Computing Research Policy Blog
Last week the House of Representatives passed their version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Also known as the defense policy bill, this is yearly, must-pass legislation that covers policy and spending requirements at the Defense Department. The bill included a number of controversial amendments around social issues included to garner the support of harder line members of the House Republican caucus. The bill also includes an amendment creating an onerous new reporting requirement for anyone engaging in research with the DOD.
Proposed by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), the amendment would require any researcher (which is defined broadly and could include undergrads) taking part in DOD funded research to disclose, on a publicly accessible federal government website:
- their date and place of birth, nationality, and immigration status if a foreign national;
- education from undergrad onwards;
- professional and employment background;
- all research and publications (publications is defined very broadly and includes personal writings);
- professional society affiliations, both US and foreign; and
- past or current involvement in a foreign talent recruitment program.
PIs would have to disclose this information at the time of application and within 90 days of a new person coming onto the project. Additionally, each PI would yearly need to disclose, “any direct, indirect, formal, or informal collaboration that…either independently or as the lead of the covered program, [the PI] enters into with any third party persons or entities, including the identity and nationality of the third party collaborator, the nature of the collaboration (whether direct, indirect, formal or informal) and the terms and conditions of such collaboration.” Banks’ rationale for such heavy-handed rules is to respond to and stop the Chinese government’s attempts to exfiltrate the results of federally funded research. Beyond the data disclosure, there is no other obvious mechanism included to mitigate any potential research security risks.
Science Magazine covered the subject and quoted Alex Aiken, of Stanford University and Vice Chair of the CRA Government Affairs Committee. “Yes, research security is a real issue,” says Alex Aiken, “But this seems excessive. What purpose would it serve? And why should it all be made public?”
In addition to the burden, there are concerns that such a reporting requirement could give away information on the state of the federal defense research system. As Dr. Aiken said, “Public disclosure means foreign governments can use the information, too…And I’m sure those countries would learn a great deal about the network of connections of the U.S. research community from these disclosures.”
CRA is highly concerned about this language being included in the NDAA. Research security is a serious issue, and agencies like DOD and NSF have been working with the research community to identify ways to mitigate those risks without damaging the collaborative research ecosystem that has been so immensely productive for the nation. It’s not clear that language like this will strengthen those efforts — instead it appears to add a remarkably onerous burden on all researchers working on Defense problems without providing any mechanism for actually mitigating risks. CRA plans to work with our friends and allies, both in Congress and the policy community, to lay out the case that this language is likely to cause more harm than good to the nation’s defense research community.
The defense policy bill passed the full House of Representatives last week. We now will wait to see the Senate version of the NDAA; it is expected to be made public soon with an eye to passing through the chamber next week. While the Senate version is unlikely to contain similar language — and our understanding is that the DOD has also indicated it has issues with it as well — ultimately both chambers will have to agree upon the provisions that will end up in the final bill, and the Banks language will be a part of that negotiation. CRA will continue to track this matter and will report on any new developments.
Continuing our coverage of the Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) federal budget process, we turn to the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water bill. This bill contains the budgets for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC) and ARPA-E, as well as funding for the Exascale Computing R&D program, for which DOE is the lead federal agency. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee is recommending flat funding for the DOE SC research accounts.
Under the House’s plan, the Office of Science would be funded at the same amount it was funded in FY23: $8.10 billion. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would receive an overall cut of 4.7 percent – going from $1.07 billion in FY23 to $1.02 billion for FY24. Regular readers will recall that the President’s budget request from March recommended an 8.6 percent increase to the Office of Science and a 4.7 increase for ASCR.
There is some good news in the details for ASCR. Much of the decrease is from planned reductions in the exascale construction accounts. What has happened in past budgets is that the money that is moved out of those accounts, would then be shifted to the research side of the program. The House appropriators only did that in part this year, with about $10 million moved to the research subaccounts, while the remaining ~$50 million was placed elsewhere in the bill. From a research point of view, this would represent a slight increase.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. In the committee’s report, the House appropriators also zeroed out the budgets for the Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce (RENEW) and Funding for Accelerated, Inclusive Research (FAIR) programs, whose aims are to expand and diversifying the researcher workforce and institutions that DOE works with for the research they perform. No justification was given in the report beyond describing them as part of the Justice40 Initiatives, a priority of the Biden Administration. As well, during the full committee markup, an amendment from Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) was adopted on a party-line vote which would prohibit, “funding for any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office, training, or program,” at the Energy Department.
Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would also be flat funded, receiving $470 million for FY24, the same amount it received in FY23. No details were given in the committee’s report for ARPA-E’s budget.
|DOE SC Total
What’s going on here? With regard to funding levels, this is the House Republican Caucus moving forward with their agenda in line with the May Debt Limit Agreement. Their stated aim was to get federal spending under control, and this funding bill is working to that end. With regard to eliminating the DEI programs, this is likely both finding funds to put toward more favored projects, as well as political attacks on Administration priorities. Given the character of legislative work in the House, where it is a majority rules system, the House Republicans have the ability to push their agenda through the chamber.
The House Appropriations Committee approved their bill on June 22nd; next step is for it to go before the full House chamber for passage. Once the bill clears the House floor, we have to wait and see what happens with the Senate slate of funding bills. It is safe to say that the Senate Democrats will not agree with the House’s plans. In fact, they are likely to be far apart. That will set up its own difficult dynamic for closing out Fiscal Year 2024. A continuing resolution is an almost certainty right now, and a lapse in government spending (ie: a government shutdown) is looking very possible. But we are far enough from the end of the Federal fiscal year (October 1st) that outcomes could change. Please check back for more updates.
Following the Debit Limit Agreement that President Biden and House Speaker McCarthy (R-CA) signed at the end of May, the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2024 started up in earnest. That agreement, which set specific funding marks for defense and nondefense spending, is already appearing to break down, with the House Appropriations Committee saying that the agreed to spending “marks,” were actually “ceilings” that they could work under. In response, the Senate Appropriations Committee has said they will adhere to the funding strictures set in the agreement. This sets up a difficult dynamic where the House and Senate will likely have wildly different budget plans, making a final, compromise decision on FY24 spending very difficult, if not impossible. All the same, that disagreement has not stopped the process from moving forward in both chambers.
The House Appropriations Committee has taken the lead and begun its work to craft their spending plans and legislation. As we have done in years past, CRA will examine the House and Senate’s budget plans for each federal research agency of note to the computing community and provide a summary and breakdown. The first agency to check is the Department of Defense (DOD) and the House’s defense appropriations bill.
Taking a step back, DOD’s Science and Technology (DOD S&T) program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced technology development). These accounts are themselves made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide account. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a section under the Defense Wide account.
Regular readers will recall that the Administration’s requested budget for these accounts, released in March, was very bad. Unfortunately, the House appropriators’ plan, while better than what the Administration proposed, isn’t an objectively good budget. This situation has recurred several times over the last few years, with the House appropriators working from the Administration’s request but not from the agencies’ previous year’s budgets. While Congress has ultimately passed into law healthy budgets for defense research, given the previously mentioned budget agreement, general federal funds are likely to be hard to come by this year; so, where does that leave accounts like these?
Getting into the details of the House’s plan, Basic Research (6.1) would receive a significant cut of 13.4 percent compared to its FY23 levels. The account would decrease from $2.92 billion in FY23 to $2.53 billion for FY24, a reduction of $399 million. There is no good news in the details: the individual services all received cuts to their 6.1 programs (Army: -14.9 percent; Navy: -4.6 percent; Air Force: -3.8 percent; and Defense-wide: -20.2 percent). And, digging a little deeper into the details, none of the service’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts would see plus ups, only cuts.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is in much the same shape; objectively bad compared to last year’s budget but good compared to the Administration’s request. The full account would see a 13.7 percent cut compared to last year’s budget, decreasing from $7.80 billion in FY23 to $6.73 billion under the House’s plan (a loss of $1.07 billion).
Finally, the Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would also receive a cut under the House’s framework. It would go from $11.71 billion in FY23 to $9.33 billion in FY24, a cut of $1.57 billion (or -13.4 percent).
