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.

Have an Impact on U.S. Science Policy, Attend CRA’s CCC Leadership in Science Policy Institute!


Every two years as part of it’s mission to develop the next generation of leaders in the computing research community, CRA’s Computing Community Consortium, in partnership with CRA’s Government Affairs Committee, holds the Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI) workshop, intended to educate computing researchers on how science policy in the U.S. is formulated and how our government works. We’re seeking nominations for participants for this year’s workshop, scheduled for November 21-22, 2019, in Washington DC.

LiSPI features presentations and discussions with science policy experts, current and former Hill staff, and relevant agency and Administration personnel about the mechanics of the legislative process, interacting with agencies, advisory committees, and the federal case for computing. In this fifth iteration of the workshop, participants will hear from experts in policy from AAAS, CRA, Federal Science Partners, current and former White House and federal agency personnel, and members of the computing research community who have served in roles across the government — including in non-science agencies. They’ll discuss how the policymaking process really works — how initiatives come to be, how priorities get set, and how members of the community can best engage and help shape the process.

LiSPI participants are expected to:

  • Complete a reading assignment and short written homework prior to attending the workshop, so that the time spent at the workshop can focus on more advanced content,
  • Attend the November 21-22, 2019, workshop, which includes breakfast both days, lunch, and a reception with the speakers and invited guests at the conclusion of the first day, and
  • Complete an assignment afterwards that puts to use the workshop content on a policy problem that has a significant projection onto computing and information.

LiSPI is not intended for individuals who wish to undertake research on science policy, become science policy fellows, or take permanent positions in Washington, DC. Rather, we are trying to reach work-a-day academics who appreciate that our field must be engaged in helping government. LiSPI Alumni have gone on to testify before Congress, appear at Congressional briefings, take seats on Federal advisory committees, provide input on legislation, and serve on the CCC Council and CRA Board.

The CCC will provide funds for hotel accommodations for two nights of local expenses (hotel, meals) for the November 21-22nd workshop. Nominees are expected to pay their own travel expenses, though there will be a limited fund available for participants who cannot attend unless their travel is provided.

Eligibility and Nomination Process

LiSPI participants are expected to have the experience and flexibility in their current positions to engage with government. Participants should be adept at communicating. They must be nominated by their chair or department head and must have demonstrated an interest in science policy, especially as it relations to computing.

Specifically, the nomination process is:

  • A chair or department head proposes a LiSPI candidate by visiting the nomination page and providing the name and institution of the nominee, along with a letter of recommendation.
  • The candidate will then be contacted by the workshop organizers and asked to submit a CV, a short essay detailing their interests in science policy, and an indication of whether they would require financial aid to attend.

All nominations must be received by JUNE 14, 2019.

Selection Process

The LiSPI Selection Committee will evaluate each nomination based on record of accomplishment, proven ability to communicate, and promise. Selections will be announced by July 19, 2019. We plan to open the workshop to 35 participants.

Please discuss this opportunity with your colleagues, identify those you believe would be interested in participating, and submit nominations!

-Workshop Organizers –

Fred B. Schneider, Cornell University

Peter Harsha, Computing Research Association

 

“Second Place America?” Major Report Detailing the Nation’s Declining Leadership in Research and Technology Released at Capitol Hill Event


An audience of Congressional staffers and science policy professionals listen as Tobin Smith, Association of American Universities, discusses the findings of the Benchmarks report.

On Tuesday May 14th, the Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), an alliance of leading American companies and business associations, research university associations, and scientific societies, released a major report assessing the United States’ investment in science and engineering research. The report, titled “Benchmarks 2019: Second Place America? Increasing Challenges to U.S. Scientific Leadership,” is the fourth such “benchmarking” report that TFAI has released since it’s founding in 2004. The report found that the trends found in the original Benchmarks report in 2005, and the two subsequent follow-up reports, persist and the U.S. continues to lose ground to other nations in investments in science, technology, and talent.

