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.
The Trump Administration announced today a new five-year plan for STEM Education. The strategic plan, named “Charting A Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education,” calls for building a strong foundation in STEM literacy in American students; increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM for historically underserved and underrepresented groups; and preparing students for the STEM workforce of the future. Strategic partnerships with industry and nongovernmental groups are planned to be a part of the initiative’s funding.
This plan is a government-wide strategy, which is built on four “pathways representing a cross-cutting set of approaches.” Those pathways are:
- “Develop and enrich strategic partnerships,” to focus on, “strengthening existing relationships and developing new connections between educational institutions, employers, and their communities.”
- “Engage Students where Disciplines Converge,” to make STEM education more meaningful for students by exposing them to real-world problems and figuring out solutions.
- “Build Computational Literacy,” to, “advance computational thinking as a critical skill for today’s world.”
- And, “Operate with Transparency and Accountability,” which, “commits the Federal Government to open, evidence-based practices and decision-making in STEM programs, investments, and activities.”
As shown above, computational thinking and computer science are featured prominently in the report. The main aim for both is to build digital literacy, and by extension computational literacy, in students so that they can better bring these skills into their careers and lives for the benefit of the nation. As stated in the report, “this pathway includes strategies for connecting people, accessing knowledge, and building high demand job skills.”
The report calls on Federal agencies engaged in STEM education, such as NSF, to collaborate to, “develop a consolidated implementation plan,” and to track the progress of STEM programs that are underway. It calls for deliver of this implementation plan with 120 days. No new federal funding is proposed in the strategy, though one could assume that will be a subject for the implementation report. This is a good first step to implementing a Federal STEM education plan and it’s another good example of the increased visibility of the computer science education community.
When we last provided an update on the Fiscal Year 2019 Federal Budget, some sections had been passed into law, a large chunk of it was expected to move in a few days, and some key bills were anticipated to be left for after the mid-term elections. As it turns out, not all of that happened as expected.
The bills that were passed in September are still law. But the “large chunk,” which was an expected “minibus” of the Financial Services, Interior, Agriculture, and Transportation appropriations bills, didn’t move at the end of September as planned. There were an assortment of reasons why they stagnated but it sounds like most of those issues have been cleared up. But these bills are still waiting for Congress to send them to the President for his signature.
What is important are the bills that were anticipated to be taken up after the election. These are Homeland Security, Foreign Services, and, of most significance, Commerce, Justice, Science (or CJS). The CJS bill contains the research funding for NSF, NIST, and NASA. CJS is still being held up over concerns about the Mueller investigation, as well as disagreement about the enforcement of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies; so, nothing to do with research. Still, we’re caught up in larger political currents.
So, what happens now? This is where things get complicated. The current continuing resolution (CR) expires this Friday, December 7th; something has to be signed into law, either these bills or another CR, by then or the government will shut down. President Trump has sent mixed signals about his intentions. He has publicly said he wants $5 billion for border wall funding, and will not sign the outstanding funding bills if he doesn’t get it. Except, he has also repeatedly told Congressional Republicans, who don’t want a shut down, he will NOT shut the government down. To use a science metaphor: it’s Schrödinger’s budget right now, in that the government is both funded and not funded until reality collapses into whatever it’s going to be.
What’s our best guess? Given the disruption of President Bush’s funeral on Wednesday, a new CR is likely. The question is will it be for a week or two weeks. After that, it’s a good question about what happens. We have to wait and see; because, it’s complicated.
UPDATE: The House Majority Leader announced that votes for the week are cancelled and a two week continuing resolution will be passed by unanimous consent. That means the government will be funded through December 21st; that’s the new deadline.
The long, long awaited 2018 Midterm elections have come and (mostly) gone. As you’ve probably heard, the Democrats have gained control of the House of Representatives, while the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate. But what does this mean for science here in Washington?
Details don’t look great, as a fairly large number of experienced, science champions were ousted from their seats by voters. A few examples:
- Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) has been a key member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee since she entered Congress in 2014, holding the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology. She had also taken up the issue of sexual harassment in the scientific research fields as a key issue.
- Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) has been advocating for science since he entered the legislature in 2010; longtime readers of the blog will recall that he co-sponsored the first “Deconstructing the iPad” event in 2011.
- Perhaps the biggest loss is Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). He is chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, and Science, and has been a consistent champion of NASA and NSF (two agencies his subcommittee oversees). He has provided both with consistent funding levels through some very difficult budget seasons; his leadership will be difficult to replace.