Finally, DARPA would not escape the bad budget numbers under the House’s plan. The agency’s budget would increase from $4.06 billion in FY23 to $4.12 billion in FY24, an increase of only 1.5 percent (or +$60 million). For all intents and purposes, the DARPA is flat funded. President Biden had recommended $4.39 billion for the research agency, which would have been an 8.1 percent increase.
As with the last several years, CRA and our colleagues in the research advocacy community will continue to make the case that support for these fundamental and applied research lines are critical to ensuring the Defense Department has the technology base it needs to meet the threats we face now and in the future. We will have to wait and see what the Senate’s plans are for defense research; hopefully they are better.
What happens next? The bill was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on June 22nd. It now heads to the full House for consideration, where it is likely to be passed. Then we will have to wait for the Senate to release their plan for the Defense department. The good news there is that the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to release their mark in regular order, something they have not done in several years. However, the general view in Washington is that the appropriations process will break down at the conference stage. That is because of the previously mentioned disagreement with overall funding levels; both chambers are working with different numbers, and they are far apart. This is looking to be a very long and difficult year for the Federal budget; please keep checking back for more updates.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2023, Fatima Morera Lohr.]
On Thursday, June 22 the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing on Artificial Intelligence: Advancing Innovation Towards the National Interest to discuss different ways the federal government can utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a, “trustworthy and beneficial manner for all Americans.” The committee heard from several witnesses from government, academia, and industry about the risks and benefits of the technology and, “how to promote innovation, establish proper standards, and build the domestic AI workforce.”
In his opening statement, Science Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) highlighted that, even though the United States is in the lead in AI research, the gap with other countries is narrowing. In particular, he called attention to a Stanford University report which, “ranked universities by the number of A.I. papers they published,” and, “found that nine of the top ten universities were based in China;” only one U.S. school was on the list, at number 10 (MIT). At the same time, Chairman Lucas made clear that advances in AI do not have to come at the expense of, “safety, security, fairness, or transparency.” At several points during the hearing, Lucas, other committee members, and the witnesses discussed “embedding our (ie: American) values in the technology will be key and have long last[ing] impacts.” Finally, Chairman Lucas talked about the national interest need to ensure the country has a, “robust innovation pipeline that supports fundamental research, all the way through to real-world applications,” and that, “the academic community, the private sector, and the open-source community,” need, “to help us figure out how to shape the future of this technology.”
Following the chairman’s remarks, Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) opening statement supported Lucas’ view that the federal government needs to, “strike a balance that allows for innovation and ensures the U.S. maintains leadership.” She continued that, “at a minimum, we need to be investing in the research and workforce to help us develop the tools we will need going forward.” Rep. Lofgren finished her opening statement by listing several challenges that she wanted to tackle in the hearing: intersection of AI and intellectual property, research infrastructure and workforce challenges, and what the Science Committee should focus on in this field.
The witnesses represented views from government, industry, and the academic research communities, and the panelists shared how each area is tackling their unique challenges with adapting and adopting AI. Dr. Jason Matheny, President and CEO of RAND Corporation, who has experience at OSTP and the National Security Council in the Obama Administration, provided a view on government actions. Dr. Shahin Farshchi, General Partner at Lux Capital gave an investor perspective from industry. Clement Delangue, Co-founder and CEO of Hugging Face, had a different industry outlook, being an entrepreneurial immigrant to the United States. Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, Responsible AI Fellow at Harvard University, presented the researcher’s perspective. Finally, Dr. Dewey Murdick, Executive Director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, provided a think tank view on the matter. They reiterated the need for the federal government to continue supporting research in AI in order for the country to continue being the world leaders, while simultaneously reaping the benefits and mitigating the risk of the technology.
All witnesses shared the view that the country needs to become more comfortable with the idea that AI is here to stay. There was also discussion about the positive impact technology can have for the country, when used correctly. Matheny spoke about the role the federal government can play in, “advanc[ing] AI in a beneficial and trustworthy manner for all Americans,” and outlined the different actions the federal government could take in order to make AI as trustworthy as possible. The need to provide researchers with resources was also a common theme, echoed by both Farshchi and Matheny, particularly if the U.S. wants to stay in front of China.