Nadya Bliss, of the Global Security Initiative at ASU, brought a researcher’s perspective to the panel discussion.

In order to assess the country’s standing against competitor nations, the report is broken into five distinct categories of benchmarks: R&D investments, knowledge creation (such as scientific publications and patents), education, workforce, and several high-tech sectors. In all the categories, signs point to the U.S. losing it’s competitive edge, as China and other countries rapidly increase investments in research and workforce development in order to assume positions of global leadership. The report makes clear that the U.S. needs to capitalize on its tremendous assets and make technological pre-eminence a national priority. This can be achieved through a national strategy that includes increased funding for scientific research and human capital development, and targeted investments in new programs to grow, attract, and retain domestic and international STEM talent.

Eric Fanning, Aerospace Industries Association, speaks about the impact on industry.

The report was released at an event on Capitol Hill in the Rayburn House Office Building, with honorary co-hosts Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, respectively.

David Isaacs, Semiconductor Industry Association (podium) moderated the panel discussion at the release of the TFAI Benchmarks Report.

The majority of the event was devoted to a panel discussion of the report’s findings by key industry and scientific leaders. The panelists included Eric Fanning, former Secretary of the Army and current President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association; John Neuffer, President and CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association; Michael McQuade, Vice President for Research at Carnegie Mellon University; and Nadya Bliss, Director of the Global Security Initiative at Arizona State University. These speakers represent the three parts of the U.S. innovation ecosystem (industry, universities, and researchers), and they had a clear message: the nation needs a strong and sustained commitment to increasing federal investments in scientific research and human talent if the nation wants to maintain its global leadership role.

Tobin Smith (AAU), one of the co-chairs of the Benchmarks report, briefs the attendees on the report findings.

Tobin Smith, of the Association of American Universities, and one of the report co-chairs, said, “this is a wake-up call for policymakers in Washington. Maintaining a global lead in science is critical to American national security and economic interests. But this report clearly documents that the rest of the world is catching up very quickly.”

CRA played a key role in the development and release of this report. Dr. Bliss, who provided the researcher perspective at the Capitol Hill event, is a Computing Community Consortium Council member. Additionally, I served as the other co-chair of the report. CRA was among the first members to join TFAI in 2004, and had a major role in authoring the first Benchmarks report in 2005.

NSF Funded AI Powered Microscope Showcased at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition


On April 30th, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an alliance of over 140 professional organizations, universities, and businesses, held their 25th Annual Capitol Hill Exhibition. CNSF supports the goal of increasing the federal investment in the National Science Foundation’s research and education programs, and the exhibition itself is a great way to show members of Congress and their staff what research the American people have funded.

Vito Pastore of IBM Research demonstrates his AI powered microscope to an attendee at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition.

This year the Computing Research Association, a member of CNSF, sponsored Vito Pastore, a postdoctoral researcher ay IBM Research, who works in Simone Bianco’s Cellular Engineering team in collaboration with Thomas Zimmerman. Dr. Pastore demonstrated a low cost microscope which, when used with an artificial intelligence program he created, can identify and monitor plankton, in real time, in water samples. The overall research effort is attempting to see if it’s possible to use plankton as a biosensor to monitor the health of waterways and other water systems. With a cheap, easy to use microscope, combined with the AI program, it would be possible for easy checking of water samples by almost anyone.

Vito Pastore of IBM Research demonstrates his AI powered microscope to an attendee at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition.

This work received support from the Directorate of Biological sciences at NSF. Dr. Pastore’s presentation was well received by the attendees of the exhibition, fielding questions from Congressional staffers, NSF Program Officers, and other attendees of the exhibition.

Vito Pastore of IBM Research demonstrates his AI powered microscope to an attendee at the 2019 CNSF Exhibition.

A number of other organizations had displays and were demonstrating NSF funded research at the event. From the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation’s, “Breaking New Ground: Computational Science at the Forefront of Discovery;” to the American Mathematical Society’s, “Power Domination: How Zero Forcing is Used to Monitor an Electric Power Grid;” to the University of California’s, “Advancing Propulsion and Energy Technologies Using Laser-Based Sensors;” the exhibition was a great display of the different types of research being supported by NSF.

