President Trump yesterday released his budget request for FY2021, calling for sharp cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, including a 9 percent overall cut to non-defense basic research. At the same time, the President announced significant new investments in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Science research, providing increases to those research accounts that would double them by FY2022.
However, the Administration’s deep cuts to research at the National Science Foundation (-6 percent vs. FY20), DOE Office of Science (-17 percent vs. FY20), NIST (-19 percent), and science programs at NASA (-11 percent) take much of the luster away from the President’s AI/Quantum announcements. And that’s disappointing, because elements of the White House plan to boost the “Industries of the Future” are laudable and well-aligned with the AI research community’s efforts to establish a roadmap for AI research that would keep the U.S. in a leadership role in AI technologies for the foreseeable future.
The President’s AI/Quantum initiative would double research spending in those areas at the National Science Foundation, NIST and DOE’s Office of Science by FY2022 and bring the overall Federal investment in Artificial Intelligence research to $2 billion a year. NSF would see its research funding for AI grow from $487 million across the Foundation in FY19 to $830 million in FY21, a 70 percent increase. DOE’s investment would increase $54 million to $125 million. DARPA and NIH would also see plus ups. The plan would also include investments in education and job training, including $50 million for AI workforce development with a focus on community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions.
So while CRA commends the President for the focus on AI and Quantum and hopes to see Congress enact much of what he’s proposed, the totality of the President’s request for research funding is not supportable. CRA issued a statement on the President’s budget today that makes this case:
CRA STATEMENT ON THE
FY2021 PRESIDENTIAL BUDGET REQUEST
CRA commends the Administration for recognizing the importance of Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Science to the Nation’s security and competitiveness, and for addressing that with significant new investments in the President’s Budget Request for FY2021. However, we take issue with the proposed cuts to a large number of other areas of science.
Failing to adequately fund a broad portfolio of research puts the nation at risk of missing key breakthroughs and the leadership position to capitalize on them. It also threatens to constrain progress in the same critical fields the President has chosen to highlight. For example, the social sciences will be crucial to developing appropriate ethical guidance for the development of AI systems, economic scientists will help us understand the impact of AI and quantum computing on our workforce, and breakthroughs in materials science will be required for advanced manufacturing and quantum science progress.
A broad Federal research investment portfolio also builds the science and technical workforce that is vital to support design, building, operation, and extending technologies fundamental to industry and defense. Cutting research funds will have a long-term, negative effect on the growth and training of that crucial community. Additionally, our technical workforce has consistently benefitted from adding personnel who are well-educated in the liberal and fine arts. Their perspective in human-centric design, aesthetics, cultural norms, psychology, history, and other aspects outside the STEM disciplines has resulted in a more robust and global set of solutions within the STEM space. Furthermore, those individuals bring new problem-solving insights and paradigms to bear on technological problems, giving us a distinct, innovative advantage over countries that consistently devalue non-STEM disciplines.
The United States has maintained its scientific, economic and military leadership in part because of its broad support for research across disciplines; recognizing that the interplay among scientific fields has provided extraordinary benefits; and understanding that perfect knowledge of where the next great breakthrough will arise is impossible. While we agree that areas such as AI and Quantum Science are ripe for priority, any additional investment should not come at the cost of progress in all other fields.
We’ll have much more detail on the President’s Budget Request in our agency-by-agency breakdowns over the next couple of weeks. The “good” news for overall science investments is that Congress has essentially ignored the President’s funding requests — particularly the funding cuts — over the last three years. Nevertheless, the President’s budget does provide a blueprint for Members of Congress to follow if they want to demonstrate their support for these critical technologies but also want to slash Federal spending on research, so we will continue to follow developments and continue advocating for broad, sustained investments in fundamental research across disciplines.