Computing Research Policy Blog
I participated in the recent CRA Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI) workshop as a student volunteer from William & Mary. The workshop is a day and half crash course in how science policy is made at the federal level in Washington and is geared to researchers who are interested in being more engaged in policy discussions that touch on computing science related matters. While the workshop is set up to encourage mid and senior career researchers, I came away with a reinvigorated sense of the role PhD students can play in communicating the importance of computing in government and policy discussions.
There are a few reasons why I found the workshop particularly useful for me as a PhD student. The workshop focused not just on how the government works, and how public policies are created, but also on the role the federal budget plays on these processes. As well, many of the invited speakers were faculty members from CRA member institutions who had previously served in various parts of the US government; not just at federal research agencies (like NSF or the Department of Energy), or on science advisory committees, but also at such non-research agencies like the State Department or even the White House. Their stories and pathways of going from academia to government and back were very insightful in thinking about the ecosystem in which both public policy and research exists. It also provided me with possible future opportunities in my own career. Furthermore, the participants of the workshop were researchers working in different areas and applications of computing (e.g., impact of social media on kids, use of AI in the criminal justice system). This networking opportunity provided me exposure to many interdisciplinary research, and helped me make several meaningful research connections.
Perhaps the most interactive session of the workshop was “Having the Conversation,” in which participants could volunteer to perform an “elevator pitch” of their research to a panel of former policy staffers and get feedback on their pitch and what they need to work on. As I worked on my own pitch and thought of my research in this new light, it helped me characterize the motivations and findings of my work in different ways, and helped crystallize their impact without falling back on technical jargon. This experience will make me a better communicator going forward. I also was able to learn from other participants and their pitches. Having all of these components at the same venue made me reflect on the unique relationship of my own research with policy; specifically how it can impact public policy and the public at large, and how public policy in turn shapes my research.
The workshop also had a positive impact on me as an aspiring academic. As a PhD student in computer science, I often thought of the world of public policy, including those related to computer science, as a “black box” and not fully knowing what impact I,or my community, could have on the process. Learning from this workshop, and the conversations with the speakers, have helped me deconstruct its elements and made me aware of the government and the public as other stakeholders in my research projects. It also makes me aware of how my work is intended not just for pushing the boundaries of knowledge but also to further the public well-being. I came away from the workshop with an expanded worldview, an extended network, and with a renewed interest in pursuing grounded and impactful research.
By Matt Hazenbush, Director of Communications, and Brian Mosley, Associate Director, Government Affairs
We live in a world dominated by computing. Many of the most significant problems facing the world and our country either have solutions in—or are caused by—computing. Yet, the nation’s elected representatives typically have limited knowledge of the field, creating a critical need for computing experts who understand how to effectively communicate with policy makers.
The Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI), held November 16-17 in Washington, D.C. by the Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium (CCC), addresses this need by providing computing researchers from academia and industry with a crash course in science policy issues and the mechanics of policy making. This year, 40 computing researchers from across the country took part in the two-day event, filling to capacity the hotel ballroom where they met.
“More than ever, computing researchers need to step up and become a part of science policy discussions,” said Fred B. Schneider, longtime LiSPI organizer and former chair of the department of computer science at Cornell University. “LiSPI gives members of the computing research community the knowledge, resources, and confidence they need in order to help shape national policy that concerns or that is affected by computing. Research funding is not the only area where computing researchers should be involved in the dialog.”
Featuring presentations and discussions with science policy practitioners, including current and former Hill staff and relevant agency and administration personnel, LiSPI walks computing researchers through how the legislative process works in practice and offers firsthand insights into how to interact successfully with agencies and advisory committees, including making the case for federal research funding.
“As a part of our mission, CRA seeks to develop the next generation of leaders in the computing research community, and a big part of that is giving people the skills and tools to be effective policy advocates,” said Peter Harsha, senior director of government affairs at the Computing Research Association. “CRA has earned a reputation for being ‘the organization of record’ for computing research issues in Washington, and that’s in large part thanks to our growing network of experts who are willing to volunteer their time to help educate lawmakers on important computing issues.”
Insights from Insiders and Experienced Advocates
This offering of LiSPI (which has been a bi-annual event) featured presentations and panel discussions from several key Washington insiders.
