Computing Research Policy Blog
Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you’ve likely heard that artificial intelligence is a big deal right now. Nowhere is this more evident than in Congress, where there has been an almost constant drum beat to do something legislatively with regard to AI. But what is going on?
This article will review several notable efforts around AI that are happening in Congress and how they could possibly impact the computing and IT research communities. We’ll also assess the general prospects of each proposal’s chances of moving forward in the legislative process. However, this won’t be a comprehensive review of all proposed AI legislation; such an all-encompassing review is near impossible, given the large numbers of Members interested in weighing in on the topic and the pace at which new ideas are floated. It also won’t cover proposals in the Executive Branch and the research agencies, like DOE’s proposal on AI research. Those may be the topic of future Policy Blog posts.
Senator Majority Leader Schumer’s AI Framework
The proposal that has the best chances of producing results comes from a familiar source: Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY). Regular readers will remember that he was one of the original sponsors of the Endless Frontier Act, one of the legislative forerunners of the Chips and Science Act.
In a speech in June, Senator Schumer released his proposed “SAFE Innovation Framework” (for “Security, Accountability, Foundations, Explainability”) to regulating AI. The acronym covers the specifics of the proposal; in short, and you’ll see this repeated often, it proposes a general outline of utilizing AI while mitigating the risks. The framework is, unfortunately, big on ideas and light on details. But it’s also only one part of the senator’s plans.
Schumer is also proposing an approach for translating this framework into legislative action. To that end he announced the Senate will, “convene the top minds in artificial intelligence here in Congress for a series of AI Insight Forums to lay down a new foundation for AI policy.” The first forum was held the second week of September, and it brought together technology leaders in the AI industry with advocates in labor and civil rights fields. But it was also by invitation only and closed to the media, which did not endear it to many Senators. As originally proposed, each forum will focus on specific topics surrounding AI; the list, as mentioned in Schumer’s speech, is:
- Asking the right questions
- AI innovation
- Copyright & IP
- Use-cases & risk management
- National security
- Guarding against doomsday scenarios
- AI’s role in our social world
- Transparency, explainability & alignment, and
- Privacy & liability
This is likely not a final list and it could be longer or shorter, depending on what Schumer wants to cover. It has been implied that these forums would replace the traditional Congressional hearings in order to craft legislation. However, that is unlikely, as it violates tenets of good, open government, and other members of Congress are unlikely to give up a chance to say something publicly during the legislative process.
In addition to this framework and these forums, Schumer has convened a bipartisan group of Senators to take the lead on the subject of AI and craft any possible legislation. They are Senators Young (R-IN), Rounds (R-SD), and Heinrich (D-NM).
Why is this the most likely effort to produce results? First, since this is being led by the leader of the Senate, it has legislative legs. Also, since it has bipartisan backing, it’s more likely to represent a consensus approach that can clear the Senate and, potentially, the House. If this all looks familiar, that’s because we went through it with the Chips and Science Act. Schumer learned that a slow, deliberate, and bipartisan approach will produce results in a closely divided and partisan Congress. The drawback is that it will take time; remember that the Chips Act was the end product of over two years of legislative work. In fact, Schumer is not expecting to release any concrete proposals for several more months, and that timeline could slip until next year.
Senators Blumenthal and Hawley’s AI Framework
Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Hawley (R-MO) released their own legislative framework, the “Bipartisan Framework for US AI Act” on September 8th. Unlike with Schumer’s SAFE Innovation Framework, this one has more concrete proposals, while still being fairly light on specifics. Its main thrust is to establish an independent oversight body that would require companies developing, “sophisticated general-purpose A.I. models (e.g., GPT-4) or models used in high-risk situations (e.g., facial recognition),” to register their products and services. What that oversight body is, whether new or already establishes, is not stated; nor is it said where such a body would be located within the Federal Government.
Additionally, the Blumenthal/Hawley framework has two novel parts. The first is that it would exempt AI products from Section 230 protections. Reforming Section 230, which provides legal protections to internet service providers and websites for user generated content, has been a major policy argument in Congress for the past several years. It’s not a surprise for it to be included in a related, though different, technology field.
