA protections in the bill; for example, Minority Leader Pelosi has publicly said she will not vote for it. However, the Democrats have also said they are not whipping votes (ie: enforcing a party-line vote) on the agreement; so there is some uncertainty about how the House Democrats are going to vote. The general expectation is the agreement will pass the House but it’s expected to be a relatively close vote.

We’ll keep our eyes and ears on this as it unfolds and will update as events progress, so please check back.

Computing Researchers Make the Case for Intelligent Infrastructure at Congressional Briefing


Panelists for Intelligent Infrastructure Briefing

From left to right: Dan Lopresti, Henning Schulzrinne, Matt Wansley, Nadya Bliss, Elizabeth Mynatt participate in a congressional briefing on Intelligent Infrastructure Research.

On a day when President Donald J. Trump is expected to use his State of the Union address to unveil his administration’s plans for nationwide infrastructure investment, a panel representing computing researchers in academia and industry told a group of congressional staffers and other stakeholders that while those infrastructure needs are critical, it would be shortsighted to simply replicate more of what we have. Instead, they urged, now we have an opportunity to invest in the research and make progress on the policies that would allow for an “intelligent infrastructure” that would provide a foundation for increased safety and resilience, improved efficiencies and civic services, and broader economic opportunities and job growth.

The panel —  led by moderator Dan Lopresti, Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Lehigh University, along with Henning Schulzrinne of Columbia (and former CTO of the Federal Communication Commission); Matt Wansley, General Counsel for nuTonomy, a startup focused on autonomous vehicle technologies; Nadya Bliss, the Director of the Global Security Institute at Arizona State; and Beth Mynatt, Director of the Institute for People and Technology at Georgia Tech — highlighted the promise of the technologies that will enable more intelligent infrastructures, but also noted critical gaps and barriers to successful deployments. The briefing was sponsored by CRA, along with honorary co-hosts Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Henning Schulzrinne, of Columbia University

Henning Schulzrinne, of Columbia University, addresses the attendees of the Capitol Hill briefing.

Intelligent infrastructure is the deep embedding of sensing, computing, and communications capabilities into traditional urban and rural physical infrastructures such as roads, buildings, bridges, pipelines, water and electric distribution systems for the purpose of increasing efficiency, resiliency, and safety. Intelligent infrastructure has a wide range of applications, including transportation, energy management, public safety and security, disaster response, agriculture, and health.

“The scope of the transformation we are facing is truly unprecedented,” Lopresti noted. “It’s hard to find proper comparisons, but intelligent infrastructure is likely to have an impact on our society comparable to the establishment of the national electrical grid in the 1930s, the interstate highway system in the 1950s, and the Internet in the 1960s. Indeed, intelligent infrastructure can be viewed as the convergence of these three very powerful ideas.”

Matt Wansley, of the company nuTonomy, addressed issues of robustness and interoperability.

But the panel pointed out a rich set of research problems that require solving to truly realize the benefits of intelligent infrastructures along four foundational areas. Schulzrinne discussed the need for resiliency and adaptability in these sorts of systems, the ability of the infrastructure to cope with extreme or unexpected circumstances — for example, when wireless communications are subject to natural disasters on the scope of Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico. He noted the lessons we are learning from Maria — which knocked out 95 percent of all cell sites and many telephone switches — point to the need for more resilient communications infrastructures. “Research is needed to develop and prototype novel networking architectures that support a minimal level of communications, for example, using pre-deployed mesh and opportunistic solar-powered store-and-forward networks, for both first responders and the public. Self-configuring ‘autonomic’ networks can recover capabilities without the need for experts.”

Wansley added an industry perspective to the discussion, noting the importance of solving problems of robustness and interoperability to successful deployments of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications that would add tremendous value to communities with autonomous vehicles. V2I would not only enable autonomous cars to pull information from the existing infrastructure — the color of the traffic signal, the state of traffic ahead, the extent of construction zones on the route — but also push it back into the infrastructure for the benefit of all users. “Intelligent infrastructure is a textbook example of a positive externality,” he said. But getting there will require that the companies developing autonomous vehicles, and the consumers who ride in them, must be able to rely on the infrastructure — and that will require more fundamental work in the understanding how to build in robustness and interoperability in these system. This is work that’s perhaps best suited to university-led research fueled by Federal investment, he noted, as there are not sufficient market incentives for large corporations to make such V2I networks open and usable widely.

Nadya Bliss, of Arizona State University, addressed issues of security and trustworthiness.