Delangue commented on the need for open systems since, “open systems foster democratic governance and increased access, especially to researchers, and can help to solve critical security concerns by enabling and empowering safety research.” He also commented on how not all the data is available even by open research organizations. On the other hand, Chowdhury spoke about the duality of AI, how it can be both useful and harmful; “while it has immense capability, like many other high-potential technologies, it can also be used for harm by both malicious and well-intentioned actors.” Murdick agreed with Chowdhury regarding the need to recognize both sides of technology, saying “we need to learn when to trust our AI teammates and when to question or ignore them.”
During the hearing, Chairman Lucas made the point that, “these advances do not have to come at the expense of safety, security, fairness, or transparency,” and that no one, including the nation as a whole, should have to compromise their values to reap the benefits of AI technology. This hearing is likely to be just one of many that the Science Committee will hold concerning artificial intelligence. And, at present, Congress is full of ideas, proposals, and legislative ideas on how to handle AI. Case in point, the day before the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) announced his “SAFE Innovation Framework” for potentially regulating the technology. This is far from the last word on the matter from Congress, so the computing research community will need to stay involved and be aware of matters. CRA will continue to monitor this issue and report on any new developments.
Last week the National Science Foundation released their long-anticipated guidelines covering their internal guidance for research security data-related practices. In their announcement, NSF said these, “guidelines are one of several NSF activities demonstrating that the principles of open science can align with research security standards.” The guidelines were released on the website of the Office of Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy (OCRSSP).
Research Security, defined by NSF as, “safeguarding of the U.S. enterprise against the misappropriation of research and development,” has become an issue of importance in government circles, particularly in Congress, over the past few years. Several parts of the Federal Government have taken steps to counter threats, and perceived threats, from foreign adversaries, with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran being the main countries of concern. There are several examples of these efforts, such as the Department of Justice now shuttered “China Initiative;” several pieces of legislation, such as the Chips and Science Act, passed by Congress directing Federal research agencies to develop policies and procedures to combat these threats; and in the closing days of the Trump Administration, National Security Presidential Memorandum 33 (NSPM-33), directing OSTP to develop guidance to clear up conflicts of interest, so research agencies know where researchers are receiving support, while also providing a framework of penalties for deliberate noncompliance or evasion of these requirements. Much of these efforts are directed at the Chinese central government, who is seen as both the main geopolitical rival to the United States and a country engaged in exfiltration of US taxpayer funded research efforts and findings.
Hence NSF’s research security announcement. The guidelines prohibit NSF program officers from engaging with principal investigators (PIs) directly on any research security matters. Instead, NSF staff are required to forward any concerns to the OCRSSP, who will look into the discrepancies. As well, OCRSSP will not engage directly with PIs; instead, they will engage with the PI’s institution (Section 6.2, page 10). Within the document, NSF makes a point that OCRSSP’s use of these analytics are designed only to identify, “potential compliance inconsistencies,” and are not actual “investigations.” Investigations are considered part of the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) mission and are more serious. There is particular emphasis that “human oversight” (Section 10, page 15) is present at all levels of analysis and must be well documented; “no information on individuals may be reported and no adverse action may be taken based solely on a potential inconsistency without human verification of the matching criteria.” Finally, in Section 8 (page 12), which covers permissible and prohibited practices, OCRSSP staff are not allowed to make inquiries that are, “explicitly or implicitly designed to return the identities of individuals of a specific national origin or racial identity.” There are several examples included in Section 8 on prohibited practices.
It appears that NSF has struck a careful balance with their guidelines. It restricts activities between NSF and the institutions, sparing PIs from dealing with NSF directly or with a heavy-handed OIG investigation, while being very clear on permissible and prohibited practices by OCRSSP and NSF program staff. The prohibition on broad racial, ethnic, or citizenship searches should satisfy a key concern about the agency’s research security efforts (ie: that they could easily be fueled by racial or ethnic profiling), while also keeping humans in the loop for oversight. In practice, how the research community responds to these new practices will depend on how OCRSSP staff conduct themselves in clearing up the discrepancies they find. But it appears, at the moment, that the right guardrails are in place. CRA will continue to monitor the situation and keep tabs on how the other research agencies roll out their research security plans in the near future.