The second is it would encourage the use of, “export control, sanctions, and other legal restrictions to limit the transfer of advanced A.I. models, hardware, and related equipment, and other technologies to China, Russia, and other adversary nations, as well as countries engaged in gross human rights violations.” While using the export control regime to maintain the country’s standing with a specific technology isn’t new, this is the first time it’s been proposed specifically for AI, and so broadly. Should this proposal become law, how it is implemented and how broadly it covers the field, will determine its impact. This could be a serious impediment to the research community, or no different than in other cutting edge technology sectors. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this idea is being considered.
While this framework proposal is bipartisan, and it’s arguably more substantial than Schumer’s, it’s unlikely to move by itself. What’s more likely to come of this is that ideas could be included as amendments in some other proposed legislation. It could also be the forerunner of a more substantial legislative proposal in the near future. We’ll have to wait and see.
House Science Committee’s AI Efforts
The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has been taking a methodical, bipartisan, and traditional legislative approach to the subject of artificial intelligence. Back in June, a day after Schumer released his framework, the committee held a hearing on AI in the national interest. Calling several witnesses from government, industry, and academia research communities, the committee asked tough and important questions about artificial intelligence. Many of those questions were about the potential impacts of AI and what actions the government can take to both harness its potential and mitigate its adverse impacts.
That hearing is expected to be one of many that the Science Committee will hold on the subject of artificial intelligence over the coming months. In much the same approach as Schumer’s forums, the committee is taking a long-view, deliberative approach to crafting any legislation. But, like much of the other efforts discussed here, it’s currently light on specific proposals.
House AI Caucus CREATE AI Act
Unlike the other efforts mentioned above, the “Creating Resources for Every American To Experiment with Artificial Intelligence Act of 2023” (CREATE AI Act) is a specific legislative proposal and could impact the research community directly. The bill would establish the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR), a cyberinfrastructure resources proposed by a Congressionally established task force of the same name. The NAIRR, run by NSF and overseen by an interagency steering committee, would provide, “free or low-cost access to datasets and computing resources for development of AI workflows,” helping to democratize the development and use of artificial intelligence.
The legislation is sponsored by Representatives Eshoo (D-CA), McCaul (R-TX), Beyer (D-VA), and Obernolte (D-CA), the co-chairs and vice-chairs of the House Artificial Intelligence Caucus. It also has a Senate counterpart sponsored by Senators Heinrich (D-NM), Young (R-IN), Rounds (R-SD), and Booker (D-NJ); note that three of the Senate sponsors are heavily involved in Schumer’s AI efforts.
While this appears to be an easy add on to the federal budget, keep in mind the budget environment we are currently in. To say the least, this is not the best time to propose a new $200 million research program. Opposition to new spending is likely where any public pushback to this legislation will come from. There is also the fact that no one in House Leadership, for either party, is involved in this effort; typically, you need some buy-in from leadership for a piece of legislation to move in the House. While that doesn’t sink the bill’s potential, it does make it more difficult for it to move.
Of all the proposals discussed in this article, the CREATE AI Act is the most likely to be passed into law. In theory, it could move as a piece of a larger, must-pass piece of legislation, such as an amendment to a funding bill. But the prospects for that right now aren’t great.
While it can seem that Congress could pass major legislation covering artificial intelligence at any moment, the reality is that legislators are still trying to understand the problem. Everyone knows what they want (all the benefits of AI), and what they don’t want (all the problems with AI), but they don’t have a solid plan on how to do it. Any major action is still months away; possibly longer. There are small pieces, such as the CREATE AI Act, that could move this year, but they will likely be the exception. CRA will continue to follow this issue and represent the computing and IT research community in these discussions. We will continue to make the case to policymakers that research is an important part of any national policy with regard to AI and that the computing research community needs to be involved.
Labor Day is fast approaching and that means Congress will return to Washington from its August recess. With it, the legislative body will be met with some major, yet typical, items on its September to-do list. The most significant being passing a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running after the start of Fiscal Year 2024.
