Computing Research Policy Blog

The Computing Research Association (CRA) has been involved in shaping public policy of relevance to computing research for more than two decades. More recently the CRA Government Affairs program has enhanced its efforts to help the members of the computing research community contribute to the public debate knowledgeably and effectively.

What’s Happening With the Federal Budget: Upgrading Shutdown Watch to a Shutdown Warning


For anyone who pays attention to the happenings of official Washington, it’s been an eventful week, even though it is just Wednesday. The week started with Congress coming back from the Thanksgiving break with an overflowing plate of issues to handle; the most significant being the slow moving tax overhaul effort and a quickly expiring continuing resolution (CR), on December 8th, that is keeping the Federal Government funded and operating. CRA has weighed in — along with five of the other leading computing organizations — on a provision in the House tax reform effort that would increase taxes on graduate students in the U.S., but we’re also paying close attention to the Federal budget endgame.

That endgame has started roughly. To start the negotiating, a meeting was set up between the President and Republican and Democrat Congressional leaders on Tuesday. However, President Trump upended those plans by tweeting that morning that he didn’t see a deal as being possible. Not unpredictably, the Democratic leaders pulled out of the meeting, saying there wasn’t much point working with the President if no deal was possible, so they would only work with Congressional Republicans. While chaos didn’t ensue, a lot of frustration, on both sides of the political aisle was vented that carefully laid negotiating plans were up-ended by the President.

Why did this happen? Congressional Republicans are deeply split on Federal spending between defense hawks, who want significant increases to defense spending, and budget hawks, who want deep cuts to Federal spending to reduce the deficit. The inability of these groups to come to an agreement on budget priorities forces Republican leaders to rely on earning some Democratic votes to pass any budget. This gives Democrats not just a seat at the table but a good amount of leverage in what any final bill looks like. The flip side is that President Trump seems to see political advantage in playing hardball with Congressional Democrats, believing that he can successfully blame Democrats for any government shutdown that could ensue if an agreement isn’t reached. With that in mind, President Trump’s tweet could just be a negotiating tactic — which is how the White House is spinning it.

However, Democrats have their own political calculations. There is a very real possibility that Democrats could pay a high political price from their supporters by negotiating with President Trump and possibly giving up too much. They have their own demands – for example, they believe any funding bill must also address the fate of the Dreamers – individuals who came to the U.S. as children and were granted a level of amnesty from immigration violations under the DREAM Act. The President’s tweet suggests that he’s not willing to negotiate on the Dreamers, which inches us much closer to shutdown.

So, is a government shutdown a foregone conclusion? Not necessarily, as there is still time for deals to get made. But a shutdown is a very real possibility. This situation will have to play out more before any answer becomes clear. However, for now, borrowing an idea from weather forecasting, we’d upgrade this shutdown watch to a shutdown warning.

Appropriations Update: FY 18 House and Senate Numbers for Defense Research


In our continuing series looking at the House and Senate appropriations moves for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018), we turn to the Defense Appropriations bills. Just before the Thanksgiving break, the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee released their version of the bill; the House had passed their version back at the end of June. The Department of Defense’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 (DW) account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a section under the Defense Wide account.

It’s worth taking a step back and seeing what the President’s request for DOD S&T was back in May. As with other parts of the President Trump’s request for science accounts, it was not good for Defense Research. All three accounts, 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3, would have seen cuts, relative to what was passed in the Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus, under the President’s plan; DARPA would have seen a healthy increase. This is striking given how central increased defense spending is to the President’s overall message, both on the campaign trail and since he has come into office. Here are the actual numbers in the President’s Budget Request (PBR):

FY17 Enacted FY18 PBR $ Change % Change
6.1 Basic Research $2.28B $2.23B -$48M -2.1%
6.2 Applied Research $5.30B $4.97B -$323M -6.1%
6.3 Advanced Technology Development $6.44B $6.00B -$442M -6.9%
DARPA $2.89B $3.17B +$281M +9.7%