Over the weekend, President Biden and House Speaker McCarthy (R-CA) agreed to a deal over the nation’s debt limit and federal spending. That deal, and its accompanying legislation, is quickly approaching its fate, with a vote late Wednesday in the House of Representatives. That is the make-or-break point; if the legislation can’t pass the closely divided House, it will not make it through the even more closely divided Senate. But what is in this legislation?
The deal that was struck has impacts on the Federal budget. Both the White House and House Republicans released breakdowns of what was agreed to. As with past budget deals, it keeps the defense vs nondefense pots of federal spending. Non-defense spending will be kept “roughly flat” for Fiscal Year 2024 (ie: the year that starts on Oct 1 and is currently being worked on by Congress) and will increase by 1 percent for FY2025. Defense spending will increase by 3.3 percent for FY2024 and 1 percent for FY2025. There are no caps set after FY2025, only, “non-enforceable appropriations targets,” according to the White House document.
As a bit of an aside: there is also an unusual section of the legislation which imposes a 1 percent cut on current Federal funding in the event a continuing resolution is passed by Congress. Given that Congress has consistently not been able to pass the federal budget on time, we are likely to see this happen come October 1st.
Perhaps of most significance for a “debt limit deal,” it also suspends the nation’s debt limit until the 2025 calendar year, bypassing next year’s Presidential election.
Finally, the deal also has several provisions unrelated to the nation’s debt limit or the overall Federal budget. These include such things as work requirements for people on food assistance programs, fast-track approval of a West Virginia natural gas pipeline, protecting veterans’ healthcare spending, cuts to the IRS’ budget, and rescinding unspent COVID related spending, among other provisions.
How does this impact research funding: while the deal doesn’t explicitly cut scientific research, it makes a difficult budget situation worse. With nondefense spending, which includes most of the federal research funding portfolio, kept flat for this coming fiscal year, it will make fully funding the Chips & Science Act more unlikely. Science had a particularly good write-up on the impacts, with reactions from people within the science policy community.
But will the deal be passed into law? It’s hard to tell at this point. There is a lot of grumbling on both sides: Progressive Democrats feel it cuts too much from social programs; Freedom Caucus Republicans feel it doesn’t cut spending enough; defense hawks feel defense spending is too constrained; and environmentalists are unhappy with this fast-track approval for natural gas pipeline. One way of looking at it is this is natural grumbling to a compromise where everyone got something, but not everything. Or it could be the beginning of the legislation’s demise and the nation defaulting on its debt; with Congress so closely divided, it’s hard to say at the moment. The House will be voting on it today and all eyes in Washington are watching the proceedings closely. We’ll update should events change.
UPDATE 6/2/23: The Senate passed the debt limit deal last night, sending it to President Biden’s desk for signing into law. During floor consideration in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) issued a joint statement and had it included in the Congressional Record:
JOINT STATEMENT FROM SENATE LEADERS
We share the concern of many of our colleagues about the potential impact of sequestration and we will work in a bipartisan, collaborative way to avoid this outcome.
Now that we have agreed on budget caps, we have asked Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Murray and Vice Chair Senator Collins to set the subcommittee caps and get the regular order process started.
To accomplish our shared goal of preventing sequestration, expeditious floor consideration will require cooperation from Senators from both parties. The Leaders look forward to bills being reported out of committee with strong bipartisan support. The Leaders will seek and facilitate floor consideration of these bills with the cooperation of Senators of both parties.
Schumer, in additional remarks, went further, saying that this legislation (edited for brevity): “does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency/supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to…respond to ongoing and growing national security threats, including Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine, our ongoing competition with China…or any other emerging security crisis; nor does this…limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency/supplemental funds to respond to various national issues, such as disaster relief, or combating the fentanyl crisis, or other issues of national importance.”
News reports are categorizing the joint statement and Senator Schumer’s remarks as essential to get defense hawks to back the deal. But what do these statements do in relation to what was just passed into law?
Put simply, Congress can pass a new law that suspends previously enacted legislation. In this case, the Senate could pass supplemental funding bills that suspends or go around these agreed-to caps. But such legislation would then have to move to the House of Representatives, controlled by Speaker McCarthy and the Republican House Caucus, for consideration. In all likelihood, the House would not agree to such a move, calling it a violation of the debt limit deal, and the legislation would be dead. Of course, the House could surprise everyone and agree to such a move, suspending the deal that was just agreed on. Again, there is no law Congress can pass that it can’t suspend, as long as both chambers agree (and the President will sign into law).