Department of Energy FY 2020 Request: It’s Pretty Bad; You Might Want to Look Away…


Continuing our series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget request, we now go to the Department of Energy (DOE). As bad as the NSF budget request is, DOE’s is much worse.

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, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

For SC, the President’s FY20 request of $5.55 billion is a cut of 15.8 percent compared to the FY19 enacted level of $6.59 billion. While that is pretty horrible, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which is within the Office of Science, and where most of the computing research at the agency is located, would receive a significantly lower cut; the program would be funded at $921 million, a decrease of $14 million or 1.6 percent. This is primarily because many of the priorities of the Administration, such as exascale computing, artificial intelligence, and quantum information science, sit within ASCR. For comparison, the Bio and Fusion programs would receive cuts of 29.9 and 28.6 percent, respectively (page 42 in the linked pdf).

As for ARPA-E, it would once again be zeroed out, as it was in the President’s budget request last year. Despite last year’s request, Congress maintained ARPA-E funding, actually providing an increase of 4 percent in FY19.

FY18 FY19 FY20 PBR $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $6.26B $6.59B $5.50B -$1.09B -16.4%
ASCR $810M $936M $921M -$15M -1.7%
ARPA-E $335M $366M $0 -$366M -100%

As with NSF’s request, it is unlikely that Congress will take this proposal seriously. Also, like with NSF’s request, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know how and when DOE’s budget will be finalized. Expectations are that a continuing resolution is likely, as is a budget impasse (ie: a shut down). Please keep checking back for new information.

NSF FY2020 Request: It is Not Good


As we discussed last week, the Trump Administration is slowly rolling out their Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget request. What they released last week was only a high-level summary, which didn’t appear to be good for the federal research agencies, NSF in particular. However it lacked details, which are beginning to be revealed this week.

Unfortunately, those details for the National Science Foundation’s budget request don’t make the picture look better. The agency is slated to get a twelve percent cut overall, with that percentage fairly evenly split between Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for the research grants, and Education and Human Resources (EHR), which contains the agency’s education programs. R&RA would receive a 13.2 percent cut compared to FY19 final, while EHR would receive a 9.5 percent cut.

Going into the details of the request for R&RA, the cut is uneven among the assorted research directorates, but everyone gets hit hard. CISE, home to the computing and computer science research portfolio, would receive an 8.1 percent reduction compared to FY18 (a final number for CISE’s FY19 budget is not available). Such a large cut to CISE is unfortunate, especially when you consider that NSF funds 85 percent of all federally supported academic basic research in the computer science and related fields. But that’s on the relatively low side, with the Geo and MPS directorates getting larger cuts of 13.3 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively.

FY18 FY19 FY20 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $7.77B $8.08B $7.10B -$980M 12.1%
R&RA $6.30B $6.52B $6.55B -$860M -13.2%
EHR $902M $910M $824 -$86M -9.5%
CISE $961M $833M

What’s next? The good news is this request now heads to Congress, where it will likely be ignored (especially by the Democratic controlled House of Representatives), as previous requests from this Administration have been. However, that’s where the good news ends. Many of the budget impasses that caused the government shut down in December and January have not gone away. The expectation among the science policy community in Washington is that a continuing resolution is likely, if not another government shut down (which is still unlikely but not beyond the realm of possibilities). Please keep checking back for more details.

President’s Budget Request for Science in FY2020 – First Look (Ugh)


Cover of President Trump's Budget Request for FY 2020President Trump released an overview of his FY 2020 Budget Request and it contains deep requested cuts to some key Federal science agencies. The budget overall calls for a nearly 5 percent reduction in non-defense discretionary spending in FY 2020 compared to FY 2019, but that includes additional funding for disaster relief. Without the disaster relief funding, Federal agencies would absorb a 9 percent cut on average.