There are other incumbents who we are waiting to hear final results. The biggest are probably Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a 30 year member of Congress and who was potentially slated to be the highest ranking Republican on the House Science Committee; and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee and has been a strong advocate for NASA. These races haven’t been called, as of the time of publication, but both are currently trailing their challengers.
On the plus side, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is expected to assume the chairmanship of the House Science Committee. A long serving member of Congress, and on the Science Committee specifically, Rep. Johnson is a big advocate for scientific research and STEM education. She released a statement outlining her agenda for the Committee in the next Congress and research is a big component.
Additionally, it looks like a relatively large number of people with science or engineering backgrounds have been elected to Congress. For example, Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who is a registered nurse and health policy expert, defeated Rep. Hultgren; in VA-02, the voters put into office Elaine Luria (D), who is a nuclear engineer; and in IL-06, voters elected Sean Casten (D), a biochemist. These are just a few examples; 314 Action is a good place to see who else with a science background was elected. The hope is these members-elect will be able to bring their science and engineering expertise to the policy table.
In the more immediate term, how does the election impact funding levels for science research? Regular readers will recall that the funding bill for NSF, NIST, and NASA has not been finished, and these agencies are on a continuing resolution until December 7th. It’s unclear what impact the election will have. President Trump is declaring the election a victory and will probably use this as a pretext to push for more border wall funding, which Democrats will oppose. On the other hand, Democrats, who can claim their own victory by seizing the House, may want to punt these budgets to next year when they are in a partial majority and have a stronger negotiating position. We’ll have to wait for things to play out more before we have a clearer idea of the outcome. Expect this uncertainty to last into December, possibly right up to the New Year.
And looking forward to next year, the outcome is even more unclear. Ultimately it will depend on how the President and the Republican Senate want to work with (or not work with) the Democratic House. If there is a sense that cooperation will serve everyone’s purposes, things could be good; if there’s a sense that conflict will serve best, things could get ugly quick. Keep in mind that the 2020 Presidential election is expected to begin today. Ultimately, science won’t be a defining issue, but it will be impacted by how the conflict between the House and President/Senate plays out.
It’s been a busy September from a Congressional appropriations perspective. As of this writing, nine of the twelve appropriations bills have passed, including the Defense, Energy and Water, and Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) bills – a productive pace not seen from Congress in many years. While it’s good these were passed into law, and they do cover some important research agencies, left unfinished is one key bill of concern to the computing research community — the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes funding for NSF, NIST, NOAA and NASA; more on that in a moment. Until then, here are the details of the pieces of legislative that have passed.
The Defense Appropriations bill includes all the funding for the Defense Department (DOD). It’s worth taking a look back and seeing the Administration’s budget request for DOD Science & Technology. To recap: it was a mixed bag of increases for 6.1 Basic Research and DARPA, with reductions for 6.2 Applied Research and 6.3 Advanced Technology Development. Congressional appropriators decided to go in a different direction and provided large increases across the board.
|FY18 Final||FY19 PBR*||FY19 House||FY19 Senate||FY19 Final||$ Change**||% Change**|
* – PBR is “President’s Budget Request”
** – All changes are against FY18 Final
The Energy and Water Appropriations bill covers the Department of Energy (DOE), with the Office of Science (DOE SC) and the Advanced Research Project Agency, Energy (ARPA-E) being the pieces of most concern. Regular readers will remember that the President suggested a large cut (34%) to the Office of Science and wanted to eliminate ARPA-E. Once again, Congressional leaders ignored the Administration’s request and provided increases to the agencies.
|FY18 Final||FY19 PBR*||FY19 House||FY19 Senate||FY19 Final||$ Change||% Change|
Within the Labor-HHS bill, the agency of most importance is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Following the pattern from above, the President proposed a significant cut, which Congress rejected.
|FY18 Final||FY19 PBR*||FY19 House||FY19 Senate||FY19 Final||$ Change||% Change|
So why hasn’t the CJS bill passed yet? Not because of concerns about science, but because of issues surrounding the Mueller Investigation at the Department of Justice, as well as enforcement of the Administration’s immigration policies. It’s expected to move only after the Congressional mid-term elections in November; and even after that, its path forward could change depending on the election results. The agencies under the three remaining appropriation bills (CJS, State and Foreign Operations, & Department of Homeland Security), including NSF, will operate under a Continuing Resolution (CR) until December 7, at which point Congress and the President will either have to agree to pass the bills, pass another CR, or let the agencies covered by those bills shut down until an agreement is reached. The President seems to be itching for an opportunity to shut down government if his requested funding for a border wall isn’t included in any agreement, and Congress seems reluctant to do that, so we will have to wait to see how that plays out in December. Until then, CRA will continue to monitor the situation and will report back when there are new developments; please check back.