The House numbers are only slightly improved from what the President requested. Under the House’s plan, 6.1 would be effectively flat funded (+0.1 percent), while both 6.2 and 6.3 would see cuts (-1 percent and -2.5 percent, respectfully). DARPA again comes out the winner (+6.3 percent), but not as good as under the President’s plan. All of these are relative to the FY2017 enacted budget. Here are the specific numbers:

FY17 Enacted FY18 House $ Change % Change
6.1 Basic Research $2.276B $2.279B +$3M +0.1%
6.2 Applied Research $5.30B $5.24B -$60M -1.0%
6.3 Advanced Technology Development $6.44B $6.28B -$120M -2.5%
DARPA $2.89B $3.07B +$180M +6.3%

Turning to the Senate numbers, the situation doesn’t improve. This time it’s applied research that gets the slight increase (+0.8 percent), while both basic research and advanced technology development gets cuts (-0.8 percent and -1.4 percent); DARPA, again, gets a healthy increase but it’s the smallest of any of the three plans (+4.9 percent). These numbers are especially surprising given that the Senate has traditionally been the protector of defense basic research and has seen to it that the account stays at a healthy level. Here are the specifics:

FY17 Enacted FY18 Senate $ Change % Change
6.1 Basic Research $2.276B $2.259B -$17M -0.8%
6.2 Applied Research $5.30B $5.34B +$40M +0.8%
6.3 Advanced Technology Development $6.44B $6.35B -$99M -1.4%
DARPA $2.89B $3.03B +$104M +4.9%

It’s hard to understand where these numbers, from either chamber of Congress, are coming from. Defense spending is seen in a positive light, most especially on the Republican side of the aisle, and the Pentagon is expected to get a general increase in funding. Why this rising tide isn’t benefiting defense S&T isn’t clear. There’s still a chance that things can improve when the bills are reconciled in conference, especially if a deal is reached to increase the budget caps. However, it is a heavy lift when both chamber’s plans call for flat funding or cuts.

The Senate only marked up their bill in the subcommittee last week. It’s unlikely to progress beyond that in the Senate, as the continuing resolution (CR) that is keeping the Federal Government funded runs out on December 8th and a larger deal on funding is likely to be made (or not). The CR is likely to be extended to at least the week before Christmas, with no guarantee about when a final decision on Fiscal Year 2018 will be decided; we’ve already heard rumblings that it could be kicked to early next calendar year. The short answer is we have to wait to see how this plays out. Keep checking back for more updates.

Six Leading Computing Organizations Join to Oppose Provision in House Tax Bill that would Increase Taxes on Graduate Assistants


Today six leading organizations in computing — AAAI, ACM, CRA, IEEE-USA, SIAM, and USENIX — joined in issuing a statement opposing a provision in H.R. 1, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, that would increase taxes on graduate research and teaching assistants in the U.S.:

 

November 14, 2017

As six leading organizations in computing, representing more than 30,000 graduate students and departments in the computing fields in the U.S., we oppose provisions contained in H.R. 1, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which would discourage graduate careers in computing research and reduce available research funding at a time when our national competitiveness demands it most.

Current Internal Revenue Code (Section 117(b)(5)) allows colleges and universities to reduce the cost of graduate education for students working as teaching and research assistants by providing tuition waivers without having those waivers counted as taxable income for the student. Eliminating this provision, as proposed in H.R. 1, would dramatically increase the cost of graduate student education in computing, and likely discourage students from pursuing graduate degrees while effectively reducing funding available for research.

There has never been stronger demand for graduates in the computing fields. Encouraging students to continue their educations in U.S. graduate programs ensures that America’s fundamental research enterprise remains up to the task of producing the world’s best talent and driving innovation in computing — and across the economy — in this increasingly competitive world. Sharply increasing the tax burden on these students, who earn only a small fraction of what they could otherwise make in industry, will either have the effect of discouraging their pursuit of a graduate education or will require the use of already constrained research budgets to offset the tax costs. Both outcomes would cause harm to an extraordinarily productive computing research ecosystem that has made the U.S. the world leader in computing technologies.