This doesn’t mean these caps aren’t in place, or that they can be ignored out-of-hand. What it means is that going around or suspending the caps will require another agreement between the President, House Republicans, and the Senate. It’s an exit clause, of sorts, but not an easy one to use. We’ve been through this before with past budget-debt-limit deals, where funding caps were suspended or raised. The unfortunate reality is that the research community will have to cope with two years of budget caps again. On the brighter side, if past is prologue, there will likely be another grand budget deal negotiated at the end of the year (though such an outcome is not guaranteed). We’ll keep following the federal budget and will report on any new developments, so please keep checking back for updates.
The Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), a coalition of American universities, scientific societies, and high-tech companies, released a letter today calling on the leaders of both Congressional Appropriation Committees to provide, “strong investments in science research, innovation, and workforce development,” in the coming Fiscal Year 2024 budget. The letter was signed by several leaders of TFAI members, including Nancy Amato, Chair of the CRA Board of Directors. Other signers include leaders from Google, Microsoft, AMD, SIA, and IBM to name a few.
As Congress and the President’s attention are increasingly dominated by the debt limit debate, it’s important that the community continue the drumbeat that investments in the federal research enterprise are essential for the competitiveness and wellbeing of the nation.
This article was originally published on the CCC Blog.
The Biden-Harris Administration is continuing their recent efforts to advance the research, development, and deployment of responsible AI. With the rise of AI and its increasing capabilities these initiatives are meant to protect American citizens’ rights and safety. Last week the CCC blog highlighted responsible AI efforts from the White House. Yesterday the White House announced three more initiatives summarized below.
An update to the National AI Research and Development Strategic Plan. This plan builds on plans issued in 2016 and 2019, and sets out key priorities and research goals to guide federal investments in AI research and development (R&D). It will focus federal investments in R&D to promote responsible American innovation, serve the public good, protect people’s rights and safety, uphold democratic values, and ensure continued U.S. leadership in the development and use of trustworthy AI systems.
The release of a request for information to seek public input on national priorities for mitigating AI risks, protecting people’s rights and safety, and harnessing AI to improve lives. Responses to this RFI will inform the Administration’s efforts to advance a cohesive and comprehensive strategy to manage AI risks and harness AI opportunities.
The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology released a new report, AI and the Future of Teaching and Learning: Insights and Recommendations, summarizing the risks and opportunities related to AI in teaching, learning, research, and assessment.
You can read more about these new initiatives in OSTP’s announcement.
On Wednesday, April 19, Speaker McCarthy unveiled the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023, which would establish a set of discretionary spending caps over the next decade through FY 2033, allowing for only sub-inflation increases in overall spending. These caps would have the effect of reducing base discretionary spending by over $3.5 trillion below baseline over that time.
The last time Congress adopted a set of discretionary caps, it likely reduced federal R&D investment by more than $200 billion over the nine years they were in place. What sort of impact might this new set of caps have on federal investment?
To develop a rough estimate, we started with CBO’s February 2023 baseline for discretionary budget authority and OMB’s estimates of R&D in FY 2023. According to OMB’s figures, federal R&D accounted for 12.2% of all base discretionary budget authority, in line with historical norms. Holding this percentage steady, we calculated 10-year R&D projections under both the CBO baseline and the discretionary caps described in Section 101 of the Limit, Save, Grow Act, with small adjustments for program integrity, disaster relief, and wildfire suppression. Comparing these estimates suggest all federal R&D could decline by $28 billion or 13% in FY 2024, and $442 billion or 19% in the aggregate, in nominal dollars. (See Table 1 below or the graph above).
Given prior statements by House leadership indicating a preference for protecting defense spending, we also developed an estimate of potential reductions to nondefense R&D – which includes the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, EPA, and the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, and others – should nondefense have to bear the brunt of future spending reductions. Under this scenario, it’s assumed that defense spending grows at the CBO baseline rate, while nondefense absorbs all $3.6 trillion in discretionary cuts.