Matt Hourihan, associate director of R&D and advanced industry at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), discussed the Federal budget process, including some of the challenges ahead for the community and how the current political climate is likely to impact science budgets. Later in the day, Julia Jester, deputy vice president for government relations and public policy at Association of American Universities (AAU) discussed how researchers can be best prepared to deliver useful input in meetings with policymakers, and Dahlia Sokolov and Heather Vaughan of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee talked about the unique difficulties of communicating the value of research to policymakers, as well as proper protocols for Congressional interactions and follow-up.
“The practical advice provided by the program speakers was incredibly valuable because they all had real-world experiences to share that I can immediately apply in my communication efforts with both local and federal policy makers,” said Tammy Toscos, LiSPI attendee and director of health services and informatics research at Parkview Health. “As a scientist working at the intersection of computing and healthcare, I feel an urgent call to offer information in support of legislative decisions that can positively impact the health of our communities, and LiSPI helped me feel better prepared to do so.”
Participants also heard from fellow members of the computing research community who have participated in policy advocacy, including in a candid panel discussion on advisory committees with Nadya Bliss (Arizona State University), Jeanna Matthews (Clarkson University), and Vivek Sarkar (Georgia Tech University).
Additional panel discussions covered interacting with agencies with Williams Scherlis (Carnegie Mellon University), Lynne Parker (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), and Susan Gergurick (National Institutes of Health), and embedding researchers into non-research agencies with Lorrie Cranor (Carnegie Mellon University), Suresh Venkatasubramanian (Brown University), and Stephanie Forrest (Arizona State University).
In addition, Cornell’s Schneider was joined by Greg Hager, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, to discuss providing congressional testimony, including reviewing and discussing clips from Hager’s 2015 testimony on NITRD Program.
Role Playing and Actionable Feedback
On day two, LISPI participants got the chance to put their learnings into practice through role play. Each presented an elevator pitch that they had worked on the evening before, which was then critiqued by a review panel of former congressional staffers, including CRA’s Harsha, AAU’s Jester, and Kathryn Verona of Samsung Semiconductors.
“As a computer scientist and legal scholar, the conference’s role-playing exercise was a true revelation,” said Sonia Gipson Rankin, LiSPI attendee and professor of law at the University of New Mexico School of Law. “Watching my colleagues bring forth amazing ideas vividly illuminated the legislative process. The workshop powerfully highlighted the role of researchers and scholars in influencing science policy, and this experience has inspired me to become a more effective resource for local legislatures and members of Congress, particularly in representing the needs of communities of color.”
Do you want to get involved in science policy and help to shape the future of the computing research community? Get the latest updates of what’s happening on the CRA Policy Blog or the CCC Blog. You can also sign up for alerts from the Friends of the Government Affairs Committee email list by sending a message to Brian Mosley (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the CRA Office of Government Affairs.
Earlier this month, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), introduced H.R. 6213, the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act.
The original National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) was signed into law in December of 2018, “to accelerate quantum research and development for the economic and national security of the United States.” The legislation did this by authorizing the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy to strengthen quantum information science programs, centers, and consortia. The NQIA also called for a coordinated approach to quantum research and development efforts across the Federal government by establishing the National Quantum Coordination Office within the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Reauthorizing and updating the NQIA’s programs is essential to improving the country’s research ecosystem and positioning the United States as the world leader in quantum information sciences, engineering, and technology. CRA was consulted on a draft of this legislation and provided feedback and suggestions on how to make the bill stronger. CRA is pleased to release the following statement endorsing the legislation:
CRA Statement on the Introduction of
The National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act
The Computing Research Association applauds the bipartisan effort to improve the nation’s quantum information sciences research efforts through the introduction of the National Quantum Initiative Act Reauthorization Act. The cosponsors of the bill, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), continue their leadership with this well-crafted vision which will position the United States as the world leader in quantum information science, engineering, and technology.
“This legislation proposes many improvements and updates to the National Quantum Initiative Act that the computing research community will appreciate,” says Nancy Amato, Chair of the CRA Board of Directors. “In particular, the proposed emphasis on cooperative research among industry, National Laboratories, institutions of higher education, and other research institutions is essential for accelerating and sustaining the nation’s quantum research enterprise. The provisions on quantum education and workforce development are also crucial to address the country’s long-term needs for filling essential QIS roles within the nation’s research system.”
We thank the bill’s co-sponsors and look forward to working with all parties to help perfect the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.
In addition to CRA, several other companies and organizations endorsed the legislation, including Google, IBM Research, Carnegie Mellon University, Intel, the Semiconductor Industries Association, and the US Chamber of Commerce, to name a few. The legislation is scheduled to be marked up by the full House Science Committee on Wednesday November 15th.