It’s no longer a question of if a CR will be needed; neither chamber has passed all of their appropriations bills. With FY24 beginning on October 1st, Congress must act or risk a government shutdown. The Senate is further along, having passed all their bills through the Senate Appropriations Committee, and most on a bipartisan basis, but none have gotten to the full Senate for consideration. The House is more incomplete, having passed most, but not all, of their funding bills through their Approps Committee. But there are some important hold-ups; for example, we are still waiting on details of the House Commerce, Justice, Science bill, which contains the budgets for NSF, NIST, and NASA. Put simply, both chambers are not close to being done with their work, hence the need for a continuing resolution.
What’s the hold up? It’s the same recurring story: a group of hardline conservative members of the House GOP Caucus are demanding partisan policy provisions and significant reductions in federal spending to win their votes on any CR or spending legislation. Since the Republican majority in the House is so small, only four votes, this group is able to wield a great deal of influence over the process.
The House GOP leadership has to take their threats seriously; they can’t just cut a deal with House Democrats to move a spending bill. Back in June, after the Debt Limit Budget Agreement was signed into law, which this same group of Republican members voted against, they effectively shut down the House by refusing to vote with their caucus on any legislation. That could be repeated. Or they could call for a vote to remove Speaker McCarthy (R-CA) from his leadership position; you’ll recall from January how long it took to vote him into his position.
It is important to keep in mind that if Congress does not pass a CR, that means there is a lapse in funding authority and the government must shut down. That would be a worse-case scenario. To contextualize this for the research community, a government shutdown would mean researchers couldn’t access funds from their federal research grants or communicate with their research agency program officers. And, of course, any federal facilities, such as the national labs or governmental offices, would be closed until a funding bill was passed into law. It would create a serious disruption in the nation’s scientific enterprise; remember what happened the last time there was a shutdown.
It’s a complicated political game at the moment. There is agreement from both Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker McCarthy that a CR is needed to keep the government open. But anything passed will not be in effective for long, again showing the influence of this block of House Republicans. Unfortunately, the process will need to play out more before we know how FY24 will be closed out; that will likely not happen until the very end of the year (or even be pushed into next year). And the threat of a government shutdown will continue to be there. CRA will keep monitoring the situation and report on any new developments.
Last week, the Biden Administration released a memo to the Federal research agencies outlining their research and development priorities for the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. The memo provides guidance to the agencies on how to prepare their budget request submissions for the Office of Management & Budget (OMB), who is the lead office in the White House tasked with assembling the yearly Presidential Budget Request (PBR).
Regular readers will recall, the first step in the federal budget process is the PBR, which is legally required to be submitted to Congress in early February (though it isn’t always submitted on time, as this past year demonstrated). Once the PBR is transmitted to Congress, the legislature then decides how money is legally allocated to the federal agencies through the appropriations process.
The memo identifies seven broad categories for the Administration’s R&D priorities:
- Advance trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) technology that protects people’s rights and safety, and harness it to accelerate the Nation’s progress,
- Lead the world in maintaining global security and stability in the face of immense geopolitical changes and evolving risks,
- Step up to the global challenge of meeting the climate crisis by reimagining our infrastructures, renewing our relationship with nature, and securing environmental justice,
- Achieve better health outcomes for every person,
- Reduce barriers and inequities,
- Bolster the R&D and industrial innovation that will build the Nation’s future economic competitiveness from the bottom up and middle out,
- Strengthen, advance, and use America’s unparalleled research to achieve our Nation’s great aspirations.
Very little is new here, as all of these priorities are in line with the Administration’s FY24 budget requests, and the years before that. The one item that has fallen back from past years is pandemic readiness; while it had been its own category in past memos, for obvious reasons it is now a subpoint under “achieve better health outcomes for every person.” Other than that, the memo continues to show that the Biden Administration is prioritizing AI, national security, equity and inclusion, and national competitiveness in the nation’s R&D enterprise.
With Fiscal Year 2025 being the last budget of President Biden’s first term, there is the possibility that this will be the last time this Administration will direct the research agencies’ agendas. Should President Biden will a second term, we can expect these to continue to direct those agencies’ plans.