Our regular readers will have noticed that Congress was busy over the summer with the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) Appropriations. With funding levels agreed to last year, both the House and Senate were able to plow ahead and get much of their work done for the next fiscal year (which is set to start on October 1st). However, our regular readers will also recognize that that’s when Congress tends to hit a roadblock; this year is no different. The twist for this year is that a good amount of research funding is being held up in the process.
With the approaching mid-term elections, and Democrats sensing that they have a chance to recapture both chambers of Congress, Congressional Republicans have had to be very careful with how they move legislation; trying to bolster, or at least not harm, their own election chances, while denying Democrats any legislative wins. To that end, the Senate has used a minibus approach to move the appropriations bills — combining multiple bills into packages to ease passage.
The first minibus combined the Energy and Water, Military Construction-and-Veteran Affairs, and Legislative Branch approps bills; it passed both chambers at the end of June and has been in conference since. The bill in that package of most interest to the researcher community is Energy and Water, which contains the funding for the Department of Energy; see our write-ups for the numbers in both House and Senate bills. Once that comes out of conference, we will have an update.
The second minibus contained the Financial Services and Interior bills; it passed the House in the middle of July and the Senate at the beginning of August, and is now in conference.
The third minibus is where things start to get politically interesting. This package combines the popular Defense approps bill with the contentious Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) bill. Senator Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) took this approach because Senate Democrats told him that the Defense bill would not move without Labor-HHS attached; this was to protect Healthcare Reform from potential cuts. Because the Senate Republican majority is so narrow, Democrats have the power to make such demands. The problem is that the House refuses to move Labor-HHS in this fashion, mainly because House Republicans want to make significant cuts to Healthcare Reform. This has created a legislative problem, as the House and Senate have now both passed the Defense bill but the House has not passed Labor-HHS. How this gets resolved is an open question, as both McConnell and House Speaker Ryan (R-WI) want the Defense bill passed before the start of the new fiscal year, if that’s possible. We will have a detailed write-up of the defense research funding levels soon.
The Agriculture and Transportation approps bills are being held up for various political reasons and their movement is not being pursued in this minibus approach.
Which leads us to the contentious appropriations bills: State and Foreign Operations (State), Homeland Security (DHS), and Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS). Regular readers will recognize that the CJS bill (House and Senate) is very important to our community, as it contains the funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and NASA. Fortunately, these bills are not stalled because of concerns about science; CJS and DHS are being held up because of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and State is being held up because of various foreign affairs matters. None of these bills are expected to pass until after the election in November, as members of Congress don’t like taking difficult votes just before being in front of the voters at the polls. A continuing resolution (CR) is likely but how long it will run is an open question; should Democrats retake either chamber, they may want to punt the bills to the next calendar year when they are in a stronger position. And Republicans would most likely want to pass all three as soon as possible, regardless of how the election turns out.
Bottom line: FY19 appropriations are complicated right now and they are expected to stay that way until at least the middle of November. We’re going to have to let things play out, and see what happens in the mid-term elections, before the situation becomes clearer. Please check back for continuing updates.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2018, Amita Shukla.]
Continuing CRA’s tracking of the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) appropriations process, we turn to the Senate’s Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up their version of the CJS bill on June 14th (by June 28th, the Committee finished marking up all 12 subcommittees’ bills, a 30-year record for timeliness). The CJS bill includes funding for NSF, NIST, and NASA, which are of the most concern to the computing community, along with funding for the Department of Justice. While the attention surrounding this bill has been dominated by immigration issues concerning the Department of Justice, science and computing research have fared relatively well.
