To continue our breakdown of the House and Senate appropriations moves, we turn to the Energy and Water Appropriations bills, which fund the Department of Energy (DOE). The parts of the department of most concern to the computing community are the Office of Science (SC), home of most of the agency’s basic research support, and ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
To take a step back, it’s worth remembering that President Trump requested a significant cut to the Office of Science, while singling out computing for a big increase, and zeroing out ARPA-E. In the president’s plan, while the overall number for the DOE SC would have received a 16 percent cut (a $862 million cut) for next year, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program would have received a 16 percent boast (+$101 million), specifically tagged for their Exascale Computing Program (ECP). In this budget, the Administration sets a new target to speed up the deployment of exascale architecture machines, calling for one by 2021 and another by 2022. ARPA-E on the other had was given a 93% cut; effectively zeroing it out and leaving only enough money to close up operations.
The House and the Senate took different paths in their plans and rejected the Administration’s approach. In the House plan, the DOE SC would be flat funded, at $5.39 billion. However, despite that flat funding, ASCR would receive a 7 percent increase, going from $647 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 to $694 million in FY 2018. However, in the report language accompanying the bill, the House appropriators, while supportive of Exascale, don’t seem entirely convinced about the Administration’s new timeline:
The Committee is concerned that the deployment plan for an exascale machine has undergone major changes without an appropriately defined cost and performance baseline. The Department is directed to provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act an update to the exascale plan that includes a detailed cost and performance baseline, taking into account flat and slightly increasing funding assumptions, for the technological challenges remaining to be solved to deliver an exascale machine.
House appropriators did however agree with the Administration regarding ARPA_E, completely defunding the program in their bill. It’s possible, however, that the cut to ARPA-E is a negotiating tactic, as the House appropriators know the Senate was likely to protect the office in their version of the bill.
With regard to that Senate bill, DOE SC would receive an increase of roughly 3 percent, going from $5.39 billion in FY 2017 to $5.55 billion in FY 2018. Within the bill, ASCR would receive a significant plus up of 18 percent, increasing to $763 million for FY 2018. The Senate bill includes $184 million for ECP and says in its report that it is, “supportive of the plan to accelerate delivery of at least one exascale-capable system in 2021, reasserting U.S. leadership in this critical area.” ARPA-E would also see a healthy increase of 8 percent, going to $330 million for FY 2018 (funded at $306 million for FY 2017).
Given the different approaches, where do things go from here? On July 27th, the House passed a “minibus”, a small package of four appropriations bills which included the Energy and Water bill along with Defense, Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs, and Legislative Branch appropriations. In theory, having completed its work on this bill, the House now has a better negotiating position in relation to the Senate, should an omnibus bill be required by the end of the fiscal year, September 30th, or later.
What the Senate will do is an open question. There are only twelve more joint working days of both chambers of Congress between now and the end of the fiscal year. In that time Congress not only has to handle the budget but also raise the nation’s debt limit. Additionally, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that the Senate will take up tax reform after the August recess. That’s an overflowing plate of difficult jobs and it’s unclear what will have to be dropped to prioritize the others. Only time will tell what the Senate will do. Be sure to check back for more updates.