Endorsed by:

Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) aaai.org

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) acm.org

Computing Research Association (CRA) cra.org

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE-USA) ieeeusa.org

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) siam.org

USENIX – The Advanced Computing Systems Association usenix.org

Make Computer Science a Priority within the Department of Education, CRA and Computing Community Tell Administration


Yesterday, CRA joined with many other members of the computing community in submitting a public comment on the recently issued proposed grant funding priorities at the Department of Education. In the comment, we argued that computer science education should be made a higher priority in the grant making process at the department and that expanding access to CS to traditionally underserved students should be a priority in itself (it is listed as a sub-priority in the department’s list). CRA’s full comment is below.

Regular readers will recall that at the end of September the Trump Administration announced it was directing the Department of Education to make computer science education a top priority of the department. In addition, the Presidential Memorandum also directed that at least $200 million in existing DOEd grants be set aside for CS education efforts.

Code.org, which has helped drive this issue for the computing education community, circulated their analysis of and disappointment with the department’s priorities, and had been encouraging the CS Education community to weigh in as well. (Here is Code.org’s public comment; the public comment period for these closed on Monday November 13th.)

The next step in the process is for the Department of Education to review the comments and determine their potential impact on their proposed rules. This is the complicated part of the process, as it’s not a simple binary of “yes, this takes effect” or “no, they do not.” The Education Department will need to determine if the submitted comments from the public raised substantial problems that need to be addressed, or if the rules are fine and can be implemented (or some middle ground). It’s worth noting that anyone could submit comments during this period (indeed, there were 1,444 comments submitted) and that these rules cover all the priorities at DOEd, not just those with regard to computer science and STEM. The CS community will have to wait and see what the department does next. We’ll update as the situation develops.

For a more detailed idea of the US regulatory process, here is a FAQ from the Federal Register.

CRA’s public statement:

As an organization representing the nation’s top industrial and academic computing research labs and departments, the Computing Research Association can attest to the critical importance of strong K-12 computer science education to the nation’s computing research enterprise. That ecosystem of computing researchers working in academic research departments, industrial R&D facilities, and Federal research labs is responsible for enabling the innovation that drives the U.S. economy, creating thousands of new businesses and millions of new jobs. Success in this 21st century economy will require U.S. students be able to think computationally regardless of employment sector, and ensuring that students have those skills and knowledge to succeed ought to be a priority for the nation.

We were pleased when President Trump announced his Administration’s commitment to invest $200 million per year to K-12 computer science efforts in recognition. However, we are disappointed with the relative lack of prominence and priority granted computer science education in the Secretary’s Proposed Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs (published October 12, 2017). We are concerned that a failure to make K-12 computer science education a priority within the Department of Education could be detrimental to the long term computer science research capacity in the nation and threaten our global leadership position in information technology.

Therefore, we ask that the Administration place greater emphasis on computer science by replacing references to “STEM including computer science…” with “STEM with a priority on computer science…”. Additionally, we ask that sub-priority 6(d) be added as either an absolute priority or competitive priority across competitive programs within the Department of Education when the Notices Inviting Applications for each competitive program are issued.

White House Announces $200 million in FY18 Funds for Computer Science Education Efforts


The White House today announced its intention to see $200 million in grant funding directed towards STEM and computer science education in FY 2018. The details are sparse at the moment, but in a memo signed today, President Trump directed the Department of Education to explore ways to add or increase computer science to existing K-12 and post-secondary education programs. The memo announces “a goal of devoting at least…$200 million each year in grant funding toward funding this priority,” Trump said at the announcement. Additionally, the new funding is expected to be bolstered by “substantial” contributions from the private sector, which are to be announced at an event tomorrow in Detroit.

“[T]oday represents a giant leap forward as we think about aligning the skills that are taught in the classroom with the skills that are in demand in the modern economy,” said Ivanka Trump, who is leading the effort on behalf of the President.

There are obvious comparison’s to the Obama Administration’s CS for All initiative announced in January 2016, which pledged $4 billion for CS education but didn’t see any of those funds appropriated by Congress. The Trump Administration is differentiating itself by directing the Department of Education to, “explore administrative action that will add or increase focus on computer science in existing K through 12 and post-secondary programs.” These administrative actions would not require additional legislative approval.