The bill includes a healthy increase of 3.9 percent for the National Science Foundation, an increase from $7.77 billion in FY18 to $8.18 billion for FY19. While in the context of the recent run of relatively flat budgets for the agency this is a good development, the funding is not quite as generous as the 5 percent increase provided by the House Appropriations Committee’s in their version of the FY19 CJS appropriations. Drilling into the details, the Research and Related Activities account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a 3.6 percent increase, increasing from $6.33 billion in FY18 to $8.07 billion for FY19. The bill also includes a special set-aside of funds for quantum science, echoing what was done in the Energy and Water appropriations. In report language accompanying the bill, the Senate states that establishing “world-class leadership computing” in quantum science is of critical strategic importance in maintaining US dominance, “particularly given computational investments and technical achievements in high-performance computing by other nations, notably China and Japan.”
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
Funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) does not fare quite as well in the bill as NSF, though perhaps not as bad as it initially appears for research. While it appears that NIST would see a steep cut of 13 percent in the bill, the cut falls predominantly on the agency’s Construction of Research Facilities account (which would see a cut in half from FY18 levels). The facilities cuts, however, do not indicate diminished support but merely a readjustment from a FY18 one-time increase to complete the Radiation Physics building in Maryland. Even with the cut, NIST would still see funding overall above FY17 levels. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see funding of $725 million in FY19; the same as FY18. While flat funding is not ideal, it is much better than the President’s requested 48 percent cut. Additionally, the committee proposes $5 million for a quantum science and engineering public-private partnership fund, reaffirming that quantum science is to be an inter-organizational, cross-cutting initiative.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
NASA funding included in the bill would exceed that for FY18 by 3%, increasing from $20.7 billion in FY18 to $21.3 billion. The NASA Science account would also see a 3% increase, from $5.9 billion up to $6.4 billion.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
In comparison to the House Appropriations Committee’s action, the Senate was not as generous to most of the science research agencies that the computing research communities are concerned with. However, both are well above what the Administration requested, and there are few actual cuts of note.
So, what are next steps in the appropriations process? The House will most likely finish their work, passing all of their bills through the full chamber by the end of July. While the Senate Appropriations Committee is done with their work, the expectation is that the process in the full chamber will come to a halt, especially with a Supreme Court nomination expected to take up all the Senate’s time for the foreseeable future. With the fast approaching mid-term elections in November, and the expectation that Congress will take October off to campaign, the likely outcome is another continuing resolution, at the end of September, to keep the government running until after the election. Expect final passage of FY19 appropriations some time after that, dependent in part on the outcome of the election. So stay tuned for continuing coverage of the appropriations process.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2018, Amita Shukla.]
Continuing CRA’s tracking of the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) appropriations process, we pick up with coverage of the Energy and Water Appropriations bills. This is the annual appropriations bill that funds the Department of Energy (DOE) and all the research the department conducts.
The accounts at the department of most importance to the computing community are the Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). Fortunately, these agencies have avoided the drastic cuts proposed by the President in his February budget request; regular readers will remember the Administration had recommended the complete defunding of ARPA-E and a 34% cut to the Office of Science. While the Department of Energy overall sees cuts in both chambers’ version of the appropriation bills, computing research fares relatively well. The House approved its bill as part of a minibus on June 8th. The Senate has not yet considered it on the floor, but has passed it out of the full Appropriations Committee.
On the Senate side, DOE would see healthy increases over FY18 budget numbers. The Office of Science would see a 6 percent increase, going from $6.26 billion in FY18 to $6.65 billion in FY19. Drilling down into the account, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, where the majority of the computing research resides at DOE, would see a very good increase of 21 percent, going from $810 million in FY18 to $980 million in FY19. There are still some concerns within the research community that this increase is geared less towards research and more towards the deployment of the two exascale systems called for in Administration plans. However, such a large increase should still be a plus for the research community. In its report, the committee voiced support for the direction of the program, saying, “the Committee is supportive of recent research thrusts to develop scientific machine learning tools to enhance scientific discovery from user facility data and fundamental research in quantum information science that will lay the groundwork for deployable quantum computing systems.” Finally, the Senate set aside $13 million “to support work on artificial intelligence and big data focused on the development of algorithms and methods to identify new ways of extracting information from data,” generated at DOE facilities, “or validating use of machine learning in the Office of Science’s program’s scientific simulations.” Given the Administration’s recent interest in AI, it’s good to see both the House and the Senate funding additional efforts in this area.
