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.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2019, Jesse Anderson.]
On Wednesday, June 12 the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee convened a hearing, titled Combating Sexual Harassment in Science, to explore what the federal research agencies are, and are not, doing to confront sexual and gender harassment in the Federal research community. The committee received important insights regarding the measures that have been implemented across different Federal agencies and research fields. Though the committee agreed that the agencies need to do more to confront this issue, there was not a consensus on specific policies Congress wants to see.
Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), in her opening statement, outlined many issues that panelists later discussed; specifically, that the reporting process is often convoluted for victims, that addressing the prevalence of sexual harassment in the STEM field is “a moral issue,” and how investing in the brightest minds in the field is vital to advancing STEM research. Johnson noted that the country’s investment in research “needs to draw on all of our nation’s talent to return the best possible science for the benefit of society,” which is less likely to occur in the absence of a safe work environment. Johnson pointed out that it is easier and more fiscally advantageous for institutions to “allow a bad actor to quietly resign and often move on to another institution.” This culture contributes to the fact that a mere 6 percent of graduate students and faculty who are sexually harassed formally report their experience to their institution.
Ranking Member Congressman Frank Lucas (R-OK), echoing the chairwoman, stressed the economic and social costs of the problem of sexual harassment in the research community, saying that, “engaging more women in STEM studies and careers is essential to America’s competitiveness.” The primary factor driving women away from computing research fields, according to expert opinion highlighted by Lucas in his testimony, was the “culture in science.”
The committee heard testimony from John Neumann, the Managing Director of Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics in the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Paula A. Johnson, the President of Wellesley College; Jean Morrison, the Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Boston University; and Philip H. Kass, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and a Professor of Analytic Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis. The witnesses provided insights into what Congress can do to bolster efforts against sexual assault in scientific research fields. During the hearing, the Representatives on both sides of the aisle agreed that harassment and gender discrimination cannot be tolerated within the Federal science research enterprise and that research granting agencies need to do more. However, what specific actions need to be taken by the agencies was not discussed.
The panelists called attention to inconsistencies in the way in which different agencies handled sexual assault cases, which can leave survivors confused and unclear of what options are available for accountability. Newman – who specializes in overseeing federal research and development programs – noted that these discrepancies in reporting and policies mean that agencies, “rarely learn about instances of sexual harassment from voluntary reporting from universities or other federal agencies and instead rely on other sources such as news reports.” Newman argued that it’s incumbent on these agencies to enforce Title IX standards at universities due to the fact that they provide billions of dollars in research grants annually. Paula Johnson, who testified in her capacity as a co-chair for the National Academies report “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,” echoed Newman’s sentiments, arguing that federal research agencies need to see the issue of sexual and gender harassment in science fields as a public health concern. In addition to the potential for women to leave the field due to sustained harassment, Johnson argued that, “progress in closing the gender gap in science, engineering, and medicine is jeopardized by the persistence of sexual harassment in these fields…women are often bullied or harassed out of career pathways.” Johnson argued that this problem necessitates system-wide changes.
Morrison, of Boston University, stressed the university’s commitment to fundamentally changing the “tough, unforgiving, and unwelcoming workplace,” that many STEM fields have adopted. She too advocated for the implementation of “one clear set of rules at the federal level,” in conjunction with data-driven research into the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. Morrison highlighted many measures that have proven successful for curtailing rates of sexual harassment on campus, such as a mandatory online sexual misconduct prevention training for over 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students and 11,000 faculty and staff. Kass, from UC Davis, highlighted a similar pilot program that has functioned as “a pre-screening deterrent,” which has resulted in “14 candidates requiring reference checks, 23 academic institutions contacted, 19 responses received, and zero instances where discipline was provided.” This pilot program has allowed UC Davis to identify those whose, “behavior is inconsistent with the university’s faculty code of conduct and principles of community.” Both Kass and Morrison lauded the recommendations present in the bill, as they included many core elements featured in successful programs at their respective universities.