Code.org’s CEO and founder Hadi Partovi applauded the news, saying, “this funding will jumpstart efforts to ensure every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science as part of a well-rounded education.”

We will update this post as more details are announced by the Administration, including the all-important guidance from the Department of Education about how this grant program will work. We’ll also have information about the private sector contributions as they’re announced.

For now, this is a big step and a big win for the K-12 computer science education community and all of its advocates who have been working tirelessly on this issue for many years. It demonstrates even more clearly that recognition of the importance of computer science education stretches across partisan lines.

Update: The White House released the full memorandum to the Secretary of Education. As well, Code.org has announced that, “some of America’s largest companies joined together to pledge over $300 million for K-12 computer science programs.”

White House Provides Guidance for FY19 Agency Science Budgets


The White House yesterday released its annual guidance to agencies on priorities for R&D budgets. The memo, signed by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Deputy U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, outlines a set of priorities for Federal science agencies to consider as they put together their FY19 budgets:

+ American Military Superiority
+ American Security
+ American Prosperity
+ American Energy Dominance
+ American Health

The budget also outlines some priority practices for the agencies in order to “maximize impact of taxpayer dollars.” In particular, in bold text the memo states: “When considering new research programs, agencies should ensure that the proposed programs are based on sound science, do not duplicate existing R&D efforts, and have the potential to contribute to the public good. Agencies should also identify existing R&D programs that could progress more efficiently through private sector R&D, and consider their modification or elimination where Federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate. To the extent possible, quantitative metrics to evaluate R&D outcomes should be developed and utilized for all Federal R&D programs.”

The memo also notes that because early-stage research often involves greater uncertainty and may not provide the economic incentive needed to attract private sector investment, agencies should give more priority to funding basic and early-stage applied research that, “supplemented by private sector financing of later-stage R&D, can result in the development of transformative commercial products and services.” How the agencies are supposed to identify that high-payoff early-stage research isn’t specified.

The memo also describes the nation’s need for a future-focused workforce and calls on agencies to incorporate STEM education, “including computer science education” into their programs. Agencies should also give priority to policies and actions that place an emphasis on expanding the STEM workforce “to include all Americans, both urban and rural, and including women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

So, it’s a pretty typical set of priorities for a Republican administration. The memo is most useful to the agencies for understanding the filter through which they need to pitch their programs in FY19 to OMB. Computing research is clearly relevant to all of the named priorities. But the memo also makes clear that the era of increased scrutiny of science expenditures “in the national interest” persists, and that the expectation will be for leaner, more-efficient investments rather than broader, more robust investments.

Read it all here.

Appropriations Update: FY 18 House and Senate Numbers for DOE SC & ARPA-E


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.

Appropriations Update: FY 18 House and Senate Numbers for NSF


House Commerce Justice Science FY 2018 Appropriations Bill Cover PageWith today’s Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the FY 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, along with the House Appropriations Committee markup of their version of the bill 15 days ago, we now have a good insight into how the National Science Foundation might fare in the FY 2018 appropriations process (along with a few other key science agencies, which we’ll cover in later posts).

The good news first: both House and Senate appropriators roundly rejected the large cuts to NSF called for in the President’s budget request. President Trump’s budget requested cuts of $735 million to the agency in FY18, a 12 percent decrease from FY17, including a 10.3 percent decrease for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate. Fortunately, neither the House or Senate appropriations bill implements cuts on that scale.

The bad news is that neither bill would result in increases for the agency, either. The House treats NSF most “generously,” providing the agency with the same level of funding it received in FY 2017 (which is also the same it received in FY 2016). The rhetoric in the report accompanying the House version of the bill remains positive, suggesting the appropriators still believe in the importance of the investments in research:

The Committee believes that strategic investments in the physical science areas are vitally important for the United States to remain the global leader in innovation, productivity, economic growth, and good-paying jobs for the future.

However they argue there is just no room under the budget caps to provide additional funding (though there may be some reason for hope further in the process…more on that below).

