Computing Research Policy Blog
Despite appearances, Congress has not forgotten about the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The problem has been the ongoing disagreement on how to respond to the COVID pandemic. Since Congress hasn’t been able to get beyond that issue, it hasn’t been able to focus on other high-level topics. However, the approaching November election, and a desire to not have a government shutdown just before voters go to the polls, has necessitated a continuing resolution (or CR) to be considered.
Released today, the CR would fund the government at Fiscal Year 2020 levels through December 11th. However, because of Congress’ inaction on a number of must-pass issues, this bill is not “clean,” meaning it is not free of other policy and funding issues. While unlikely to completely derail the process on its own, these other items could slow down or delay final passage of a CR. In fact, the initial language has already caused bickering between House and Senate leaders over topics that weren’t included in the bill’s language.
However, the bigger concern, and big question mark, is how the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Senate Republicans desire to confirm her replacement before the election, will impact all legislation in Congress. Will Senate Democrats throw up any and all legislative roadblocks to halt a vote on a proposed replacement? Would the Republicans acquiesce if such a tactic were employed? Would the Democrats be willing to risk a government shutdown just before the election? These are unprecedented circumstances and it’s hard to say what will happen. More so than ever, it’s a wait and see situation; we’ll have more updates as they happen, so please check back.
In case you missed it — the CCC Blog has coverage of National Science Foundation’s recent announcement, “establishing new artificial intelligence institutes to accelerate research, expand America’s workforce, and transform society in the decades to come.” This move is in line with one of the recommendations in the CCC-led AI roadmap report, A 20-Year Community Roadmap for AI Research in the US. This is great news; and, when combined with the efforts in Congress to bolster AI research — including adding the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act of 2020 to the House National Defense Authorization Act, which is a piece of “must pass” legislation — signals that AI research is likely to stay a hot-topic in Washington for some time. Keep checking back for more updates.
There has been a flurry of activity over the last few weeks on a number of AI related pieces of legislation in Congress. The most significant is that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s (HSST) National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act (HR 6216) was included in the House version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA; aka: the defense policy bill). You’ll recall that HR 6216 was heavily influenced and informed by the CCC’s work and their AI roadmap report (and CRA endorsed the bill). Its inclusion in the House NDAA is a major win for the computing research community.
As of right now, there is no equivalent language in the Senate NDAA, but CRA is working with our allies in the community to make sure it stays in the conference language of any final bill.
However, the downside to this news is the NDAA has an uncertain future right now. Not only is Congress distracted with the negotiations over the latest COVID relief bill, but the House NDAA has drawn a veto threat from the President over stipulations about renaming military bases. This would typically not be an issue, as both the Senate and House NDAA bills passed with very similar base-renaming provisions, and both passed with veto-proof majorities. But Senator Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and someone who will have significant influence on any conference language, has publicly promised the President he will have these provisions removed. Given that the House Democrats are very much in favor of these provisions, that likely means the bill will not move any time soon.
The other news is the Senate Commerce Committee passed a stand alone AI bill; S. 3891, the Advancing Artificial Intelligence Research Act of 2020. This bill is similar to the House HSST bill, in that it authorizes six national AI research institutes at NSF, and authorizes $50M a year for five years. However it also gives NIST a significant seat in the Federal AI research space by requiring that agency to set up AI standards and establishing a, “national program to advance (AI) research” at the agency. This bill’s future is a little uncertain; with everything going on, there’s no telling if it will make it to the full Senate for a vote. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this gets added on to a piece of moving legislation.
We’re keeping our eyes and ears open on both pieces of legislation and will update as news becomes available, so please check back.
Continuing our review of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) federal budget, we turn to the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water bill. This bill contains the budgets for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC) and ARPA-E, as well as funding for the Exascale Computing R&D program, for which DOE is the lead federal agency. While the House’s numbers are significantly better than the 17% cut that the Administration requested in February, they represent a fairly small increase over last year’s budget. Let’s get into the details.
The bill proposes only a slight increase (+<1%) for the Office of Science over FY20 levels; bringing the agency’s budget to $7.05 billion for FY21, an increase of just $50 million. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see a more generous increase of 4.1 percent – going from $980 million in FY20 to $1.02 billion in FY21. When you look at the other programs within the Office of Science, ASCR is the only one that received more than a 1% increase or wasn't flat funded.