This need for access and usability was amplified by Mynatt, who noted that ensuring the availability of open and curated data produced by these systems is key to communities benefitting from them (and not just industry). “Too often the data collected by these systems, whether it’s from smart trashcans that know they are full, to traffic data at intersections, is held by that company,” she said. “While municipalities may gain specific capabilities, such as knowing when to empty the trash, they lose the opportunities to use the data in new ways, ranging from informing real estate development to public health. Many of these ‘secondary uses’ of data are not in the bailiwick of technology companies but stand to make profound contributions to the quality of life in these communities.”

In addition to forward looking data platforms and policies to spur open innovation, Mynatt also discussed two other gaps that stand to prevent communities from reaping the economic rewards of infrastructure investments: productive access to broadband capabilities and innovating systems for effective training and job creation. She noted that broadband access in rural communities is often constrained by last mile problems, which might be met by combining wired and wireless connectivity. Similarly, meeting the needs of rural agriculture might require “flipping the cloud”, recognizing that agricultural users are not simply consumers of content, but potentially generate large volumes of data about their own farms, which might best be addressed by having more computation available to them on the “edges” of the internet nearest them, rather than pushed back up to some central cloud through a constrained pipe. These challenges also highlight the need to have a workforce trained to work with (and on) these new infrastructures.

Elizabeth Mynatt, of Georgia Tech, addresses the attendees of the Capitol Hill briefing.

Trustworthiness, security and privacy are challenges for just about any deployment of intelligent infrastructure, and Bliss discussed a number of potential approaches to meeting those challenges — like homomorphic encryption and differential privacy —  that are or will become viable with research. But she was emphatic that if policymakers take to heart only one thing from her talk, let it be “security can no longer be an afterthought.”

“Investment in intelligent infrastructure creates much opportunity for our nation,” she said. “As we build this new internet of useful things, we can build in security, trustworthiness, and privacy from the start. The cost of not doing so given the physical nature of these systems (vehicles, energy plants, bridges, roads) would just be too high.”

An attendee of the Congressional briefing poses a question to the panel.

Common across all the panelist’s presentations was a recognition that the infrastructure for handling, processing, and analyzing data is crucial. “At the same time, there is a tension between data privacy, integrity, and openness that we do not yet know how to navigate,” Lopresti said. “We need more research, and more infrastructure that enables that research, to solve these challenges.” He also noted that the nation is well-positioned to take on this research. Indeed, more than a dozen Federal agencies are already supporting work in these areas. These include NSF, NIST, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, and the Department of Transportation. “But also the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, the US Geological Survey, and even the Census Bureau. Bolstering support for intelligent infrastructure research through these Federal funding agencies will reap enormous dividends.”

The briefing was well-attended and generated good discussion both in the question and answer period and in follow-up conversations with congressional staff. We’ll keep you apprised of developments as the Administration’s infrastructure proposal begins its march through the legislative process.

In the meantime, you can read the “one-pager” from the briefing, or check out some additional resources, including white papers produced by the computing community on various aspects of intelligent infrastructure research.

 

Shut down ends but will we be back here in February?


The word from Capitol Hill is that the Senate has reached a compromise to pass a continuing resolution (CR) until February 8th, ending the shut down and reopening the Federal Government. The agreement is that in exchange for funding governmental operations, the Democrats have been promised that an immigration bill will be allowed to reach the Senate floor. As of this writing, the Senate has passed the CR and the House is expected to quickly pass it as well.

While this is good news from a research perspective, it’s hard to see how these issues will be resolved in three weeks. There is still no budget caps agreement on defense vs non-defense spending levels (a major issue for defense hawks, who want large increases to defense spending, and for deficit hawks, who want to curtail government spending); and the prospects of an immigration bill being taken up by the House of Representatives are slim to none. The bottom line is, don’t be surprised if we go through this again in early February.

What’s Happening With the Federal Budget: Upgrading Shutdown Watch to a Shutdown Warning


For anyone who pays attention to the happenings of official Washington, it’s been an eventful week, even though it is just Wednesday. The week started with Congress coming back from the Thanksgiving break with an overflowing plate of issues to handle; the most significant being the slow moving tax overhaul effort and a quickly expiring continuing resolution (CR), on December 8th, that is keeping the Federal Government funded and operating. CRA has weighed in — along with five of the other leading computing organizations — on a provision in the House tax reform effort that would increase taxes on graduate students in the U.S., but we’re also paying close attention to the Federal budget endgame.

That endgame has started roughly. To start the negotiating, a meeting was set up between the President and Republican and Democrat Congressional leaders on Tuesday. However, President Trump upended those plans by tweeting that morning that he didn’t see a deal as being possible. Not unpredictably, the Democratic leaders pulled out of the meeting, saying there wasn’t much point working with the President if no deal was possible, so they would only work with Congressional Republicans. While chaos didn’t ensue, a lot of frustration, on both sides of the political aisle was vented that carefully laid negotiating plans were up-ended by the President.