While we don’t yet have full details of the President’s request — agency-specific requests are due on March 18th — the overview document does provide some information. The National Science Foundation would see a decrease in funding of nearly a billion dollars in the President’s plan, to $7.1 billion overall in FY 2020. That’s a 12 percent decrease from the FY 2019 enacted level of $8.08 billion.

The request is even worse for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The request provides $5.5 billion for the office in FY 2020, a decrease of nearly $1.1 billion compared to the FY 2019 enacted number, or a 16.4 percent reduction. Within that budget, the request does provide $500 million for Exascale computing, $169 million for Quantum Information Science, and $71 million for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

The request also calls for cuts of $500 million at NASA and provides $668 million to NIST — though it’s not clear if that’s for total NIST funding ($998 million in FY 2019) or just for research at NIST Labs ($725 million in FY 2019). Either would represent a cut.

Fortunately, President Trump’s budget requests haven’t been great barometers for how funding for the agencies will ultimately end up. Congress has mostly ignored the President’s requested funding levels and has generally rejected his proposed reorganizations of programs or agencies in the Federal science budget. Maybe what’s more useful to note are the priorities called out in the budget, which include a number relevant to the computing research community: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Quantum Science, Exascale, Advanced Manufacturing and 5G. While Congress may not share the President’s vision for agency funding levels, there’s general agreement about those areas of focus.

As noted, the agencies will release their detailed budget requests next Monday, so we should get a much better sense of how they’re prioritizing these funding levels. When we get them, we’ll share them here!

Final FY2019 Appropriations Wrap-up – Science does OK.


There were unfinished funding bills, there was an impasse over a wall, there was a 35-day government shutdown, there was a 3 week interregnum when government reopened and leaders sought to find a way ahead, and then there was final passage and resolution of the FY 2019 appropriations process — one that ended on a reasonably positive note for Federal science agencies.

We received that resolution back on February 15th with the passage of an omnibus appropriations bills that wrapped up all the unfinished business of the appropriations process and provided us with a look at the final numbers for Federal investments in fundamental research. So how did agencies of particular importance to the computing research community do? In a couple words: pretty ok. Most saw modest increases over FY 2018 funding levels, and those that didn’t still saw funding levels well in excess of the levels requested by President Trump.

Select S&T Agencies and Programs in the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request: Estimated percentage change from FY 2018 enacted omnibus, nominal dollars. (Source: AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program)

Before diving into the details, it’s worth remembering where the President hoped this process would end up. This chart, stolen from the excellent resources available at the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy program, provides an overall view of the first draft of the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request compared with FY 2018 enacted levels for science agencies and programs. Though there are some caveats to the numbers shown, and they were amended in an addendum, but in general I think it’s fair to say there’s not a lot of growth pictured.

The big takeaway from the final FY 2019 appropriations is Congress’ rejection of the President’s de-prioritization of overall Federal science budgets. Where the President sought to cut science funding almost across the board and reorganize some science agencies and programs, Congress instead funded increases almost across the board and largely rejected the reorganizations.

Here are details for some key agencies and programs:

National Science Foundation

Appropriators provided an increase of 4.0 percent to NSF compared to FY18, taking NSF’s budget above $8 billion for the first time. This funding level represents an increase of 8.1 percent over the President’s requested level for FY19. Included in that figure is an increase of 2.9 percent, or $186 million, for the Research and Related Activities account, the home for NSF’s research directorates, including the Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate. That’s also 6.0 percent more than the President had requested. Some key language from the reports accompanying the House and Senate versions of the final bill include specific reference to the importance of “[preserving] U.S. leadership in quantum computing”, urging NSF to “make significant investments in this area,” along with a requirement that future budget requests would include a “well-funded budget line” that supports “world-class leadership computing for the national open science community.”

NSF’s Education and Human Resources account receives $910 million in the omnibus, an increase of 0.9 percent compared to FY18 and 4.2 percent more than the FY19 request. And the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would grow 61.7 percent vs. FY18 to $296 million, as appropriators included funded for 3 regional class research vessels, 2 telescopes (LSST, DKIST) and moved funding for Antarctic Modernization into the account from its previous home in R&RA.

