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.
It’s been a busy September from a Congressional appropriations perspective. As of this writing, nine of the twelve appropriations bills have passed, including the Defense, Energy and Water, and Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) bills – a productive pace not seen from Congress in many years. While it’s good these were passed into law, and they do cover some important research agencies, left unfinished is one key bill of concern to the computing research community — the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes funding for NSF, NIST, NOAA and NASA; more on that in a moment. Until then, here are the details of the pieces of legislative that have passed.
The Defense Appropriations bill includes all the funding for the Defense Department (DOD). It’s worth taking a look back and seeing the Administration’s budget request for DOD Science & Technology. To recap: it was a mixed bag of increases for 6.1 Basic Research and DARPA, with reductions for 6.2 Applied Research and 6.3 Advanced Technology Development. Congressional appropriators decided to go in a different direction and provided large increases across the board.
|FY18 Final||FY19 PBR*||FY19 House||FY19 Senate||FY19 Final||$ Change**||% Change**|
* – PBR is “President’s Budget Request”
** – All changes are against FY18 Final
The Energy and Water Appropriations bill covers the Department of Energy (DOE), with the Office of Science (DOE SC) and the Advanced Research Project Agency, Energy (ARPA-E) being the pieces of most concern. Regular readers will remember that the President suggested a large cut (34%) to the Office of Science and wanted to eliminate ARPA-E. Once again, Congressional leaders ignored the Administration’s request and provided increases to the agencies.
|FY18 Final||FY19 PBR*||FY19 House||FY19 Senate||FY19 Final||$ Change||% Change|
Within the Labor-HHS bill, the agency of most importance is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Following the pattern from above, the President proposed a significant cut, which Congress rejected.
|FY18 Final||FY19 PBR*||FY19 House||FY19 Senate||FY19 Final||$ Change||% Change|
So why hasn’t the CJS bill passed yet? Not because of concerns about science, but because of issues surrounding the Mueller Investigation at the Department of Justice, as well as enforcement of the Administration’s immigration policies. It’s expected to move only after the Congressional mid-term elections in November; and even after that, its path forward could change depending on the election results. The agencies under the three remaining appropriation bills (CJS, State and Foreign Operations, & Department of Homeland Security), including NSF, will operate under a Continuing Resolution (CR) until December 7, at which point Congress and the President will either have to agree to pass the bills, pass another CR, or let the agencies covered by those bills shut down until an agreement is reached. The President seems to be itching for an opportunity to shut down government if his requested funding for a border wall isn’t included in any agreement, and Congress seems reluctant to do that, so we will have to wait to see how that plays out in December. Until then, CRA will continue to monitor the situation and will report back when there are new developments; please check back.
Our regular readers will have noticed that Congress was busy over the summer with the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) Appropriations. With funding levels agreed to last year, both the House and Senate were able to plow ahead and get much of their work done for the next fiscal year (which is set to start on October 1st). However, our regular readers will also recognize that that’s when Congress tends to hit a roadblock; this year is no different. The twist for this year is that a good amount of research funding is being held up in the process.
With the approaching mid-term elections, and Democrats sensing that they have a chance to recapture both chambers of Congress, Congressional Republicans have had to be very careful with how they move legislation; trying to bolster, or at least not harm, their own election chances, while denying Democrats any legislative wins. To that end, the Senate has used a minibus approach to move the appropriations bills — combining multiple bills into packages to ease passage.
The first minibus combined the Energy and Water, Military Construction-and-Veteran Affairs, and Legislative Branch approps bills; it passed both chambers at the end of June and has been in conference since. The bill in that package of most interest to the researcher community is Energy and Water, which contains the funding for the Department of Energy; see our write-ups for the numbers in both House and Senate bills. Once that comes out of conference, we will have an update.
The second minibus contained the Financial Services and Interior bills; it passed the House in the middle of July and the Senate at the beginning of August, and is now in conference.
The third minibus is where things start to get politically interesting. This package combines the popular Defense approps bill with the contentious Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) bill. Senator Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) took this approach because Senate Democrats told him that the Defense bill would not move without Labor-HHS attached; this was to protect Healthcare Reform from potential cuts. Because the Senate Republican majority is so narrow, Democrats have the power to make such demands. The problem is that the House refuses to move Labor-HHS in this fashion, mainly because House Republicans want to make significant cuts to Healthcare Reform. This has created a legislative problem, as the House and Senate have now both passed the Defense bill but the House has not passed Labor-HHS. How this gets resolved is an open question, as both McConnell and House Speaker Ryan (R-WI) want the Defense bill passed before the start of the new fiscal year, if that’s possible. We will have a detailed write-up of the defense research funding levels soon.