Why did this happen? Congressional Republicans are deeply split on Federal spending between defense hawks, who want significant increases to defense spending, and budget hawks, who want deep cuts to Federal spending to reduce the deficit. The inability of these groups to come to an agreement on budget priorities forces Republican leaders to rely on earning some Democratic votes to pass any budget. This gives Democrats not just a seat at the table but a good amount of leverage in what any final bill looks like. The flip side is that President Trump seems to see political advantage in playing hardball with Congressional Democrats, believing that he can successfully blame Democrats for any government shutdown that could ensue if an agreement isn’t reached. With that in mind, President Trump’s tweet could just be a negotiating tactic — which is how the White House is spinning it.

However, Democrats have their own political calculations. There is a very real possibility that Democrats could pay a high political price from their supporters by negotiating with President Trump and possibly giving up too much. They have their own demands – for example, they believe any funding bill must also address the fate of the Dreamers – individuals who came to the U.S. as children and were granted a level of amnesty from immigration violations under the DREAM Act. The President’s tweet suggests that he’s not willing to negotiate on the Dreamers, which inches us much closer to shutdown.

So, is a government shutdown a foregone conclusion? Not necessarily, as there is still time for deals to get made. But a shutdown is a very real possibility. This situation will have to play out more before any answer becomes clear. However, for now, borrowing an idea from weather forecasting, we’d upgrade this shutdown watch to a shutdown warning.

Appropriations Update: FY 18 House and Senate Numbers for Defense Research


In our continuing series looking at the House and Senate appropriations moves for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018), we turn to the Defense Appropriations bills. Just before the Thanksgiving break, the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee released their version of the bill; the House had passed their version back at the end of 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 (DW) account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a section under the Defense Wide account.

It’s worth taking a step back and seeing what the President’s request for DOD S&T was back in May. As with other parts of the President Trump’s request for science accounts, it was not good for Defense Research. All three accounts, 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3, would have seen cuts, relative to what was passed in the Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus, under the President’s plan; DARPA would have seen a healthy increase. This is striking given how central increased defense spending is to the President’s overall message, both on the campaign trail and since he has come into office. Here are the actual numbers in the President’s Budget Request (PBR):

FY17 Enacted FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
6.1 Basic Research $2.28B $2.23B -$48M -2.1%
6.2 Applied Research $5.30B $4.97B -$323M -6.1%
6.3 Advanced Technology Development $6.44B $6.00B -$442M -6.9%
DARPA $2.89B $3.17B +$281M +9.7%

The House numbers are only slightly improved from what the President requested. Under the House’s plan, 6.1 would be effectively flat funded (+0.1 percent), while both 6.2 and 6.3 would see cuts (-1 percent and -2.5 percent, respectfully). DARPA again comes out the winner (+6.3 percent), but not as good as under the President’s plan. All of these are relative to the FY2017 enacted budget. Here are the specific numbers:

FY17 Enacted FY18 House $ Change % Change
6.1 Basic Research $2.276B $2.279B +$3M +0.1%
6.2 Applied Research $5.30B $5.24B -$60M -1.0%
6.3 Advanced Technology Development $6.44B $6.28B -$120M -2.5%
DARPA $2.89B $3.07B +$180M +6.3%

Turning to the Senate numbers, the situation doesn’t improve. This time it’s applied research that gets the slight increase (+0.8 percent), while both basic research and advanced technology development gets cuts (-0.8 percent and -1.4 percent); DARPA, again, gets a healthy increase but it’s the smallest of any of the three plans (+4.9 percent). These numbers are especially surprising given that the Senate has traditionally been the protector of defense basic research and has seen to it that the account stays at a healthy level. Here are the specifics:

FY17 Enacted FY18 Senate $ Change % Change
6.1 Basic Research $2.276B $2.259B -$17M -0.8%
6.2 Applied Research $5.30B $5.34B +$40M +0.8%
6.3 Advanced Technology Development $6.44B $6.35B -$99M -1.4%
DARPA $2.89B $3.03B +$104M +4.9%

It’s hard to understand where these numbers, from either chamber of Congress, are coming from. Defense spending is seen in a positive light, most especially on the Republican side of the aisle, and the Pentagon is expected to get a general increase in funding. Why this rising tide isn’t benefiting defense S&T isn’t clear. There’s still a chance that things can improve when the bills are reconciled in conference, especially if a deal is reached to increase the budget caps. However, it is a heavy lift when both chamber’s plans call for flat funding or cuts.