Department of Energy Office of Science

DOE’s Office of Science will see an additional $390 million in FY19 compared to FY18, growing to $6.6 billion — a 5 percent increase. Included in that increase is a $126 million increase (15 percent) to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, primarily to support the continuing effort to deploy two new exascale-class computing systems in FY 21 and FY 22. The increase also includes a new $13 million for the SciDAC partnerships to allow ASCR and the other science programs within Office of Science to focus on progress in Artificial Intelligence and big data. ARPA-E, targeted for elimination in the President’s budget request, will actually see a 4 percent increase to $366 million.

Department of Defense Science and Technology

Basic research (“6.1” in DOD parlance) increases by nearly 12 percent across the Department of Defense, up $280 million to $2.62 billion. That’s a considerable improvement over the increase of 2.9 percent in FY 2018. Applied research (6.2) will grow $390 million, 7.7 percent, to $6 billion, and Advanced Technology Development (6.3) grows 8 percent to $7.4 billion. DARPA, the only “winner” on the President’s Request chart above, will receive about what the President requested — $3.4 billion, up $360 million, or 11.7 percent (the President requested 12 percent), compared to FY18.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The NASA budget grows 3.5 percent to $21.5 billion in FY 2019. Included in that is a big increase for NASA’s Science programs, which would grow 11 percent to $6.9 billion. The increase primarily boosts NASA’s planetary science efforts, but it also rejects cuts the President proposed to earth science research at the agency (holding them mostly at FY18 levels).

National Institutes of Health

NIH will grow by $2.7 billion, or 5 percent, to $39.8 billion. Of particular interest to the computing research community is the rejection of the President’s plan to consolidate 3 agencies (the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)) into NIH. NIDILRR in particular supports some efforts in computing research and engineering aimed at developing solutions for the disabled that researchers were concerned might not be well-suited within a more science-oriented NIH. CRA helped put together a coalition of universities and programs that might be affected by the change and sent letters to the appropriators urging against it. The appropriators agreed and rejected the reorganization.

NIST Labs

The home to most of NIST’s research efforts will receive the same funding amount they received in FY 2018, $725 million. The President proposed cutting the lab budget by 20.9 percent in his FY 19 request.

Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology

DHS S&T is one of the only negative outcomes in the FY 19 appropriations omnibus, receiving a $21 million or -2.5 percent cut vs. FY 18. Yet that level is still $237 million above the President’s request for the directorate. Of note to the computing research community, a proposal in the President’s budget to move the Cyber Security R&D program from the S&T Directorate to a more operationally-focused National Protection and Programs Directorate was also rejected, keeping the research program within the research-oriented directorate.

So, in sum, a pretty ok year for Federal science funding and computing research.

The Road Ahead

In addition to giving agencies certainty about how much they can spend this fiscal year, having completed appropriations bills means we ought to be free of most of our worries about further government shutdowns, at least through the end of the FY 2019 fiscal year on September 30th. However, the Federal debt limit — suspended back in 2018 as part of a bipartisan budget agreement — was reinstated on March 2nd, which means the U.S. Treasury has to use “extraordinary measures” to manage Federal expenditures until a new debt limit can be passed. The current estimate is that an increase to the debt limit will need to be enacted by mid August or so, or the U.S. will risk defaulting on some of its debt. This is a long way of saying that we risk yet another budget crisis in August if congressional leaders and the President can’t agree on a new limit. While neither party in particular has an appetite for yet another disruption, debt limit extensions are often occasions to use as leverage for policy concessions on other issues. The Democratic House or Republican Senate may use the crisis to advance progress on their particular priorities.