It's worth noting that the Appropriations Committee repeatedly spoke highly of DOE's research in CS and IT fields. Topics such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Exascale, and Quantum Information Sciences are repeatedly mentioned, with high praise, in the committee’s report.
Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would receive $435 million for FY21, a 2.4 percent increase from $425 million in FY20. For another year, the committee dismissed the President’s request to zero out the agency’s budget.
|FY20||FY21 PBR||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$7.00B||$5.84B||$7.05B||+$50M||+<1%|
The House Appropriations Committee approved this bill on Monday; next step is for it to go before the full House chamber for passage. After that, as with the other FY21 funding legislation, we have to wait and see what happens with the Senate counterparts. While the Senate Appropriations Committee have said they plan to move on their bills this month, very little has actually happened publicly. It’s a wait-and-see situation; please check back for more updates.
The Trump Administration on Tuesday reserved course and rescinded its change that would have stripped visas from international students whose courses move exclusively online during the pandemic. The announcement was made by the judge who was expected to preside over oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT. This is still a developing story, which we are tracking closely, but this is decidedly good news. We will provide updates as information becomes available.
Continuing our review of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) federal budget, we turn to the House Appropriations Committee’s bill for the Department of Defense. DOD’s Science and Technology (DOD S&T) program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced technology development). These accounts are themselves made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a section under the Defense Wide account. Unfortunately, the numbers that the House settled on for these accounts are not good, but they are better than what the Administration requested.
Taking a moment to look at the President’s budget request from February, it’s worth remembering that it was particularly bad. All three accounts, 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3, were cut by 11 percent, 11 percent, and 14 percent, respectively. Only DARPA received an increase of 3.2 percent. This is where the “from a certain point of view” comes in: when compared against the Administration’s request, these accounts do quite well under the House’s plan. It’s when you compare them against their current budgets (i.e.: what the programs are working with right now), that we see the House’s numbers are not good. Let’s take a look.
Basic Research (6.1) gets a slight increase against FY20 numbers. The account goes from $2.60 billion to $2.62 billion in FY21, an increase of 0.8 percent or $20 million.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is in much the same spot, looking terrible compared to last year’s budget but seems good in comparison to the Administration’s request. The full account would see a 2.5 percent cut compared to last year’s budget, going from $6.07 billion in FY20 to $5.92 billion under the House’s plan (a loss of $150 million). But when compared against the requested budget in February, the account would receive a bump of 9.8 percent.
Finally, the Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would receive the largest cut, going from $7.40 billion in FY20 to $7.08 billion in FY21, a cut of $320 million (or 3.3 percent). As before, when compared against the President’s request, the account would receive an 11.8 percent boast.
DARPA would see an increase but, in a break with the pattern, would not do as well as the Administration requested (you’ll recall DARPA was the “big winner” of the Defense research accounts in February). The agency would go from $3.46 billion in FY20 to $3.51 billion under the House’s FY21 plan, an increase of 1.4 percent (or $50 million). The Administration requested $3.57 billion for the agency.
|FY20||FY21 PBR||$ Change||% Change||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
What happens next? The bill will be go before the full Appropriations Committee and then on to the full House for approval; it’s likely to not meet any resistance. We then have to wait to see what the Senate numbers will be. As in previous years, the House and Administration being so far apart means the Senate’s numbers are likely to be a compromise between the two. Which means those numbers are likely to be what is agreed to for a final budget. We’ll keep watching as events unfold; please check back for more updates.
After handling the multiple bills responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress is finally turning to handling the annual federal budget. As is the norm, the House Appropriations Committee has begun its work first. A bill of most importance to the CS and IT research community is the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill; it contains the funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA. The bill as a whole is good news, with a few exceptions; but it is also pretty good news for NSF.
The House CJS bill provides a 3.3 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) funding for NSF. The Foundation would receive $8.55 billion for FY21 overall, an increase of $270 million over last year. The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a 3.4 percent increase, up from $6.74 billion in FY20 to $6.97 billion for FY21. As well, the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would see a similar increase of 3.2 percent, going from $940 million in FY20 to $970 million in FY21. While not as good as last year’s House numbers, they represent a considerable improvement over the President’s requested FY21 budget for the agency.
|FY19||FY20||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) budget is a bit more mixed. The top line for the agency would effectively be flat funded, receiving just a 1 percent, going from $1.03 billion in FY20 to $1.04 billion in FY21 (a $10 million increase). However, the institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see a healthy increase for FY21; $789 million for this year, which is $35 million more (4.6 percent) than it received for FY20.