The Senate only marked up their bill in the subcommittee last week. It’s unlikely to progress beyond that in the Senate, as the continuing resolution (CR) that is keeping the Federal Government funded runs out on December 8th and a larger deal on funding is likely to be made (or not). The CR is likely to be extended to at least the week before Christmas, with no guarantee about when a final decision on Fiscal Year 2018 will be decided; we’ve already heard rumblings that it could be kicked to early next calendar year. The short answer is we have to wait to see how this plays out. Keep checking back for more updates.

Six Leading Computing Organizations Join to Oppose Provision in House Tax Bill that would Increase Taxes on Graduate Assistants


UPDATE: Bloomberg, via The Chronicle on Higher Education, is reporting today that the proposed tax on graduate student tuition waivers appears to be dead. While celebrating should wait till it’s confirmed the provision is not in the conference bill, this is good news.

Original post: Today six leading organizations in computing — AAAI, ACM, CRA, IEEE-USA, SIAM, and USENIX — joined in issuing a statement opposing a provision in H.R. 1, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, that would increase taxes on graduate research and teaching assistants in the U.S.:

 

November 14, 2017

As six leading organizations in computing, representing more than 30,000 graduate students and departments in the computing fields in the U.S., we oppose provisions contained in H.R. 1, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which would discourage graduate careers in computing research and reduce available research funding at a time when our national competitiveness demands it most.

Current Internal Revenue Code (Section 117(b)(5)) allows colleges and universities to reduce the cost of graduate education for students working as teaching and research assistants by providing tuition waivers without having those waivers counted as taxable income for the student. Eliminating this provision, as proposed in H.R. 1, would dramatically increase the cost of graduate student education in computing, and likely discourage students from pursuing graduate degrees while effectively reducing funding available for research.

There has never been stronger demand for graduates in the computing fields. Encouraging students to continue their educations in U.S. graduate programs ensures that America’s fundamental research enterprise remains up to the task of producing the world’s best talent and driving innovation in computing — and across the economy — in this increasingly competitive world. Sharply increasing the tax burden on these students, who earn only a small fraction of what they could otherwise make in industry, will either have the effect of discouraging their pursuit of a graduate education or will require the use of already constrained research budgets to offset the tax costs. Both outcomes would cause harm to an extraordinarily productive computing research ecosystem that has made the U.S. the world leader in computing technologies.

Endorsed by:

Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) aaai.org

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) acm.org

Computing Research Association (CRA) cra.org

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE-USA) ieeeusa.org

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) siam.org

USENIX – The Advanced Computing Systems Association usenix.org

Make Computer Science a Priority within the Department of Education, CRA and Computing Community Tell Administration


Yesterday, CRA joined with many other members of the computing community in submitting a public comment on the recently issued proposed grant funding priorities at the Department of Education. In the comment, we argued that computer science education should be made a higher priority in the grant making process at the department and that expanding access to CS to traditionally underserved students should be a priority in itself (it is listed as a sub-priority in the department’s list). CRA’s full comment is below.

Regular readers will recall that at the end of September the Trump Administration announced it was directing the Department of Education to make computer science education a top priority of the department. In addition, the Presidential Memorandum also directed that at least $200 million in existing DOEd grants be set aside for CS education efforts.

Code.org, which has helped drive this issue for the computing education community, circulated their analysis of and disappointment with the department’s priorities, and had been encouraging the CS Education community to weigh in as well. (Here is Code.org’s public comment; the public comment period for these closed on Monday November 13th.)

The next step in the process is for the Department of Education to review the comments and determine their potential impact on their proposed rules. This is the complicated part of the process, as it’s not a simple binary of “yes, this takes effect” or “no, they do not.” The Education Department will need to determine if the submitted comments from the public raised substantial problems that need to be addressed, or if the rules are fine and can be implemented (or some middle ground). It’s worth noting that anyone could submit comments during this period (indeed, there were 1,444 comments submitted) and that these rules cover all the priorities at DOEd, not just those with regard to computer science and STEM. The CS community will have to wait and see what the department does next. We’ll update as the situation develops.

For a more detailed idea of the US regulatory process, here is a FAQ from the Federal Register.

CRA’s public statement:

As an organization representing the nation’s top industrial and academic computing research labs and departments, the Computing Research Association can attest to the critical importance of strong K-12 computer science education to the nation’s computing research enterprise. That ecosystem of computing researchers working in academic research departments, industrial R&D facilities, and Federal research labs is responsible for enabling the innovation that drives the U.S. economy, creating thousands of new businesses and millions of new jobs. Success in this 21st century economy will require U.S. students be able to think computationally regardless of employment sector, and ensuring that students have those skills and knowledge to succeed ought to be a priority for the nation.

