Senate Appropriators Target Cognitive Computing, IT Research Again

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved its version of the FY 2007 Defense Appropriations bill and once again, as they did last year, included a significant cut to DARPA’s “Cognitive Computing” program. In addition, the SAC approved cuts to both the “Information and Communications Technology” account and even the “Computer Science Study Group” activity at DARPA.
Here are the details:
Information and Communications Technology: President requested $243 million in his budget for ICT in FY 07, an increase of $47 million (or 24 percent) over FY 06.
The House included $243 million in their version of the FY 07 Defense Approps.
The SAC approved $229 million, a cut of $13.4 million, or 5 percent, vs. the request — an increase of $34 million over FY 06 (17 percent).
Programs that would suffer cuts are “Responsive Computing Architectures” (-$3.9 million), “Security-Aware Systems” (-$3 million) and “Automated Speech and Text Exploitation in Multiple Languages” (-$6.5 million).
Cognitive Computing Systems: The President requested $220 million for FY 07, an increase of $57 million (35 percent) over FY 06.
The House included the full $220 million in their bill.
The SAC approved $149 million, a cut of $70.8 million (32 percent) vs. the request, and a cut of $14 million over FY 06 (9 percent).
Programs targeted are “Integrated Cognitive Systems” (-$60 million), “Learning Locomotion and Navigation,” (-$3.8 million) and “Improved Warfighter Information Processing” (-$7 million).
In addition, SAC cut the Computer Science Study Group at DARPA — established this year to help expose young faculty to DOD-oriented problems in computer science — from the requested level of $6.6 million in FY 07 to $3 million.
This is obviously bad news. While the ICT cut is really just the slowing of the rate of growth of ICT programs, the cuts to Cognitive Computing represent a real scaling back of the program — back to FY 05 budget levels.
CRA will be working to oppose the cuts along with representatives from a number of the institutions affected. (The cut to the Integrated Cognitive Systems account alone would impact more than 20 universities and research institutions.)
The SAC bill may come before the Senate as early as Tuesday, August 1st. Senate leadership hopes to have debate on the bill wrapped up by the end of the week, before Congress sets off on its annual August recess. The next chance to contest the cut would then be during the conference for the bill, which could happen in September.
Keep a watch here for the latest details in the effort to oppose the cuts. The case we laid out last year remains true today:

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.

Anyway, this is a bit of a dark cloud over the otherwise very positive news we’ve received all year long (topped by the House and Senate both approving full funding for the ACI in their approps bills), but we’ve got a reasonable chance of mitigating this somewhat, provided we start moving now. 
Update: (Aug 1, 2006) — It appears now that the Senate won’t be able to begin consideration of its version of the FY 2007 Defense Appropriations bill until after the August recess — which is good news because it gives us a bit more time. However, it also means we’re a bit more likely to see another omnibus appropriations bill at the end of the session, which poses its own set of challenges….
Update 2: (Aug 1, 2006, 9:30 pm) — So, I should have known that as soon as I posted the update above, the situation would change. The Defense Appropriations bill came to the floor this afternoon and debate will continue for the remainder of the week. The plan is to finish it before the August recess begins — which means the Senate leadership would like to have it done by Friday or the weekend. One positive is an amendment planned by Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) that would appropriate an additional $45 million for basic research accounts at DOD. Here are the details:

  • $12 million in additional funds for Army University Research Initiatives (PE 0601103A)
  • $13 million in additional funds for Navy URI (PE 0601103N)
  • $5 million in additional funds for Air Force URI (PE 0601103F)
  • $6 million in additional funds for the DARPA (PE 0601101E) for its University Research Program in Computer Science and Cybersecurity
  • $9 million in additional funds for the SMART National Defense Education Program (PE 0601120D8Z)
  • This amendment is very similar to an amendment Kennedy and Collins introduced to the Defense Authorization early this summer, which passed unanimously after gaining the co-sponsorship of 21 other senators. We’ll pass along further details as we get them.
    Update 3: (August 7th) — The Senate didn’t manage to finish up debate on the Defense Approps bill before the recess, so they’ll take the bill up again when they return in September. No word on the fate of the Kennedy-Collins amendment, but it appears we’ve got some time to buttress support for it and for heading off the cuts to Cognitive Computing and ICT….