Update 11/16: After the House of Representatives passed the two-step continuing resolution Tuesday night, the Senate passed the measure Wednesday evening on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. It now heads to the President for signing into law. That means we have two CRs, one until January 19th and the other to February 2nd.
Original Post: Congress has less than a week to fund the Federal Government for the remainder of the fiscal year or risk going into a shut down. The current continuing resolution, or CR, funds the government until November 17th. But it’s unclear what is going to happen.
The problem lies with the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives. Put simply, they cannot agree on a course of action with the federal budget that needs to do two things: one, have the entire GOP House Caucus vote for it; and two, would force the Senate to follow suit. The conditions that paralyzed the chamber through much of October, which began with Speaker McCarthy being ousted from his leadership position and then four different candidates vying to replace him, are still present and are hamstringing the caucus, and all of Congress along with it.
Those conditions have not stopped the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (R-LA), from attempting to move the chamber forward. However, Speaker Johnson’s approach is far from ideal: he has proposed a “laddered” continuing resolution which would put different parts of the federal budget on different CR timelines. Funding for military construction, energy and water, veteran, and agriculture programs, and the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development would run through January 19th. The remaining parts of the government — covering the Defense, State, Justice, Commerce, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments, among many other agencies and government functions — would expire on February 2nd. With the exception of the Department of Energy research agencies, which are included in energy and water programs, the majority of the federal research agencies would be included in the February 2nd part of the Speaker’s plan. The text of the legislation was released Monday morning.
The obvious issue with the Speaker’s plan is it creates multiple deadlines for the federal budget, spreading out the problem. And it doesn’t address the issue that is causing the holdup: the infighting within the House GOP Caucus. Keep in mind, the Republican majority in the House is only four seats, so they have little room for defections if they want to pass a wholly Republican budget and have a strong negotiating position with the Senate. There are already three House Republicans who have come out against this planned laddered approach and it is unlikely to pick up any House Democrat votes.
Looking beyond the House, Speaker Johnson’s plan has few friends. President Biden has called it, “extreme,” and, “an unserious proposal that has been panned by members of both parties.” It is unclear at the moment how the Senate will respond; members of that chamber are keeping their options open by neither praising or blasting the proposal. The Senate has been taking a bipartisan approach to the budget, and sticking to the contours of the May budget agreement, which has put them in a stronger negotiating position.
Should Speaker Johnson’s CR plan fail to pass, he has told his caucus he plans to bring a full-year CR spending bill to the floor, which would include blanket cuts to non-defense spending. Such an approach would be a worst-case scenario for federal research agencies. The prospects for passage of such a plan are unclear at the moment.
The unfortunate reality is the situation is very fluid. With a new Speaker of the House, who has almost no track record to give an idea of how he will lead in the situation, coupled with the continued House Republican disunity, makes this situation almost impossible to predict. We’ll have to let this process play out more before we have a clear picture on the how it will end. Please keep checking back for more updates.
The Biden administration released an executive order on artificial intelligence on October 30th, setting new privacy, anti-discrimination, and safety standards for AI throughout the executive branch, while also seeking to accelerate innovation and bolster the AI workforce. Officially titled the “Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence,” it’s informally being called the AI EO. The White House also released a Fact Sheet, providing a high level summary of the different actions within the EO.
The order is organized around a number of themes, with specific directions to federal agencies in each theme:
- New Standards for AI Safety and Security
- Protecting Americans’ Privacy
- Advancing Equity and Civil Rights
- Standing Up for Consumers, Patients and Students
- Supporting Workers
- Promoting Innovation and Competition
- Advancing American Leadership Abroad and,
- Ensuring Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI
Much of the EO is centered around setting up regulations for tech companies that want to sell programs and software to federal agencies. By leveraging the federal government as a customer for these products, using the Defense Production Act, the Biden Administration is attempting to force these companies to adopted good best practices and, by extension, influence what is offered in the wider marketplace, both within the US and globally.
However, this order goes far beyond federal bureaucratic procurement requirements, and has several items that directly and indirectly impact the nation’s research community and enterprise. Section 5, “Promoting Innovation and Competition” is where the majority of the interest for the computing community is. One of the biggest items is proposing that NSF pilot the National AI Research Resource (NAIRR), “a tool that will provide AI researchers and students access to key AI resources and data,” according to the order’s fact sheet. According to the wording in the order itself, NAIRR will, “pursue the infrastructure, governance mechanisms, and user interfaces to pilot an initial integration of distributed computational, data, model, and training resources to be made available to the research community in support of AI-related research and development.” NAIRR has a lot of bipartisan support in Congress (see more details here), and is likely to be included in any near-term legislation covering AI; but getting the program off the ground is likely to run headlong into the difficult funding situation in Congress.