We were pleased when President Trump announced his Administration’s commitment to invest $200 million per year to K-12 computer science efforts in recognition. However, we are disappointed with the relative lack of prominence and priority granted computer science education in the Secretary’s Proposed Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs (published October 12, 2017). We are concerned that a failure to make K-12 computer science education a priority within the Department of Education could be detrimental to the long term computer science research capacity in the nation and threaten our global leadership position in information technology.

Therefore, we ask that the Administration place greater emphasis on computer science by replacing references to “STEM including computer science…” with “STEM with a priority on computer science…”. Additionally, we ask that sub-priority 6(d) be added as either an absolute priority or competitive priority across competitive programs within the Department of Education when the Notices Inviting Applications for each competitive program are issued.

White House Announces $200 million in FY18 Funds for Computer Science Education Efforts


The White House today announced its intention to see $200 million in grant funding directed towards STEM and computer science education in FY 2018. The details are sparse at the moment, but in a memo signed today, President Trump directed the Department of Education to explore ways to add or increase computer science to existing K-12 and post-secondary education programs. The memo announces “a goal of devoting at least…$200 million each year in grant funding toward funding this priority,” Trump said at the announcement. Additionally, the new funding is expected to be bolstered by “substantial” contributions from the private sector, which are to be announced at an event tomorrow in Detroit.

“[T]oday represents a giant leap forward as we think about aligning the skills that are taught in the classroom with the skills that are in demand in the modern economy,” said Ivanka Trump, who is leading the effort on behalf of the President.

There are obvious comparison’s to the Obama Administration’s CS for All initiative announced in January 2016, which pledged $4 billion for CS education but didn’t see any of those funds appropriated by Congress. The Trump Administration is differentiating itself by directing the Department of Education to, “explore administrative action that will add or increase focus on computer science in existing K through 12 and post-secondary programs.” These administrative actions would not require additional legislative approval.

Code.org’s CEO and founder Hadi Partovi applauded the news, saying, “this funding will jumpstart efforts to ensure every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science as part of a well-rounded education.”

We will update this post as more details are announced by the Administration, including the all-important guidance from the Department of Education about how this grant program will work. We’ll also have information about the private sector contributions as they’re announced.

For now, this is a big step and a big win for the K-12 computer science education community and all of its advocates who have been working tirelessly on this issue for many years. It demonstrates even more clearly that recognition of the importance of computer science education stretches across partisan lines.

Update: The White House released the full memorandum to the Secretary of Education. As well, Code.org has announced that, “some of America’s largest companies joined together to pledge over $300 million for K-12 computer science programs.”

White House Provides Guidance for FY19 Agency Science Budgets


The White House yesterday released its annual guidance to agencies on priorities for R&D budgets. The memo, signed by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Deputy U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, outlines a set of priorities for Federal science agencies to consider as they put together their FY19 budgets:

+ American Military Superiority
+ American Security
+ American Prosperity
+ American Energy Dominance
+ American Health

The budget also outlines some priority practices for the agencies in order to “maximize impact of taxpayer dollars.” In particular, in bold text the memo states: “When considering new research programs, agencies should ensure that the proposed programs are based on sound science, do not duplicate existing R&D efforts, and have the potential to contribute to the public good. Agencies should also identify existing R&D programs that could progress more efficiently through private sector R&D, and consider their modification or elimination where Federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate. To the extent possible, quantitative metrics to evaluate R&D outcomes should be developed and utilized for all Federal R&D programs.”

The memo also notes that because early-stage research often involves greater uncertainty and may not provide the economic incentive needed to attract private sector investment, agencies should give more priority to funding basic and early-stage applied research that, “supplemented by private sector financing of later-stage R&D, can result in the development of transformative commercial products and services.” How the agencies are supposed to identify that high-payoff early-stage research isn’t specified.

The memo also describes the nation’s need for a future-focused workforce and calls on agencies to incorporate STEM education, “including computer science education” into their programs. Agencies should also give priority to policies and actions that place an emphasis on expanding the STEM workforce “to include all Americans, both urban and rural, and including women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

So, it’s a pretty typical set of priorities for a Republican administration. The memo is most useful to the agencies for understanding the filter through which they need to pitch their programs in FY19 to OMB. Computing research is clearly relevant to all of the named priorities. But the memo also makes clear that the era of increased scrutiny of science expenditures “in the national interest” persists, and that the expectation will be for leaner, more-efficient investments rather than broader, more robust investments.

Read it all here.

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