At the end of July, the Senate Appropriations Committee completed its work on its slate of Fiscal Year 2024 funding legislation. One of the last bills the committee voted on was their version of the Defense appropriations bill, which handles funding for the Department of Defense. With regard to research funding, the Senate’s plans are very good for basic, fundamental research, particularly for university research; but pretty bad in the applied and advanced technology development areas.
As a refresher, DOD’s Science and Technology 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. DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a section under the Defense Wide account.
The Senate’s plan is quite good for the defense basic research. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, would receive a significant increase of 10.3 percent compared to its FY23 levels. Under the Senate’s plan, the account goes from $2.92 billion in FY23 to $3.22 billion for FY24, an increase of $300 million. That increase is fueled by plus-ups in the services’ “University Research Initiative” subaccounts: the Army’s subaccount increases by 64 percent, the Navy’s increases by 33 percent, and Air Force’s increases by 36 percent, and even the Space Force received a significant increase (281 percent) for its second year of funding for its research portfolio. The one exception to the good 6.1 news is the Defense-Wide account, which received an overall cut of about 7.0 percent.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is in a different spot, with a significant cut in funding under the Senate’s mark. The full account would see an 8.5 percent decrease compared to last year’s budget, going from $7.80 billion in FY23 to $7.14 billion under the Senate’s plan, a reduction of $660 million.
The Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would also receive a significant cut under the Senate’s budget framework. It would go from $11.71 billion in FY23 to $10.00 billion in FY24, a decrease of $1.71 billion (or -14.6 percent).
Finally, DARPA would be flat funded under the Senate legislation. The agency would go from $4.06 billion in FY23 to $4.09 billion in FY24, an increase of less than 1.0 percent, or just $30 million.
|FY23||FY24 PBR||FY24 House||FY24 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
While not perfect, the Senate’s budget mark is in sharp contrast to the other budget plans that have been proposed for the defense research accounts. The President’s budget request included cuts to all three S&T accounts, with 6.1 being reduced by 15 percent, 6.2 reduced by 23 percent, and 6.3 reduced by 20 percent. DARPA was the only account to escape cuts under the President’s plan and would increase by 6.5 percent. The details of the House plan were an improvement on the Administration’s request budget but not by much: cuts of 13.4 percent for 6.1; 13.7 percent for 6.2; 13.4 percent for 6.3. And DARPA would have seen an increase of 1.5 percent.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved their Defense legislation on July 27th; the bill now heads to the full chamber for consideration. It’s unclear when that will happen, but it will be after the Senate comes back from its August recess. It’s hard to say where a final defense research budget will ultimately settle. The House and Senate are far apart with their budget plans, but defense spending is one of the few areas that the two chambers agree is important. But given the complex politics, particularly within the House chamber, it’s expected that Fiscal Year 2024 will take a lot of time and effort to close out. Talk of a months-long continuing resolution(s), and even a possible government lapse in funding (ie: a government shutdown), has already begun. CRA will continue to monitor the situation and report on any new develops; please keep checking back for the latest news.
Do you have expertise in technological issues? Are you interested in how legislation impacts tech issues? There’s a Congressional fellowship for you! Tech Congress, an organization that, “gives talented technologists the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in federal policymaking and shape the future of tech policy,” is accepting applications for its 2024 class of Congressional Innovation Fellows.
The Congressional Innovation Fellowship is a program to, “bridg(e) the divide between Congress and the technology sector.” Tech Congress provides benefits and assistance in placement in a Congressional personal or committee office. The program has two levels, covering both “early – mid career technologists,” to get hands on experience working in Congress and learn about the policymaking process. This program has been running for several years, having been founded in 2015, and has over 95 alumni.
Tech Congress’ website has detailed information on what they’re looking for in applicants. If you’re interested in the intersection of public policy and technology, this is a great opportunity to pursue. They have two information calls scheduled for August 3 and 15. The deadline to submit applications is August 22.