|FY19||FY20||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
Finally, NASA’s budget is where we see the bad news. The top line for the agency is flat funded, receiving the same amount for FY21 that it received last year ($22.63 billion). However, NASA’s Science account would receive a small cut of $40 million (or -0.6 percent); the account would go from $7.14 billion in FY20 to $7.10 billion in FY21.
|FY19||FY20||FY21 House||$ Change||% Change|
What’s next? The bills head to the full House Appropriations Committee for approval and then to the full House chamber; they’re expected to move with little difficulty. After that, we have to wait and see what the Senate Appropriations Committee does with their budget bills. They are supposed to start work on them later this month. Given the unusual state of events, and the forthcoming Presidential election in November, any final decision on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget is likely to happen in December at the earliest. It’s a wait-and-see situation, so please check back for more updates.
UPDATE 7/14: The Trump Administration reserved course and rescinded its policy change.
Continue original post from 7/8: On Monday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) disclosed its intent to remove its current, temporary exemptions on F-1 and M-1 visas. The exemptions allowed students on visas to remain in the USA during the spring and summer even if they were taking all their classes online because of the pandemic. The removal of the exemptions would mean that any students on student visas who are not taking at least some classes in person will cease to be in compliance. Thus, if they are enrolled in colleges or universities that will move their fall classes online for safety of their community, those students would be forced to either (a) transfer to another institution where they must take classes in person, despite any health risk, or (b) leave the country. It also means that foreign students accepted for fall at those institutions will not be granted visas to enter the USA.
The hundreds of thousands of students — across all academic disciplines — who will be affected by this policy are here legally but will potentially fall out of compliance through no fault of their own, as their institutions react to an extraordinary, global pandemic. CRA believes this policy is ill-conceived, cruel and will damage the U.S. research ecosystem greatly, perhaps for years to come. The uncertainty created by this policy, and by the other immigration policy decisions restricting other foreign students and researchers issued over the last several weeks, will certainly discourage more of the best minds in the world from studying and researching in the U.S., to our great detriment.
CRA is working with our partners in the science advocacy community and the higher education community to make this case to policymakers in Congress and the Administration. We are also working to develop resources to help our member institutions contend with this unprecedented situation. For now, members of our community who wish to weigh in on the inadequacy of this policy decision are encouraged to contact their representatives in Congress. Find out who represents you in Congress. Contact information for your Senate delegation.
And specifically to our international students, know that CRA cares about you and will do everything we can to protect and support you.
When there are new developments, we will do our best to bring them to you here.
UPDATE: Wednesday morning, Harvard University and MIT sued the Trump Administration in an effort to block ICE’s Visa order. In a statement similar to CRA’s, the two universities said that they filed a pleading in Federal court, “seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the order.”
[This article will also appear in CRA’s Computing Research News.]
On Monday, June 22nd, President Trump issued the latest in a series of immigration and visa related orders designed to limit the involvement of foreign students and researchers, particular those from mainland China, in U.S. research efforts. The order follows a series of other proposals and orders emanating from the White House and Capitol Hill that have raised the ire of higher-education, U.S. industry, and the computing research community over recent weeks. The proposals — two proclamations, Senate legislation and bicameral legislation — all have the stated goals of protecting U.S. jobs from foreign competition or protecting U.S. research from foreign exploitation, but in CRA’s analysis would likely do more damage to the U.S. research ecosystem than the threats they are trying to address.
The President’s most recent order is a Presidential proclamation that directs U.S. immigration officials on June 24th to suspend issuing new H-1B, H-2B, J- series, L series, and other non-immigrant visas through the end of 2020. The President justified the move as a way to protect U.S. workers during this time of increased unemployment as a result of the COVID pandemic. This case is problematic, CRA has noted, because employment in the computing sector has actually increased during the pandemic, with unemployment falling from a pre-pandemic level of 3.0 percent to 2.8 percent as of April 30th (as compared to an overall unemployment level of nearly 15 percent). Notably, the President’s proclamation did not suspend the F-1 visa program used by most foreign graduate students in the US, or curtail the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program or the OPT STEM program, which allow F-1 visa holders to stay an additional year or three years respectively to get training in their study areas after graduation.
The move has earned considerable ire from the U.S. business community, particularly the high-tech sector, which uses the H-1B program to bring in high-skilled talent from around the world. Those in the computing sector note that even with the H-1B program, more than 625,000 computing-related jobs (those that would require a 4 year computing degree) remain unfilled at the present time. The President appears unmoved, however, believing the order to be the fulfillment of a campaign promise and a vote-winner.