In this case, nondefense R&D would decline by an estimated $29 billion or 27% in FY 2024, and $461 billion or 39% cumulative through FY 2033 (see Table 2 below).
The House budget plan would also push down federal R&D as a share of GDP over the next decade, from its current level of 0.77% according to OMB data, to 0.51% (see graph below). This would represent the lowest point in several decades.
It’s worth noting the CBO baseline level itself is quite modest and would also result in a slight decline in federal R&D relative to U.S. GDP.
Additional material: If readers would like more details on the potential impacts of these proposed cuts, the House Appropriations Committee’s Ranking Member, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), asked the assorted departments and agencies of the Federal Government to detail how such proposed cuts would impact their operations. You can read the responses on the Democrat portion of the House Appropriations Committee website. Given its unique role in providing the vast major of the Federal support for fundamental computing research at American universities, NSF’s response was particularly compelling; in it, Dr. Panchanathan said that cutting the agency’s budget by 22 percent (the estimate, at the time the letter was written, of the Republican cuts) would, “lead to approximately 4,600 fewer awards and approximately 66,000 people who could not be supported in their pursuit of STEM,” among many other lost opportunities in emerging technology, research areas, STEM workforce development, and regional innovation.
In our continuing series following the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) budget request, we close out with a roundup of an assortment of Federal research agencies. These include the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NASA.
First, let’s look at NASA. Under the President’s plan, the space agency would receive a 7.1 percent increase, going from $25.4 billion in FY23 to $27.2 billion in FY24. NASA Science, which handles the research funding at the agency, would get almost as good of an increase: 5.9 percent, going from $7.80 billion in FY23 to $8.26 billion in FY24.
The next agency, NIST, has some nuance. The top line for the agency would see flat funding, remaining at $1.63 billion, just as it received for FY23 (in fact, it would be a very small increase of $5 million). The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see a relatively modest increase of 4.4 percent; going from $953 million in FY23 to $995 million in FY24.
Finally, we come to the National Institutes of Health, which also requires some discernment. Under the President’s plan, the agency would go from $47.50 billion in FY23 to $48.60 billion in FY24, an increase of $1.1 billion or 2.3 percent. The issue arises when one looks at what is getting the majority of the agency’s suggested increase: ARPA-H, or Advanced Research Project Agency, Health. Established in the 2022 Omnibus, the advanced research program would go from $1.50 billion in FY23 to $2.50 billion for FY24, an increase of 67 percent.
What’s going on here? With regard to NIST, the devil is in the details. NIST has received a lot of special budgetary attention from Congress the last few years, with a large amount of Congressionally directed spending (which is another way of saying earmarks). The Administration is zeroing out that spending in their FY24 request and distributing the money to Administration and agency priorities. Given the amount of Congressional directed funding comes to almost $400 million total for the agency in last year’s budget, the vast majority coming from the construction account, that’s why the requested budget is so flat this year.
With regard to NIH, it is a matter of priorities. ARPA-H is a major priority for the Biden Administration, and they are making sure it gets special attention at NIH. Unfortunately, that means the rest of NIH is getting something between flat funding to cuts. Given the level of support that health research gets from its champions in Congress, it’s very unlikely that the Administration’s plans will be passed into law as is. But this isn’t a good place for NIH’s budget to start this process at.
As with the other research accounts we’ve profiled, it’s worth tempering any expectations, positive or negative, as it is unlikely that these budget plans will pass Congress as proposed. Given the split Congress (ie: the Republican controlled House and the Democratic controlled Senate) any final budget for FY24 will be a long time coming, if it arrives at all. In fact, with House Republicans putting out their proposed debit limit bill, which calls for cutting most discretionary budget accounts back to FY22 levels, it makes any agreed to final federal budget that much further off.
An analysis of the House Republican’s proposed debit limit bill, and how it could impact research funding, will be the subject of a future Policy Blog post.
Next steps in the FY24 budget process are for each chamber of Congress to come up with their individual funding plans. That process will begin soon and should get into full swing by next month, with the House Appropriations Committee leading the way. We’ll have updates as those bills become public; keep checking back for more information.
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