Continuing our coverage of the Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) federal budget process, we turn to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water bill. This bill contains the budgets for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC) and ARPA-E, as well as funding for the Exascale Computing R&D program, for which DOE is the lead federal agency. The Senate Appropriators generally stuck to the May Debt Limit Agreement and provided either slight cuts or slight increases to the covered energy research programs. In short, a far cry from the generous budgets requested by the President in March but slightly better than what the House Appropriators approved.
The bill proposes a 4.1 percent increase for the Office of Science over FY23 enacted levels, bringing the agency’s budget to $8.43 billion for FY24 (an increase of $330 million). Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see a decrease of 4.7 percent – going from $1.07 billion in FY23 to $1.02 billion for FY24, under the Senate’s plan.
Much like the last several years of ASCR budgets, that 4.7 percent decrease is deceptive. Similar to the specifics in the House’s budget plans, only part of the planned draw down of funds from the exascale construction accounts is moved over to the research subaccounts; typically, all the money is shifted over. Out of $63 million, the Senate is proposing only about $10 million be moved in the research side of the program. When accounting for this, the research subaccounts would receive a general 1.0 percent increase under the Senate’s plans.
In the committee’s report, the Senate appropriators voiced their support for the agency’s efforts in artificial intelligence and quantum information sciences. For AI, the committee provided not less than $135 million for artificial intelligence and machine learning efforts within the Office of Science. And for QIS, the committee provides not less than $255 million, with a breakdown of $120 million for research and $125 million for the five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers.
The appropriators also voiced their support for the Office of Science’s engagement plans with HBCUs and MSIs, with particular praise for the agency’s RENEW and FAIR programs, in order to build research capacity and further workforce development. This is in contrast to the House’s plans which eliminated funding for the programs with little justification. The Senate budget mark also support’s DOE’s EPSCoR program, recommending $35 million.
Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would receive a cut of $20 million, or a reduction of 4.3 percent compared to FY23 enacted levels. The agency would go from $470 million in FY23 to $450 million under the Senate’s FY24 plans. That is below the flat funding of the House’s mark and well below the $650 million plans that the Administration recommended.
|FY23||FY24 PBR||FY24 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$8.10B||$8.80B||$8.43M||+$330M||+4.1%|
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved their Energy and Water legislation on July 20th; the bill now heads to the full chamber for consideration. It’s unclear when that will happen, but it will likely be after the Senate comes back from its August recess. While the House and Senate are not far apart with their Energy and Water plans, at least as far as computing research is concerned, that is the exception with this year’s funding legislation. It is expected that Fiscal Year 2024 will take a lot of time and effort to close out. There is already talk of a months-long continuing resolution(s) and even a possible government lapse in funding (ie: a government shutdown). CRA will continue to monitor the situation and report on any new develops; please keep checking back for the latest news.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2023, Fatima Morera Lohr.]
In our ongoing series covering the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, we turn to the Senate Appropriations Committee. In an unusual move, the Senate appropriators got ahead of their House counterparts and released several proposed pieces of funding legislation, with the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill being one of them. This bill is of most concern to the computing research community, as it contains the budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and NASA. The Senate numbers in this funding legislation are in line with the nondefense funding targets set in the May Debt Limit Agreement; which is to say that the agencies generally received flat funding or cuts. Let’s get into the details.
First, NSF’s budget requires some explanation, particularly what the Senate appropriators are using as the agency’s FY23 baseline budget. Regular readers will recall that NSF received the majority of its historic, FY23 budget increase in the supplemental section of last year’s Omnibus bill. However, the Senate is not using the full funding that NSF received in FY23 as its baseline for comparison to FY24; they are ignoring the Chips Act supplemental funding, which accounts for about $335 million. When comparing the Senate FY24 mark to the FY23 levels, minus the supplemental funding, NSF appears to be flat funded under the Senate’s plans. However, when compared against the total funds NSF received in FY23, the cut is much deeper. In this article, we will compare the Senate numbers to the full amount that NSF received in FY23.
Under the Senate’s plan, NSF would receive a four percent cut, going from $9.90 billion in FY23, to $9.50 billion in FY24, a loss of $400 million. This is significantly less than the President’s proposed budget of $11.30 billion, released in March.