The other DOE program of note for the computing community is the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E. It would receive a 6 percent increase under the Senate bills, going from $353 million in FY18 to $375 million in FY19. Our regular readers will recall that ARPA-E was slated to be eliminated in the President’s request and is marked for an 8% reduction in House Appropriations bills.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$5.39B||$6.26B||$5.39B||$6.65B||$390M||6.0%|
Meanwhile, on the House side, the numbers are good, but not as good as the Senate. The Office of Science would see a 5 percent increase over FY18, going from $6.26 billion to $6.6 billion. ASCR would also see a less generous increase of 13 percent, going from $810 million in FY18 to $915 million in FY19. The House appropriators expressed concerns about the department’s exascale initiatives saying they are, “concerned that the increased costs of the Exascale Computing Initiative compared to previous high performance computing (HPC) efforts are not transparently presented.” As well, much like their Senate counterparts, the House appropriators commented that, “a focus on only early-stage activities will forego the nation’s scientific capabilities in medium- and later-stage research and development and may not fully realize the technological advancements possible under the Department’s applied energy activities.” Finally, as noted, the House also set aside money for AI activities, recommending $26 million for these efforts.
As for ARPA-E, the House was uncharacteristically easy on the agency’s budget this year, recommending only an 8 percent reduction. The agency’s budget would shrink from $353 million in FY18 to $325 million in FY19. Regular readers will remember that the House has historically been more skeptical of ARPA-E’s mission, and has recommended in years past (and as early as last year) to eliminate the agency. This proposed cut is likely a part of a negotiating strategy when both chambers come together to hammer out a final bill.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||House||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$5.39B||$6.26B||$5.39B||$6.60B||$340M||5.0%|
What are the next steps for these bills? As we’ve mentioned before, it is still unlikely for these appropriations bills to move much before the midterm elections this November. This is because members of Congress typically don’t like to take contentious votes just before going before the electorate. However, there is a push from Congressional Republican leadership to get something tangible done before November. Only time will tell; please check back for more updates.
Statement of the Computing Research Association
Concerning New Restrictions on Chinese Graduate Students in the U.S.
June 12, 2018
The Computing Research Association, representing more than 200 Ph.D.-granting departments of computing in North America, expresses great concern at new guidance provided to U.S. consular officers that would place restrictions on students from China who wish to study robotics, advanced manufacturing, or aerospace research in the United States. The new restrictions impose a one-year limit on student visas — normally granted for five years — for students from China wishing to study robotics in the U.S. Because one year is not sufficient for a course of study, the restriction would have the effect of a blanket ban on Chinese participation in robotics Ph.D. programs at U.S. universities.
Theft of intellectual property and other controlled information in academia is a serious problem. However, there are already effective mechanisms to combat such theft. The higher education community combats it through long-standing partnerships with Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.1 Restrictions on visas of Chinese robotics students based solely on citizenship, not on assessments of risks posed by those students, can hurt unfairly Chinese students who have for years contributed to scholarship and innovation, benefiting the U.S. and the field.
Indeed, we expect that this new restriction will significantly impair, rather than improve, U.S. leadership in robotics. The U.S. already is competing with a number of nations in Asia and Europe for international leadership in robotics. Our competitors in Europe, Korea, and Japan will welcome the influx of talent from international students, including those from China, who are discouraged from studying in the U.S. as a result of this policy.
We urge the U.S. Department of State to reconsider this guidance and continue to use the authority the Department already has to extensively vet every student applying to study in these areas, regardless of citizenship, on a case-by-case basis.
1. See the joint statement of the American Council on Education, Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council on Governmental Relations, June 6, 2018
Congress has taken its first steps at setting funding levels for FY19 and at first glance, it looks positive for some key science agencies.
The House Appropriations committee last week passed it’s version of the FY19 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations and included a 5.2 percent overall increase for NSF, including a 5.0 percent increase to the Foundation’s Research and Related Activities Account vs. FY18 (which was a 5.0 percent increase over FY 17). That’s a great place to start as the House has tended to be a bit more parsimonious for the research accounts than their counterparts in the Senate (who will consider their version of the bill later this year). NSF’s Education and Human Resources account would see flat funding compared to FY18. Major Research Equipment would see a boost of nearly 50 percent to $268 million for a couple of telescopes and a regional class research vessel.
The committee also published its report accompanying the bill, which contains some additional detail. Some of the interesting/relevant bits of the NSF section.