We’re also keeping watch for the President’s FY 2020 Budget Request, which was due the first Monday in February, but has been delayed due to the government shutdown. We expect that March 18th is the likely release date. We’ll have full details on the President’s request when it appears. It’s unlikely to be markedly different than Trump’s previous budgets overall. We’re hearing that the agencies were asked to plan for a scenario that necessitated 5 percent cuts to agency budgets across the board. But we also expect to hear more priority placed on Quantum Science, Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Manufacturing, and 5G.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the favorable budget increases science agencies received in FY 18 and FY 19 were made possible by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2018. That agreement relieved the budget caps that had been put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which infamously prescribed double-digit cuts to Federal discretionary spending in the form of automatic sequestrations through FY 2021. The BBA only covered FY18 and FY19, meaning for FY20, we’re back under the restricted budget caps imposed by the BCA…unless Congress again agrees to relieve the budget caps with another bipartisan budget agreement. They are hard at work on that now, and there’s some reason to believe they’ll succeed. Neither the Democrats or Republicans are huge fans of sequestration — the Republicans think the cuts fall too heavily on defense discretionary spending and the Democrats argue the same for non-defense discretionary spending. So it’s likely they’ll be able to cut a deal. However, this will be the first bipartisan agreement since the BCA between a Democratic House and Republican Senate, so the calculus is a little different.

But we’ll keep you informed!

White House Announces New Five-Year STEM Education Plan; Computing Featured Prominently


The Trump Administration announced today a new five-year plan for STEM Education. The strategic plan, named “Charting A Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education,” calls for building a strong foundation in STEM literacy in American students; increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM for historically underserved and underrepresented groups; and preparing students for the STEM workforce of the future. Strategic partnerships with industry and nongovernmental groups are planned to be a part of the initiative’s funding.

This plan is a government-wide strategy, which is built on four “pathways representing a cross-cutting set of approaches.” Those pathways are:

  • Develop and enrich strategic partnerships,” to focus on, “strengthening existing relationships and developing new connections between educational institutions, employers, and their communities.”
  • Engage Students where Disciplines Converge,” to make STEM education more meaningful for students by exposing them to real-world problems and figuring out solutions.
  • Build Computational Literacy,” to, “advance computational thinking as a critical skill for today’s world.”
  • And, “Operate with Transparency and Accountability,” which, “commits the Federal Government to open, evidence-based practices and decision-making in STEM programs, investments, and activities.”

As shown above, computational thinking and computer science are featured prominently in the report. The main aim for both is to build digital literacy, and by extension computational literacy, in students so that they can better bring these skills into their careers and lives for the benefit of the nation. As stated in the report, “this pathway includes strategies for connecting people, accessing knowledge, and building high demand job skills.”

The report calls on Federal agencies engaged in STEM education, such as NSF, to collaborate to, “develop a consolidated implementation plan,” and to track the progress of STEM programs that are underway. It calls for deliver of this implementation plan with 120 days. No new federal funding is proposed in the strategy, though one could assume that will be a subject for the implementation report. This is a good first step to implementing a Federal STEM education plan and it’s another good example of the increased visibility of the computer science education community.

What’s up with the budget? Well, it’s complicated.


When we last provided an update on the Fiscal Year 2019 Federal Budget, some sections had been passed into law, a large chunk of it was expected to move in a few days, and some key bills were anticipated to be left for after the mid-term elections. As it turns out, not all of that happened as expected.

The bills that were passed in September are still law. But the “large chunk,” which was an expected “minibus” of the Financial Services, Interior, Agriculture, and Transportation appropriations bills, didn’t move at the end of September as planned. There were an assortment of reasons why they stagnated but it sounds like most of those issues have been cleared up. But these bills are still waiting for Congress to send them to the President for his signature.

What is important are the bills that were anticipated to be taken up after the election. These are Homeland Security, Foreign Services, and, of most significance, Commerce, Justice, Science (or CJS). The CJS bill contains the research funding for NSF, NIST, and NASA. CJS is still being held up over concerns about the Mueller investigation, as well as disagreement about the enforcement of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies; so, nothing to do with research. Still, we’re caught up in larger political currents.