There’s a lot of other good news for the computing community in this section of the EO: “fund and launch at least one NSF Regional Innovation Engine that prioritizes AI-related work;” “establish at least four new National AI Research Institutes, in addition to the 25 currently funded as of the date of this order;” and “support activities involving high-performance and data-intensive computing,” at DOE and in coordination with NSF to, “establish a pilot program to enhance existing successful training programs for scientists, with the goal of training 500 new researchers by 2025 capable of meeting the rising demand for AI talent.” There is also direction to the federal agencies to expand AI research grants in areas like healthcare and climate change. All of that is good news for the research community.
Included in Section 5 are provisions covering rules for high-skilled immigration. Unfortunately, much of it is streamlining bureaucratic immigration and visa practices, and promoting what the Biden Administration has already done in this area. The fact is the Biden Administration did about as much as they could do on high-skilled immigration in January of 2022. To do more will require Congress to take up the issue and pass legislation on general immigration policy, something that has not happened in a generation.
In Section 9, “Protecting Privacy,” NSF, in partnership with DOE, is directed to establish a new Research Coordination Network (RCN) to, “promote the adoption of leading-edge privacy-preserving technologies by federal agencies.” The RCN is meant to, “enable privacy researchers to share information, coordinate and collaborate in research, and develop standards for the privacy-research community.” NSF is further directed to, “where feasible and appropriate, prioritize research — including efforts to translate research discoveries into practical applications — that encourage the adoption of leading-edge PETs solutions for agencies’ use.” Privacy-protecting technologies are mentioned prominently throughout the EO.
This executive order is quite expansive and covers a lot of areas. And it’s just the first one in a likely set of actions from the Administration covering AI. There is reference to a forthcoming national security memorandum on, “AI and security.” And the order’s Fact Sheet concludes with, “(m)ore action will be required, and the Administration will continue to work with Congress to pursue bipartisan legislation to help America lead the way in responsible innovation.” This will not be the last word from the Biden Administration on the topic of AI. CRA will continue to tack these actions and will report out to the community; please be sure to check back for future updates.
Last week, the Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), an alliance of American high tech companies and businesses, research university associations, and scientific societies, held two events in Congress to “deconstruct” artificial intelligence and demonstrate how the decades long federal research investment which has powered in the latest advances in the AI fields. The briefings were titled, “Federally Funded Research and the Advent of Artificial Intelligence: A TFAI Deconstructing Event.”
The panel of speakers, composed of computing and IT experts from across academia, government, and industry, made the case that these advances could only have happened because of the federal investment in such areas as hardware, software, and high performance computing, as well as several others.
The briefings, one held on the House of Representatives side of Capitol Hill, and the other on the Senate side, were moderated by Daniel Reed, current chair of the National Science Board and presidential professor in computational science at the University of Utah. For the House-side event, the panelists included Odest Chadwicke Jenkins, professor of robotics, electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan; Prasana Balaprakash, director of AI programs and distinguished R&D staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Jeff Welser, chief operating officer, IBM Research; and Kee-Bong Song, Vice President, head of Cellular and Multimedia Lab at Samsung Semiconductor US. For the Senate-side briefing, Gary Givental, chief architect at IBM Consulting Cybersecurity Services and master inventor at IBM, subbed in for Dr. Welser.
The speakers represent the three parts of the U.S. innovation ecosystem (industry, universities, and researchers), and they had a clear message: the current advances in AI were only possible because of decades of federal investment in fundamental research in a wide range of the physical sciences. “Advances in AI are intrinsically tied to investments in basic research across the federally funded research enterprise,” said Scott Corley, Executive Director of TFAI. If the country hopes to stay competitive in the various subfields of artificial intelligence, it must commit to fully funding the Chips & Science Act and the federal research agencies included in that legislation, especially NSF.
CRA was a sponsor of both events and recruited Dr. Reed, a former chair of the CRA Board of Directors, and Professor Jenkins, a current member of the CRA-WP Board and a former member of the CCC Council, to take part. CRA was among the first members to join TFAI in 2004 and has had a major role in many of the coalition’s activities, including the first TFAI Deconstructing event and several of the Benchmarks Reports that the coalition has released.
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.
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