The cuts to NSF’s topline are not felt evenly at the agency. The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which houses the agency’s research portfolio, would receive $7.61 billion for FY24, which is a cut of 2.5 percent or $200 million. The Directorate for STEM Education (EDU) would receive $1.23 billion, which represents a decrease of $140 million from FY23, or -10.2 percent. These numbers are below what the Administration requested in its budget plan earlier this year.
|FY23||FY24 PBR||FY24 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
The funding policy provisions in the Committee’s report contain several items of importance to the computing research community. Within the report, the Committee expressed their support for the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) and provided up to $200 million for the Regional Innovation Engines; that is $100 million less than what was recommended in the agency’s budget request. In addition, the Committee also supports the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) providing, “no less than $275 million,” and directing to NSF to provide, “to the maximum extent practicable,” 16 percent of NSF research funding and 18 percent of scholarship funding to EPSCoR states. EPSCoR is NSF’s program to set aside funding for states that do not receive the majority of the agency’s funding, and has been a major Congressional priority for the last few years. The committee was also supportive of NSF’s efforts in artificial intelligence, quantum information science and high performance computing, as well as the agency’s broadening participation efforts.
Among the other research agencies in the legislation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be hit harder under the Senate’s plan. NIST would receive $1.45 billion for FY24, an 11 percent decrease, or $180 million less than it received in FY23 ($1.63 billion). On the other hand, the Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS), would receive $1.02 billion, an increase of $67 million,or +7.0 percent, over FY23. STRS contains the majority of the agency’s research portfolio. NIST’s total budget is below what was requested for the next fiscal year, while STRS’ is above the amount requested by the Biden Administration.
|FY23||FY24 PBR||FY24 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
Finally, NASA’s budget is also looking at a decrease under the Senate’s plans. At the topline, NASA would receive $25 billion for FY24, a decrease of $400 million from FY23 levels (-1.50 percent). The agency’s Science account would be hit much harder than the topline, receiving $7.34 billion under the Senate’s mark, a decrease of -5.9 percent, or $460 million, from FY23 ($7.8 billion). The justification for the large cut to the NASA Science account, given in the Committee’s report, is to, “keep NASA’s near-term launches on track to continue progress in exploring our solar system and the universe, understanding the Sun, and observing our changing planet.”
|FY23||FY24 PBR||FY24 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
The CJS bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 13th; it is unclear when it will be considered by the full Senate chamber. We are still waiting on the House Appropriations Committee to release the details of their CJS funding bill, but the expectation is that it will be made public in the next few days. As we have mentioned in previous articles about the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the House and Senate are likely to be far apart with their funding plans. That will make closing out FY24 very difficult, and the politics surrounding federal spending will only make finishing the budget harder. We will have to allow the process to play out more before we have any clarity on the endgame for FY24. We will be monitoring the situation for any developments, so please check back for updates.
Last week the House of Representatives passed their version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Also known as the defense policy bill, this is yearly, must-pass legislation that covers policy and spending requirements at the Defense Department. The bill included a number of controversial amendments around social issues included to garner the support of harder line members of the House Republican caucus. The bill also includes an amendment creating an onerous new reporting requirement for anyone engaging in research with the DOD.
Proposed by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), the amendment would require any researcher (which is defined broadly and could include undergrads) taking part in DOD funded research to disclose, on a publicly accessible federal government website:
- their date and place of birth, nationality, and immigration status if a foreign national;
- education from undergrad onwards;
- professional and employment background;
- all research and publications (publications is defined very broadly and includes personal writings);
- professional society affiliations, both US and foreign; and
- past or current involvement in a foreign talent recruitment program.
PIs would have to disclose this information at the time of application and within 90 days of a new person coming onto the project. Additionally, each PI would yearly need to disclose, “any direct, indirect, formal, or informal collaboration that…either independently or as the lead of the covered program, [the PI] enters into with any third party persons or entities, including the identity and nationality of the third party collaborator, the nature of the collaboration (whether direct, indirect, formal or informal) and the terms and conditions of such collaboration.” Banks’ rationale for such heavy-handed rules is to respond to and stop the Chinese government’s attempts to exfiltrate the results of federally funded research. Beyond the data disclosure, there is no other obvious mechanism included to mitigate any potential research security risks.