As highlighted by Dr. Johnson during her testimony, “if half of us are held back, we squander potential.” Judging by the questions from the members of the Science Committee, Congress agrees with this viewpoint. The general consensus during the hearing was the need to strengthen efforts at the Federal research agencies to challenge the culture of sexual harassment in the their fields. The issue of sexual and gender harassment in the sciences is likely to receive more attention from Congress going forward; CRA will continue to follow this and will report back with new developments.
UPDATE: On June 20th, the House Science Committee marked up H.R. 36 and passed it unanimously. The legislation will now move to the full House for consideration; it will likely pass the full chamber, though it’s unclear when that will happen.
Congress has begun the yearly appropriations process, divvying up tax-payer dollars to the assorted federal agencies. As is the norm, the House Appropriations Committee has begun its work first. The 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. And there is good news: increases all around!
First, the National Science Foundation is the big winner, with a 6.9 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) funding. NSF would get $8.64 billion for FY20, with an increase of $560 million over last year. Getting into the details, the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive an 8.9 percent increase, increasing from $6.52 billion in FY19 to $7.10 billion for FY20. As well, the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would see a relatively modest increase of 4.4 percent, going from $910 million in FY19 to $950 million in FY20. If this bill were to become law, NSF would see significant growth for the first time in a decade.
|FY18||FY19||FY20 House||$ Change||% Change|
While not making out as well as NSF, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) does get a healthy budget. The agency would see an increase of 5.5 percent, going from $986 million in FY19 to $1.04 billion in FY20. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see an increase for FY20; $751 million for FY20, which is $26 million more (3.6 percent) than it received for FY19.
|FY18||FY19||FY20 House||$ Change||% Change|
Finally, NASA funding included in the bill would exceed last year’s by 3.8 percent, increasing from $21.5 billion in FY19 to $22.32 billion in FY20. The NASA Science account would also see a 3.6 percent increase, from $6.91 billion up to $7.16 billion for FY20.
|FY18||FY19||FY20 House||$ Change||% Change|
How likely is it that these numbers will be passed into law? Unlikely. Given that the Administration released a budget with steep cuts, and has been confrontational with the Democratic led House on multiple topics, these numbers aren’t likely to be passed as is. These numbers are likely the best-case scenario for this year’s appropriations.
However, the Senate is not likely to be too far behind. Keep in mind that Congress has rejected the Administration’s budget requests for the last two years, and that was when Republicans controlled both chambers of the legislature. It’s likely that the Senate numbers, which should come out later in the summer, will at a minimum maintain the current level of effort. And a more modest increase would not be unexpected. So there is reason for optimism. But only time will tell what the final budget numbers will be; keep checking back for more updates.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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||-$1.09B||-16.4%|
As with NSF’s request, it is unlikely that Congress will take this proposal seriously. Also, like with NSF’s request, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know how and when DOE’s budget will be finalized. Expectations are that a continuing resolution is likely, as is a budget impasse (ie: a shut down). Please keep checking back for new information.
As we discussed last week, the Trump Administration is slowly rolling out their Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget request. What they released last week was only a high-level summary, which didn’t appear to be good for the federal research agencies, NSF in particular. However it lacked details, which are beginning to be revealed this week.
Unfortunately, those details for the National Science Foundation’s budget request don’t make the picture look better. The agency is slated to get a twelve percent cut overall, with that percentage fairly evenly split between Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for the research grants, and Education and Human Resources (EHR), which contains the agency’s education programs. R&RA would receive a 13.2 percent cut compared to FY19 final, while EHR would receive a 9.5 percent cut.
Going into the details of the request for R&RA, the cut is uneven among the assorted research directorates, but everyone gets hit hard. CISE, home to the computing and computer science research portfolio, would receive an 8.1 percent reduction compared to FY18 (a final number for CISE’s FY19 budget is not available). Such a large cut to CISE is unfortunate, especially when you consider that NSF funds 85 percent of all federally supported academic basic research in the computer science and related fields. But that’s on the relatively low side, with the Geo and MPS directorates getting larger cuts of 13.3 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively.
|FY18||FY19||FY20 PBR||$ Change||% Change|
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 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!
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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