Earlier, the President had issued another order directed at protecting U.S. research from exploitation by the Chinese government. On May 29th, he issued a Presidential Proclamation that suspended the issuing of visas for students and researchers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) wishing to come to the U.S. if it is determined that they have ever been involved with any entity participating in the PRC’s “military-civil fusion strategy.” CRA opposed the proclamation. While we recognize that there are certainly real threats to U.S. research from foreign actors — the recent news that 54 scientists funded by the NIH have lost their jobs and some face criminal charges for failing to disclose financial ties to foreign governments emphasizes this fact — indiscriminate large-scale banning of students and researchers from any particular country is likely to be counter-productive and deprive the U.S. research enterprise of the important contributions of international scholars.
On June 1st, CRA issued a statement opposing the proclamation which read:
The President on Friday issued a proclamation effective today ordering the suspension of entry to the U.S. of Chinese non-immigrant graduate students or scholars who have ever studied, received support, been employed by, or conducted research at or on behalf of any Chinese entity that may have implemented China’s “military-civil fusion strategy.” The proclamation defines “military-civil fusion strategy” as “actions by or at the behest of the [People’s Republic of China] to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC’s military capabilities.”
We are aware and concerned that research in the United States is a target for espionage agents and others intent on stealing — rather than licensing — valuable intellectual property. We are also aware that some countries have been particularly aggressive about such theft in recent years. We support restrictions for people with clear connections to IP theft or espionage.
However, we oppose the banning of any foreign student or researcher unless there is clear evidence of their personal connection to such activities. Indiscriminate large-scale banning of students and researchers from any particular country deprives the U.S. research enterprise of contributions by international scholars, most of whom are not involved in IP theft or espionage.
The U.S. remains the world’s leading economy and maintains the world’s strongest defense because of an innovation ecosystem that is powered by a research enterprise that attracts the brightest minds and best ideas from all over the world. The broad scope of this proclamation has already created great uncertainty and fear among Chinese scholars who are here and contributing to U.S. leadership. It will most certainly discourage future international scholars from choosing the U.S. for their studies and research careers, depriving the U.S. of their talents and energy. We urge the Administration to immediately clarify the scope of the order and limit it to those cases where there is clear evidence of personal connection to espionage and IP theft.
While the White House was working to put out this proclamation, a parallel effort was underway to make additional immigration policy changes around the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program — an effort that ultimately led to the issuance of the June 22nd proclamation. On May 29th, CRA issued a statement to state its opposition to efforts to suspend or end the program:
We are aware of efforts in both the Administration and Congress aimed at suspending or curtailing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for students on F-1 visas in the United States. As an organization representing more than 200 PhD- or research-focused computing departments in North America, eight leading industrial computing research labs, and six affiliated professional societies in the computing fields with a combined membership of over 200,000, we strongly oppose any efforts to limit or end the OPT program, which plays an important role in keeping some of the world’s best talent in the U.S., working and innovating in the U.S. economy.
The argument given for ending the program now — prioritizing U.S. workers over foreign talent given the overall high levels of unemployment in the economy — does not make sense when applied to the computing fields. In January 2020, prior to the impact of the COVID pandemic, unemployment in the computing fields was at 3.0 percent, a figure generally considered “full employment.” By April 2020, when the impacts of the pandemic forced overall unemployment up to 15 percent, unemployment in the computing fields actually dropped to 2.8 percent, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey data by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP). An analysis by NFAP of Active Job Postings in Computing Occupations amplifies this point, noting that between April 14 and May 13, 2020, there were more than 625,000 active vacancies in jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree in computing. The OPT program is not harming U.S. computing workers, and importantly, jobs in computing cannot be filled by workers transitioning from non-technical fields without significant retraining that can span multiple years.
Suspending or curtailing the OPT program would destroy a key pathway for many of our best foreign students to contribute to U.S. innovation. Indeed, our innovation ecosystem — that extraordinarily productive interplay between U.S. research universities, industrial and federal research labs, and the people and ideas that flow between them — depends on a great majority of those foreign-born degree recipients deciding to stay and continue their work in the U.S. According to the National Science Foundation, 72 percent of foreign born STEM graduates stay employed in the U.S. for at least 10 years after graduation. But, uncertainty around the status of the OPT program threatens to upend that trend. Foreign students attending our schools now and intending to use the program to complete their graduate education and help find more permanent employment in the U.S. are increasingly likely to seek employment elsewhere, either in their homeland or in countries more open to highly skilled foreign talent.