Science Magazine covered the subject and quoted Alex Aiken, of Stanford University and Vice Chair of the CRA Government Affairs Committee. “Yes, research security is a real issue,” says Alex Aiken, “But this seems excessive. What purpose would it serve? And why should it all be made public?”
In addition to the burden, there are concerns that such a reporting requirement could give away information on the state of the federal defense research system. As Dr. Aiken said, “Public disclosure means foreign governments can use the information, too…And I’m sure those countries would learn a great deal about the network of connections of the U.S. research community from these disclosures.”
CRA is highly concerned about this language being included in the NDAA. Research security is a serious issue, and agencies like DOD and NSF have been working with the research community to identify ways to mitigate those risks without damaging the collaborative research ecosystem that has been so immensely productive for the nation. It’s not clear that language like this will strengthen those efforts — instead it appears to add a remarkably onerous burden on all researchers working on Defense problems without providing any mechanism for actually mitigating risks. CRA plans to work with our friends and allies, both in Congress and the policy community, to lay out the case that this language is likely to cause more harm than good to the nation’s defense research community.
The defense policy bill passed the full House of Representatives last week. We now will wait to see the Senate version of the NDAA; it is expected to be made public soon with an eye to passing through the chamber next week. While the Senate version is unlikely to contain similar language — and our understanding is that the DOD has also indicated it has issues with it as well — ultimately both chambers will have to agree upon the provisions that will end up in the final bill, and the Banks language will be a part of that negotiation. CRA will continue to track this matter and will report on any new developments.
Continuing our coverage of the Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) federal budget process, we turn to the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water bill. This bill contains the budgets for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC) and ARPA-E, as well as funding for the Exascale Computing R&D program, for which DOE is the lead federal agency. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee is recommending flat funding for the DOE SC research accounts.
Under the House’s plan, the Office of Science would be funded at the same amount it was funded in FY23: $8.10 billion. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would receive an overall cut of 4.7 percent – going from $1.07 billion in FY23 to $1.02 billion for FY24. Regular readers will recall that the President’s budget request from March recommended an 8.6 percent increase to the Office of Science and a 4.7 increase for ASCR.
There is some good news in the details for ASCR. Much of the decrease is from planned reductions in the exascale construction accounts. What has happened in past budgets is that the money that is moved out of those accounts, would then be shifted to the research side of the program. The House appropriators only did that in part this year, with about $10 million moved to the research subaccounts, while the remaining ~$50 million was placed elsewhere in the bill. From a research point of view, this would represent a slight increase.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. In the committee’s report, the House appropriators also zeroed out the budgets for the Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce (RENEW) and Funding for Accelerated, Inclusive Research (FAIR) programs, whose aims are to expand and diversifying the researcher workforce and institutions that DOE works with for the research they perform. No justification was given in the report beyond describing them as part of the Justice40 Initiatives, a priority of the Biden Administration. As well, during the full committee markup, an amendment from Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) was adopted on a party-line vote which would prohibit, “funding for any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office, training, or program,” at the Energy Department.
Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would also be flat funded, receiving $470 million for FY24, the same amount it received in FY23. No details were given in the committee’s report for ARPA-E’s budget.
|FY23||FY24 PBR||FY24 House||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$8.10B||$8.80B||$8.10M||$0||—|
What’s going on here? With regard to funding levels, this is the House Republican Caucus moving forward with their agenda in line with the May Debt Limit Agreement. Their stated aim was to get federal spending under control, and this funding bill is working to that end. With regard to eliminating the DEI programs, this is likely both finding funds to put toward more favored projects, as well as political attacks on Administration priorities. Given the character of legislative work in the House, where it is a majority rules system, the House Republicans have the ability to push their agenda through the chamber.