Also noteworthy in the House report is that it doesn’t include directorate-by-directorate level funding recommendations, something that critics of NSF programs in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic sciences and climate research in the Geosciences — like House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) — had argued for to allow for the de-prioritization of investments there. The House appropriators did include language similar to language Smith had championed about NSF only supporting “research in the national interest,” however the examples of “national interest” delineated in the report appear broad enough to alleviate most concerns.

The House also didn’t offer any specific directives regarding NSF’s indirect cost rates on grants — an issue facing the National Institutes of Health after the President’s budget request capped NIH’s Facilities and Administrative(F&A) rate at just 10 percent on its grants, a development that has lead to widespread concern on the part of the university research community. Instead, the House appropriators directed NSF to respond to a report by the General Accountability Office on the trend of increasing indirect cost rates.

The Senate appropriators also largely ignored the President’s requested levels for NSF. Instead, they called for a 2 percent cut to the agency’s research and education accounts. Under the Senate plan, NSF would see a decrease of $161 million overall compared to FY17 (but $658 million more than the President requested). The Research and Related Activities account would see a decrease of $115 million vs FY17, and the Education and Human Resources Account would see a $17.6 million decrease.

Senate appropriators also called out the importance of Federal investments in research, but were ultimately hamstrung by a budget allocation even lower than their House counterparts — the consequence of Congress failing as yet to come up with a Congressional Budget Resolution. Because neither chamber has agreed on top-line amounts for defense and non-defense discretionary spending, the two appropriations committees are playing with two slightly different pots of money, with the Senate CJS appropriators allocated about $1 billion less than their House counterparts for all the spending in their bill.

Of note in the report accompanying the Senate bill is a callout to the importance of High-Performance Computing at NSF, directing NSF to “remain committed to developing systems that facilitate tremendous leaps in computational simulation and data analyses that enable a broad range of scientific research.” The committee also directed NSF to fund research in cybersecurity at no less than the FY 2017 rate.

The next step for both bills in theory is consideration on the floor of their respective chambers. However, it’s possible that neither bill gets finished before the end of the fiscal year and a compromise version gets worked out between the House and Senate and included in an omnibus appropriations package. What happens in that scenario is anyone’s guess. Key to the final funding numbers will be whether Congress reaches agreement on an overall spending number. Spending for FY 2018 is subject to the budget agreement spelled out in the Budget Control Act of 2011 — the Act that brought us the Sequester — and that spending level is objectionable to a majority of members of Congress. For those on the right, the BCA unduly limits defense spending. On the left, the concern is non-defense investments. An agreement to amend the BCA caps could result in increased limits to both defense and non-defense accounts. In that scenario, the appropriations chairs in both chambers have indicated that they’d place a priority on seeing NSF receive an increase. However, a failure to reach an agreement, or an agreement that only boosts defense spending at the expense of non-defense spending, could result in final numbers for NSF that are lower than either the current House or Senate plan.

As always, we’ll continue to monitor the process, and we’ll have lots of additional information on other key science agencies in the appropriations process in the days ahead.

This is a good opportunity to remind you that CRA’s next Congressional Fall Fly-In is September 12-13, 2017! This is a great opportunity for representatives of CRA’s member institutions to come to DC and help make the case for the importance of the Federal investment in computing research — and given the current state of appropriations, it will likely be well-timed. Join us (and sign up before Aug 4th to get the discounted hotel rate)!

House Science Committee Holds Hearing on Importance of CS Education for Preparing 21st Century Workforce


On Wednesday, the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology, held a hearing titled, “STEM and Computer Science Education: Preparing the 21st Century Workforce.” The hearing brought experts from the computer science community, representing industry, academia, and policy areas, to, “highlight the importance of STEM and computer science education to meeting a wide range of critical current and future workforce needs.” The hearing was also an attempt to highlight various initiatives happening around the country to, “educate and inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and computer science,” fields.