So, what happens now? This is where things get complicated. The current continuing resolution (CR) expires this Friday, December 7th; something has to be signed into law, either these bills or another CR, by then or the government will shut down. President Trump has sent mixed signals about his intentions. He has publicly said he wants $5 billion for border wall funding, and will not sign the outstanding funding bills if he doesn’t get it. Except, he has also repeatedly told Congressional Republicans, who don’t want a shut down, he will NOT shut the government down. To use a science metaphor: it’s Schrödinger’s budget right now, in that the government is both funded and not funded until reality collapses into whatever it’s going to be.

What’s our best guess? Given the disruption of President Bush’s funeral on Wednesday, a new CR is likely. The question is will it be for a week or two weeks. After that, it’s a good question about what happens. We have to wait and see; because, it’s complicated.

UPDATE: The House Majority Leader announced that votes for the week are cancelled and a two week continuing resolution will be passed by unanimous consent. That means the government will be funded through December 21st; that’s the new deadline.

Midterm Election Impact: Mixed Results for Science and Research


The long, long awaited 2018 Midterm elections have come and (mostly) gone. As you’ve probably heard, the Democrats have gained control of the House of Representatives, while the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate. But what does this mean for science here in Washington?

Details don’t look great, as a fairly large number of experienced, science champions were ousted from their seats by voters. A few examples:

  • Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) has been a key member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee since she entered Congress in 2014, holding the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology. She had also taken up the issue of sexual harassment in the scientific research fields as a key issue.
  • Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) has been advocating for science since he entered the legislature in 2010; longtime readers of the blog will recall that he co-sponsored the first “Deconstructing the iPad” event in 2011.
  • Perhaps the biggest loss is Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). He is chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, and Science, and has been a consistent champion of NASA and NSF (two agencies his subcommittee oversees). He has provided both with consistent funding levels through some very difficult budget seasons; his leadership will be difficult to replace.

There are other incumbents who we are waiting to hear final results. The biggest are probably Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a 30 year member of Congress and who was potentially slated to be the highest ranking Republican on the House Science Committee; and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee and has been a strong advocate for NASA. These races haven’t been called, as of the time of publication, but both are currently trailing their challengers.

On the plus side, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is expected to assume the chairmanship of the House Science Committee. A long serving member of Congress, and on the Science Committee specifically, Rep. Johnson is a big advocate for scientific research and STEM education. She released a statement outlining her agenda for the Committee in the next Congress and research is a big component.

Additionally, it looks like a relatively large number of people with science or engineering backgrounds have been elected to Congress. For example, Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who is a registered nurse and health policy expert, defeated Rep. Hultgren; in VA-02, the voters put into office Elaine Luria (D), who is a nuclear engineer; and in IL-06, voters elected Sean Casten (D), a biochemist. These are just a few examples; 314 Action is a good place to see who else with a science background was elected. The hope is these members-elect will be able to bring their science and engineering expertise to the policy table.

In the more immediate term, how does the election impact funding levels for science research? Regular readers will recall that the funding bill for NSF, NIST, and NASA has not been finished, and these agencies are on a continuing resolution until December 7th. It’s unclear what impact the election will have. President Trump is declaring the election a victory and will probably use this as a pretext to push for more border wall funding, which Democrats will oppose. On the other hand, Democrats, who can claim their own victory by seizing the House, may want to punt these budgets to next year when they are in a partial majority and have a stronger negotiating position. We’ll have to wait for things to play out more before we have a clearer idea of the outcome. Expect this uncertainty to last into December, possibly right up to the New Year.

And looking forward to next year, the outcome is even more unclear. Ultimately it will depend on how the President and the Republican Senate want to work with (or not work with) the Democratic House. If there is a sense that cooperation will serve everyone’s purposes, things could be good; if there’s a sense that conflict will serve best, things could get ugly quick. Keep in mind that the 2020 Presidential election is expected to begin today. Ultimately, science won’t be a defining issue, but it will be impacted by how the conflict between the House and President/Senate plays out.

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