Dept of Energy FY16 Request: Very Good but Will Congress Approve?

President Obama released his annual budget request on Monday February 2nd (interesting note: Fiscal Year 2016 is the first time his administration released the budget on time). As we have done in years past, the CRA Policy Blog will be doing a series of posts on the assorted budget requests for key science agencies, particularly highlighting the ones that are of importance to the computing community. Check back for more agencies.

First up is the Department of Energy (DOE). The two key parts of DOE for the computing community are the Office of Science (SC), home of most of the agency’s basic research support, and ARPA-E. For SC, the office would see a very healthy increase of 5.4 percent from FY15 to FY16 (going from $5.07B to $5.34B). Seeing as the agency has limped through the Sequestration era with up-and-down budgets, this request is very good.

Perhaps most important for computing researchers is the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program. ASCR would see a huge increase in funding, going up by 14.8 percent (or $541M in FY15 to $621M in FY16). Most of the justification for this increase (~$87M) is set aside for the exascale computing initiative. In fact, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz said that exascale computing, both hardware and software, is a “top priority across the Office of Science.” Some other details from ASCR’s request are that their user facilities are operating, “optimally and with >90% availability;” and “deployment of 10-40 petaflop upgrade at NERSC and continued preparation for 75-200 petaflop upgrades at the Leadership Computing Facilities” continue. Also, the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship is restored at $10M to, “fully fund a new cohort.” (You’ll recall we joined with the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) to call on Congress to preserve the CS Grad Fellowship program.)

Digging a little deeper, the majority of the ASCR increase — $77.5M — is provided for the High Performance Computing and Networking Facilities (HPCF) subaccount. The Mathematical, Computational, and Computer Sciences Research subaccount would receive a more modest increase of $2.5M.

As for ARPA-E (or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy), it would see the same increase the President requested last year: 16.1 percent (or $280M in FY15 to $325M in FY16). The agency, “advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.” This increase has become something of a tradition for ARPA-E, where the White House recommends a significant increase but Congress decides to flat fund the agency. There are few indications that this dynamic will change with this budget.

The big question now is will Congress pass this request? While it is true that support for computing research is widespread and bipartisan, it is still unlikely that this budget will breeze through the legislative process. For starters, throughout his request, the President has rejected funding levels called for by the budget deal that brought us sequestration, or the mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts, that are still US law. In rolling back sequestration, Obama is making an argument that the country is coming out of the recession and that these cuts need to be replaced with something more targeted. It’s unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress shares that view. In addition to the sequestration rollback, it’s likely that congressional Republicans will have a different set of priorities within the Dept of Energy budget about things like climate change, sustainable energy, and clean coal programs, and those will require adjustments throughout the proposed budget to accommodate. So chances are very good that the final FY16 budget for DOE will look very little like the President’s request. But there appears to be strong bipartisan support for DOE computing programs (see, for example, last week’s hearing), and ASCR has recently fared well even when other aspects of the Office of Science budget have been flat-funded (or worse). So perhaps a little cautious optimism is warranted.

We’ll be watching this budget, and the other science agencies’ budgets, as they progress through Congress this year. Check back for more updates.

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