In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) pointed out that a, “STEM educated workforce is necessary for innovation and for ensuring U.S. economic strength, competitiveness, and national security. As demand for skilled STEM workers continues to grow, the U.S. must work to fill those employment needs, especially with the looming retirements of the baby-boomer generation.” To highlight that, the Chairwoman used as an example the critical need the country has for trained cybersecurity professionals. Chairman Lamar Smith, Chair of the full Science, Space, and Technology Committee, further drove home these points, in his own opening statement, saying that the country needs to, “capture and hold the desire of our nation’s youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers. More graduates with STEM degrees means more advanced technologies and a more robust economy. A well-educated and trained STEM workforce promotes our future economic prosperity.”

The Democrats on the committee were in full agreement with their colleagues. Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) said the country needs, “to work to ensure that all students no matter where they grow up, their background, their race, or their sex, have the opportunity to become educated in computer science and all STEM fields.” Echoing that statement, the full committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), stated, “computer scientists are creating innovative products and services that will affect all of our lives. These innovations cannot meet the needs of society if they are developed without insights from women and underrepresented minorities.”

The witnesses at the hearing represented the CS and the larger STEM community quite well. Representing the CS education community was Pat Yongpradit of Code.org. As well, there was Dee Mooney, executive director of the Mircon Technology Foundation, who provided an industry perspective. James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition (a group which CRA is a member), provided a more general STEM perspective for the hearing. And finally, A. Paul Alivisatos, Vice Chancellor for Research, and Professor of Chemistry and materials science & Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, provided a higher education viewpoint for the hearing.

The witnesses fielded many questions from the committee’s membership, with most being related to what is needed for preparing students to be ready for future jobs. Chairwoman Comstock asked Mr. Yongpradit how to navigate pushback from schools on new education mandates, such as incorporating CS into graduation requirements. His response was that school must be responsive to the society’s needs and that most schools understand that and are devoting resources when possible. There was also a question from Ranking Member Lipinski about what specific skills the witnesses were referring to that students would need to succeed in the future workforce. Mr. Brown used the example of an auto repair mechanic, who uses a computer interface to assess what the repair needs are of a car; referring to this as middle skill job, he pointed out that most people would not consider it a STEM job, or a one that requires STEM skills to perform. As well, there was discussion of an event that several members of the committee had attended earlier in the week by Girls Who Code, a group dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. Many of the committee’s members, including Chairwoman Comstock, spoke about how it demonstrated the efforts by the community to improve the representation of women in the field, as well as to inspire students to pursue STEM careers.

All in all, it was a highly informative hearing, with members of both parties taking an active interest. The Science Committee has certainly taken up STEM education preparedness, and computer science education specifically, as an issue of concern. That’s good news, and the CS community should expect this engagement and interest from the committee’s leadership to continue into the future.

CRA Welcomes Emily Tang as its 2017 Eben Tisdale Fellow


By Emily Tang, 2017 Eben Tisdale Fellow

Emily Tang, 2017 CRA Eben Tisdale Fellow

I’ve just finished my second year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I’m majoring in electrical engineering and computer science with additional focuses in linguistics and applied international studies. I’m currently figuring out whether I’d like to pursue studying education technology (in particular technology to assist bilingual learning), technology policy, or law.

Outside of classes, I’m heavily involved in student government as president of my dorm, New House, which encompasses nine smaller communities. As part of my duties, I sit as a voting member on additional student government bodies such as the Dormitory Council and the Undergraduate Association. In my position, I also serve as a bridge between the students of my dorm, and the MIT administration, a role that is more critical than ever as we undergoing displacement due to construction over the upcoming year. In my smaller community within New House, French House, I serve as social chair and help plan social events and study breaks. I’m also involved as a mentor in a teaching program that trains freshmen how to use laser cutters and 3D printers in an effort to increase student access of MakerSpaces around campus.

Outside of class, I like to read, cook, bake, and listen to or make music. I’m always keen to try new recipes, and enjoy exploring southern food and Chinese food, my two sources of comfort. I’m known for always having a steady supply of all sorts of tea and books, and always have a recommendation of either or both ready.

I’m excited to be working for the CRA this summer as a Tisdale fellow.

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