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
The Committee recommends $8,174,890,000 for the National Science Foundation. This significant investment, which is $407,534,000 above fiscal year 2018, shows the Committee’s support of science, the academic community, and the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, and engineers across the country. The Committee underscores the importance of basic research that both improves the lives of Americans and expands our understanding of the Earth, the depths of our oceans, our Solar System, the Universe, and oceans on other planets. NSF must redouble its important efforts thus far to ensure that this funding is invested wisely to improve our way of life and expand our knowledge base. The Committee supports infrastructure investments that expand our understanding of the universe and inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences. The Committee recognizes that current and future large scientific facilities represent an enormous investment of Federal resources that must be administered wisely.
Abstracts and the national interest.—The Committee underscores the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 114–329), which directs NSF to issue and periodically update, as appropriate, policy guidance for both Foundation staff and other Foundation merit review process participants on the importance of transparency and accountability to the outcomes made through the merit review process. Further, this law directs that each public notice of a Foundation-funded research project justify the expenditure of Federal funds by describing how the project reflects the statutory mission of the Foundation, as established in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.); addresses the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria; and clearly identifies the research goals of the project in a manner that can be easily understood by both technical and non-technical audiences. Further, this legislation directs NSF to apply a broader impacts review criterion to identify and demonstrate project support of the following goals: increasing the economic competitiveness of the United States; advancing of the health and welfare of the American public; supporting the national defense of the United States; enhancing partnerships between academia and industry in the United States; developing an American STEM workforce that is globally competitive through improved pre-kindergarten through grade 12 STEM education and teacher development, and improved undergraduate STEM education and instruction; improving public scientific literacy and engagement with science and technology in the United States; or expanding participation of women and individuals from underrepresented groups in STEM. [Ed note: this is essentially a restating the so-called “research in the national interest” language from the COMPETES Reauthorization passed in 2016.]
RESEARCH AND RELATED ACTIVITIES
The Committee recommends $6,651,500,000 for Research and Related Activities, which is $317,024,000 above fiscal year 2018 and $500,820,000 above the request. The Committee believes that strategic investments in the physical sciences are vitally important for the United States to remain the global leader in innovation, productivity, economic growth, and good-paying jobs for the future.
Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE).—The Committee supports CISE efforts to work with the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings within Education and Human Resources to build on current efforts to support computer science education in Pre-K–12 classrooms.
High-performance computing planning.—The Committee believes it is strategically important to preserve U.S. leadership in quantum computing and urges NSF to make significant investments in this area. The Committee commends NSF on its commitment to high performance computing and data analysis capabilities and urges NSF to make timely and significant investments in high-performance computing. NSF should remain committed to enabling leaps in computational simulation and data analyses for the broad range of research the Nation requires and as recommended by the recent National Research Council (NRC) report, Future Directions for NSF Advanced Computing Infrastructure to Support U.S. Science and Engineering in 2017–2020. Within 180 days of enactment of this Act, NSF shall provide the Committee with an update on its high-performance computing investment plans as well as a response to the NRC report and its plans to incorporate, to the extent practicable, the NRC’s recommendations regarding NSF’s approach for maintaining and modernizing its supercomputing capabilities at existing or future facilities.
EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES
STEM education.—NSF shall continue to award competitive, merit-reviewed grants to support STEM education as authorized by the STEM Education Act of 2015 (Public Law 114–59). In addition, the Committee expects NSF to provide grants for research about STEM education approaches and the STEM-related workforce in order to develop innovations in mentoring, training and apprenticeships.
Broadening participation programs.—To broaden the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM education programs and, ultimately, the STEM workforce, the recommendation provides no less than $35,000,000 for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program; $46,000,000 for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation; $64,500,000 for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program; and $14,000,000 for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program.
Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).—Hispanic Serving Institutions and the HSI grant program play an important role in increasing the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of Hispanic students pursuing STEM degrees. The Committee directs NSF to fund the HSI-specific program and demonstrate a $50,000,000 investment no later than September 30, 2019.
Innovation Corps.—The recommendation includes no less than the fiscal year 2018 level for the NSF Innovation Corps program to support new and existing I–Corps Teams, Sites, and Nodes.
Cybersecurity research.—The Committee encourages NSF to form partnerships with Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities with respect to cybersecurity research.
AGENCY OPERATIONS AND AWARD MANAGEMENT
Safeguarding U.S. research advances.—The Committee directs the National Science Foundation, in consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology and other agencies as needed, to work with the academic community, through workshops or other mechanisms as appropriate, to identify best practices for universities and institutions of higher education so that they may be aware of and can address data security concerns, including intellectual property protection in NSF-funded research projects or at NSF-funded facilities. NSF shall report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this Act regarding how it plans to implement this direction.