The Agriculture and Transportation approps bills are being held up for various political reasons and their movement is not being pursued in this minibus approach.
Which leads us to the contentious appropriations bills: State and Foreign Operations (State), Homeland Security (DHS), and Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS). Regular readers will recognize that the CJS bill (House and Senate) is very important to our community, as it contains the funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and NASA. Fortunately, these bills are not stalled because of concerns about science; CJS and DHS are being held up because of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and State is being held up because of various foreign affairs matters. None of these bills are expected to pass until after the election in November, as members of Congress don’t like taking difficult votes just before being in front of the voters at the polls. A continuing resolution (CR) is likely but how long it will run is an open question; should Democrats retake either chamber, they may want to punt the bills to the next calendar year when they are in a stronger position. And Republicans would most likely want to pass all three as soon as possible, regardless of how the election turns out.
Bottom line: FY19 appropriations are complicated right now and they are expected to stay that way until at least the middle of November. We’re going to have to let things play out, and see what happens in the mid-term elections, before the situation becomes clearer. Please check back for continuing updates.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2018, Amita Shukla.]
Continuing CRA’s tracking of the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) appropriations process, we turn to the Senate’s Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up their version of the CJS bill on June 14th (by June 28th, the Committee finished marking up all 12 subcommittees’ bills, a 30-year record for timeliness). The CJS bill includes funding for NSF, NIST, and NASA, which are of the most concern to the computing community, along with funding for the Department of Justice. While the attention surrounding this bill has been dominated by immigration issues concerning the Department of Justice, science and computing research have fared relatively well.
The bill includes a healthy increase of 3.9 percent for the National Science Foundation, an increase from $7.77 billion in FY18 to $8.18 billion for FY19. While in the context of the recent run of relatively flat budgets for the agency this is a good development, the funding is not quite as generous as the 5 percent increase provided by the House Appropriations Committee’s in their version of the FY19 CJS appropriations. Drilling into the details, the Research and Related Activities account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a 3.6 percent increase, increasing from $6.33 billion in FY18 to $8.07 billion for FY19. The bill also includes a special set-aside of funds for quantum science, echoing what was done in the Energy and Water appropriations. In report language accompanying the bill, the Senate states that establishing “world-class leadership computing” in quantum science is of critical strategic importance in maintaining US dominance, “particularly given computational investments and technical achievements in high-performance computing by other nations, notably China and Japan.”
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
Funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) does not fare quite as well in the bill as NSF, though perhaps not as bad as it initially appears for research. While it appears that NIST would see a steep cut of 13 percent in the bill, the cut falls predominantly on the agency’s Construction of Research Facilities account (which would see a cut in half from FY18 levels). The facilities cuts, however, do not indicate diminished support but merely a readjustment from a FY18 one-time increase to complete the Radiation Physics building in Maryland. Even with the cut, NIST would still see funding overall above FY17 levels. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see funding of $725 million in FY19; the same as FY18. While flat funding is not ideal, it is much better than the President’s requested 48 percent cut. Additionally, the committee proposes $5 million for a quantum science and engineering public-private partnership fund, reaffirming that quantum science is to be an inter-organizational, cross-cutting initiative.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
NASA funding included in the bill would exceed that for FY18 by 3%, increasing from $20.7 billion in FY18 to $21.3 billion. The NASA Science account would also see a 3% increase, from $5.9 billion up to $6.4 billion.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
In comparison to the House Appropriations Committee’s action, the Senate was not as generous to most of the science research agencies that the computing research communities are concerned with. However, both are well above what the Administration requested, and there are few actual cuts of note.
So, what are next steps in the appropriations process? The House will most likely finish their work, passing all of their bills through the full chamber by the end of July. While the Senate Appropriations Committee is done with their work, the expectation is that the process in the full chamber will come to a halt, especially with a Supreme Court nomination expected to take up all the Senate’s time for the foreseeable future. With the fast approaching mid-term elections in November, and the expectation that Congress will take October off to campaign, the likely outcome is another continuing resolution, at the end of September, to keep the government running until after the election. Expect final passage of FY19 appropriations some time after that, dependent in part on the outcome of the election. So stay tuned for continuing coverage of the appropriations process.