The House Appropriations Committee approved their bill on June 22nd; next step is for it to go before the full House chamber for passage. Once the bill clears the House floor, we have to wait and see what happens with the Senate slate of funding bills. It is safe to say that the Senate Democrats will not agree with the House’s plans. In fact, they are likely to be far apart. That will set up its own difficult dynamic for closing out Fiscal Year 2024. A continuing resolution is an almost certainty right now, and a lapse in government spending (ie: a government shutdown) is looking very possible. But we are far enough from the end of the Federal fiscal year (October 1st) that outcomes could change. Please check back for more updates.
Following the Debit Limit Agreement that President Biden and House Speaker McCarthy (R-CA) signed at the end of May, the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2024 started up in earnest. That agreement, which set specific funding marks for defense and nondefense spending, is already appearing to break down, with the House Appropriations Committee saying that the agreed to spending “marks,” were actually “ceilings” that they could work under. In response, the Senate Appropriations Committee has said they will adhere to the funding strictures set in the agreement. This sets up a difficult dynamic where the House and Senate will likely have wildly different budget plans, making a final, compromise decision on FY24 spending very difficult, if not impossible. All the same, that disagreement has not stopped the process from moving forward in both chambers.
The House Appropriations Committee has taken the lead and begun its work to craft their spending plans and legislation. As we have done in years past, CRA will examine the House and Senate’s budget plans for each federal research agency of note to the computing community and provide a summary and breakdown. The first agency to check is the Department of Defense (DOD) and the House’s defense appropriations bill.
Taking a step back, 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.
Regular readers will recall that the Administration’s requested budget for these accounts, released in March, was very bad. Unfortunately, the House appropriators’ plan, while better than what the Administration proposed, isn’t an objectively good budget. This situation has recurred several times over the last few years, with the House appropriators working from the Administration’s request but not from the agencies’ previous year’s budgets. While Congress has ultimately passed into law healthy budgets for defense research, given the previously mentioned budget agreement, general federal funds are likely to be hard to come by this year; so, where does that leave accounts like these?
Getting into the details of the House’s plan, Basic Research (6.1) would receive a significant cut of 13.4 percent compared to its FY23 levels. The account would decrease from $2.92 billion in FY23 to $2.53 billion for FY24, a reduction of $399 million. There is no good news in the details: the individual services all received cuts to their 6.1 programs (Army: -14.9 percent; Navy: -4.6 percent; Air Force: -3.8 percent; and Defense-wide: -20.2 percent). And, digging a little deeper into the details, none of the service’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts would see plus ups, only cuts.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is in much the same shape; objectively bad compared to last year’s budget but good compared to the Administration’s request. The full account would see a 13.7 percent cut compared to last year’s budget, decreasing from $7.80 billion in FY23 to $6.73 billion under the House’s plan (a loss of $1.07 billion).
Finally, the Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would also receive a cut under the House’s framework. It would go from $11.71 billion in FY23 to $9.33 billion in FY24, a cut of $1.57 billion (or -13.4 percent).
Finally, DARPA would not escape the bad budget numbers under the House’s plan. The agency’s budget would increase from $4.06 billion in FY23 to $4.12 billion in FY24, an increase of only 1.5 percent (or +$60 million). For all intents and purposes, the DARPA is flat funded. President Biden had recommended $4.39 billion for the research agency, which would have been an 8.1 percent increase.
|FY23||FY24 PBR||FY24 House||$ Change||% Change|
As with the last several years, CRA and our colleagues in the research advocacy community will continue to make the case that support for these fundamental and applied research lines are critical to ensuring the Defense Department has the technology base it needs to meet the threats we face now and in the future. We will have to wait and see what the Senate’s plans are for defense research; hopefully they are better.
What happens next? The bill was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on June 22nd. It now heads to the full House for consideration, where it is likely to be passed. Then we will have to wait for the Senate to release their plan for the Defense department. The good news there is that the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to release their mark in regular order, something they have not done in several years. However, the general view in Washington is that the appropriations process will break down at the conference stage. That is because of the previously mentioned disagreement with overall funding levels; both chambers are working with different numbers, and they are far apart. This is looking to be a very long and difficult year for the Federal budget; please keep checking back for more updates.
Please use the Category and Archive Filters below, to find older posts. Or you may also use the search bar.