Other Science Agencies
The bill also contains funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The subcommittee would fund core research programs at NIST slightly below FY18 levels in the bill, but cut research facility construction by nearly 18 percent. Even with the reductions, the appropriators would fund NIST science activities at a level 56 percent higher than the President requested in his budget.
House appropriators also approved their version of the Energy and Water appropriation bill, which includes funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and ARPA-E. In the bill the Office of Science would receive an increase of 5.4 percent over FY18 — far better than the 11.8 percent reduction called for in the President’s budget request. In the report accompanying the bill, we learn that the House appropriators were even more generous to the Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program than the President’s already significant request.
In the bill, ASCR would grow to $915 million — nearly 13 percent vs. FY 18, and more than the 11 percent growth requested by the President. Included in that budget is an increase of 9.8 percent to the Exascale Program (up $20 million to $225 million), Argonne LCF would grow 27 percent, Oak Ridge LCF by 13.8 percent, and NERSC up 6.4 percent. New in the budget is $26 million to launch an artificial intelligence and big data initiative. In the report accompanying the bill, the committee justifies the new program thusly:
Artificial intelligence technologies that may improve the analysis and interpretation of big data can lead to substantial improvements in the Department’s ability to meet its nuclear security, energy, and science missions. The Committee provides $26,000,000 to launch an artificial intelligence and big data initiative.
The report also encourages the Department to “prioritize research in applied and computational mathematics, supercomputing, and quantum computing to ensure the U.S. remains competitive in this field.” ARPA-E continues to receive funding in the House bill, though down a bit from FY18. ARPA-E would be funded at $325 million in FY19, down from $353 million in FY18, but way above the $0 requested by the President.
So, this is a good start for some key science agencies. It’s certainly much much better than the President proposed back in February, but with the two-year budget agreement in place, we knew there was still room for continued growth after some healthy increases in FY18. Having been approved by the committee, the bills will head to the House floor in the coming weeks. We’ll keep an eye on how things progress, as well as an eye on the Senate.
While both chambers hope to get through all 12 annual appropriations bills in “regular order” through this summer, it’s unlikely any will see final approval until after the November elections. Even getting the Continuing Resolution required to keep government operating after Sept 30th in the absence of finished FY19 appropriations bills may be tricky as the President has repeatedly threatened to shut the government down over border security issues. We’ll have a better idea how that is likely to play out in early September…
Until then, a little good news. We’ll have more details as we learn them!
On May 9th, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an alliance of over 140 professional organizations, universities, and businesses, held their 24th Annual Capitol Hill Exhibition. CNSF supports the goal of increasing the federal investment in the National Science Foundation’s research and education programs, and the exhibition itself is a great way to show members of Congress and their staff what research the American people have funded.
This year the Computing Research Association, a member of CNSF, sponsored Jingrui He and her graduate student, Dawei Zhou, from Arizona State University. They demonstrated Dr. He’s research in complex anomaly/outlier detection. Her work, titled “Modeling the Heterogeneity of Heterogeneity: Algorithms, Theories and Applications,” earned a NSF CAREER award in 2016.
This research has wide ranging applications such as in financial fraud prevention and malicious insider threat detection. Dr. He spoke about the information sources she uses, the data heterogeneity (or quality of the non-uniform data sets) that’s typically present in such applications, as well as the techniques that can be used to leverage with data to identify the targets of interest (such as, new financial fraud patterns such as synthetic identities or lone wolf type of hacking attacks).
All of this work is supported from the CISE directorate at NSF. Dr. He’s presentation was well received by the attendees of the exhibition, fielding questions from Congressional staffers, NSF Program Officers, and other attendees of the exhibition.
A number of other organizations had displays and were demonstrating NSF funded research at the event. From Cornell University’s “Cabernet, Copper, Caterpillar & Cement: Using High Energy X-Rays as a Multi-Disciplinary Tool of Discovery;” to the American Sociological Association’s “Opioid Distribution on a Darknet Cryptomarket;” to the American Political Science Association’s “Exploring Trade-offs in Cyber Offense and Defense Through the Lenses of Computer and Political Science;” the exhibition was a great display of the different types of research being supported by NSF. Look here to see a list of the participating organizations and what other exhibitors presented.
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