Ending or suspending OPT (and the associated Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program) would not only damage the current cohort of foreign graduate students studying in the U.S. and hoping to stay. The availability of the pathway that the OPT program provides is a huge incentive to the best foreign graduate students deciding whether or not to study in the U.S. Any uncertainty around the program, especially in light of uncertainty about the status of other aspects of U.S. immigration and visa policy, is likely to discourage many students from applying to U.S. institutions at all, providing a new advantage to economies in other parts of the world who will gladly welcome their talents.
We agree that Federal pandemic response efforts should be prioritized towards aiding U.S. workers and others in the U.S. affected by COVID. However, efforts to curtail or suspend the OPT program will not achieve that goal. Instead, those efforts will cause great harm to an innovation ecosystem that continues to be a crucial part of our recovery effort. We strongly oppose any effort to end the program.
CRA is not alone in opposing efforts to curb the program. The higher education and scientific community, led by organizations like the Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has weighed in with the White House, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of State opposing the rumored new rules. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a strong voice for U.S. industry in Washington also sent a strong opposition to the policy. And 21 Republican Members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf urging them ensure the OPT program continues this Fall. Those efforts appear to have had success in keeping the OPT programs and F-1 visas out of the June 22nd order.
But that sentiment is not shared by all Republican Members of Congress. Four Republican Senators — Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) — sent a letter to President Trump urging him to suspend the OPT program along with a number of other non-immigrant visa categories. Senators Cotton and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), along with Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) have pushed the matter even further with the introduction of bicameral legislation called the SECURE CAMPUS Act that would, in order to protect U.S. universities from “espionage,” bar “PRC nationals from receiving student or research visas to the United States for graduate or post-graduate studies in STEM fields.”
On June 18th, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a group of other bipartisan sponsors introduced S. 3997, the “Safeguarding American Innovation Act,” which also seeks to limit foreign exploitation – specifically Chinese exploitation – of the U.S. higher-education community. The bill places limitations of foreign educational and cultural exchanges, criminalizes failure to disclose foreign sources of funding for U.S. grant recipients, and creates a new intergovernmental “Federal Research Security Council” chaired by the White House Office of Management and Budget that would help create a uniform grant application process across all agencies and set guidance on how to determine what research is in the “economic or national security interest of the U.S.” and how to protect it. Though the bill does not have companion in the House – and would be unlikely to move as-is there in any case – there is sufficient bipartisan support for the bill in the Senate that it is possible that some of its provisions could find their way in other pieces of legislation that will move. CRA will continue to monitor progress.
While S. 3997 is unlikely to move in the House, and the SECURE CAMPUS Act is not likely to see much movement in either the House or the Senate, both demonstrate that there remains a cohort in Congress that does not understand or appreciate the significance of the intellectual contribution of foreign students and research to U.S.-based research enterprises. As an organization representing the computing research community, CRA will continue to make the case for the importance to the nation of attracting the best minds in the world to our shores, and the importance of maintaining a free and open fundamental research enterprise. We will continue to track these bills and others like them that threaten to distort or damage that fundamental research ecosystem, which has been the driver of so much of the innovation that has helped ensure U.S. competitiveness and its world-leading position in computing. Keep an eye on CRA’s Computing Research Policy Blog or on CRA’s Twitter (@CRATweets) for continuing updates!
Today the United States Senate unanimously confirmed Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan as the next Director of the National Science Foundation. Nominated in December by the President to succeed France Córdova, Dr. Panchanathan’s nomination was possibly delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing social distancing disruptions to Congress’ operations. However, his nomination sailed through the Senate HELP Committee on June 3rd and quickly moved to the full Senate for today’s vote.
“Panch” is well-known and well-respected in the computing research community. He now joins Erich Bloch as only the second Director in NSF’s history hailing from the computing community. Joining Margaret Martonosi, the new (as of February 1st) head of NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, the computing research community is now well-represented in an agency important to the field, as NSF supports approximately 85 percent of all fundamental computing research performed at U.S. universities (nearly $1.4 billion annually).
CRA is excited about Dr. Panchanathan’s leadership at NSF and we look forward to working with him and his team to advance the nation’s computing and information technology research.
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