Senate Approves Nearly 50 Percent Cut to DARPA IT R&D Account
As I noted in the last post, the Senate Appropriations Committee included language in the Senate verision of the FY 06 Defense Appropriations bill that would strip $55 million from an element of DARPA’s Cognitive Computing program — a move that seems to run counter to recent congressional sentiment on the role of computer science, especially university-led fundamental computer science, at DARPA. The “out of the blue” cut — there was no advance warning provided by appropriations staffers, no evidence that there was dissatisfaction with the program — would fall on the “Learning, Reasoning, and Integrated Cognitive Systems (pdf)” (COG-2) account. With little feedback from the Senate appropriators, we’re operating under the assumption that the main impetus for the cut was to provide an offset for increases elsewhere in the bill, though there’s been some speculation among Senate staff that the program may have suffered do to a misperception that it’s somehow similar to some of the agency’s more controversial bio-related programs.
It’s not. As we’ve tried to point out to the conferees who will have to determine whether the cut will stand in the compromise bill negotiated with the House (the House opted to fund the program at the agency’s requested level), research in learning, reasoning, and cognitive systems is focused on intelligent intrepretations of signals and data, on controlling unmanned vehicles, and on amplifying human effectiveness. Its aim is to reduce U.S. casualties by providing improved command and control and tactical planning against adversaries, as well as improved training systems. Work in this area includes research responsible for the Command Post of the Future (CPOF) — a software system currently deployed and very widely-used in Iraq to coordinate battle plans and integrate multiple intelligence reports, providing U.S. forces the capability to plan, execute and replan much faster than the enemy’s decision cycle and cited by Secretary Rumsfeld as the major contributor to victory in the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It’s also cricital to the research and development of autonomous, unmanned vehicles that amplify our warfighting capability while reducing the number of U.S. forces in harm’s way. Cutting support so significantly for this research will hamper advancements in defense-related IT in the short- and long-term and will slow technological advancements essential to current and future military operations in Iraq and around the globe.
It also runs completely counter to recent concerns of Congress, PITAC and the DOD’s Defense Science Board. All three bodies have raised strong concerns about the shift of DARPA resources away from fundamental research at universities, especially in information technology. The Cognitive Computing program is one area where DARPA has responded positively to these concerns.
Because these “out of the blue” cuts are so difficult to counter — they appear very late in the process with very little information about what motivated them and at a time when access to appropriations staff is most limited — we’ve focused our strategy opposing the cut by urging the members of the conference committee to abandon the Senate number and adopt the President’s budget request, the number approved by the House. You can help. We’ll tell you how soon….