[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2018, Amita Shukla.]
Continuing CRA’s tracking of the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) appropriations process, we pick up with coverage of the Energy and Water Appropriations bills. This is the annual appropriations bill that funds the Department of Energy (DOE) and all the research the department conducts.
The accounts at the department of most importance to the computing community are the Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). Fortunately, these agencies have avoided the drastic cuts proposed by the President in his February budget request; regular readers will remember the Administration had recommended the complete defunding of ARPA-E and a 34% cut to the Office of Science. While the Department of Energy overall sees cuts in both chambers’ version of the appropriation bills, computing research fares relatively well. The House approved its bill as part of a minibus on June 8th. The Senate has not yet considered it on the floor, but has passed it out of the full Appropriations Committee.
On the Senate side, DOE would see healthy increases over FY18 budget numbers. The Office of Science would see a 6 percent increase, going from $6.26 billion in FY18 to $6.65 billion in FY19. Drilling down into the account, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, where the majority of the computing research resides at DOE, would see a very good increase of 21 percent, going from $810 million in FY18 to $980 million in FY19. There are still some concerns within the research community that this increase is geared less towards research and more towards the deployment of the two exascale systems called for in Administration plans. However, such a large increase should still be a plus for the research community. In its report, the committee voiced support for the direction of the program, saying, “the Committee is supportive of recent research thrusts to develop scientific machine learning tools to enhance scientific discovery from user facility data and fundamental research in quantum information science that will lay the groundwork for deployable quantum computing systems.” Finally, the Senate set aside $13 million “to support work on artificial intelligence and big data focused on the development of algorithms and methods to identify new ways of extracting information from data,” generated at DOE facilities, “or validating use of machine learning in the Office of Science’s program’s scientific simulations.” Given the Administration’s recent interest in AI, it’s good to see both the House and the Senate funding additional efforts in this area.
The other DOE program of note for the computing community is the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E. It would receive a 6 percent increase under the Senate bills, going from $353 million in FY18 to $375 million in FY19. Our regular readers will recall that ARPA-E was slated to be eliminated in the President’s request and is marked for an 8% reduction in House Appropriations bills.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||Senate||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$5.39B||$6.26B||$5.39B||$6.65B||$390M||6.0%|
Meanwhile, on the House side, the numbers are good, but not as good as the Senate. The Office of Science would see a 5 percent increase over FY18, going from $6.26 billion to $6.6 billion. ASCR would also see a less generous increase of 13 percent, going from $810 million in FY18 to $915 million in FY19. The House appropriators expressed concerns about the department’s exascale initiatives saying they are, “concerned that the increased costs of the Exascale Computing Initiative compared to previous high performance computing (HPC) efforts are not transparently presented.” As well, much like their Senate counterparts, the House appropriators commented that, “a focus on only early-stage activities will forego the nation’s scientific capabilities in medium- and later-stage research and development and may not fully realize the technological advancements possible under the Department’s applied energy activities.” Finally, as noted, the House also set aside money for AI activities, recommending $26 million for these efforts.
As for ARPA-E, the House was uncharacteristically easy on the agency’s budget this year, recommending only an 8 percent reduction. The agency’s budget would shrink from $353 million in FY18 to $325 million in FY19. Regular readers will remember that the House has historically been more skeptical of ARPA-E’s mission, and has recommended in years past (and as early as last year) to eliminate the agency. This proposed cut is likely a part of a negotiating strategy when both chambers come together to hammer out a final bill.
|FY17||FY18||FY19 PBR||House||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$5.39B||$6.26B||$5.39B||$6.60B||$340M||5.0%|
What are the next steps for these bills? As we’ve mentioned before, it is still unlikely for these appropriations bills to move much before the midterm elections this November. This is because members of Congress typically don’t like to take contentious votes just before going before the electorate. However, there is a push from Congressional Republican leadership to get something tangible done before November. Only time will tell; please check back for more updates.
Statement of the Computing Research Association
Concerning New Restrictions on Chinese Graduate Students in the U.S.
June 12, 2018
The Computing Research Association, representing more than 200 Ph.D.-granting departments of computing in North America, expresses great concern at new guidance provided to U.S. consular officers that would place restrictions on students from China who wish to study robotics, advanced manufacturing, or aerospace research in the United States. The new restrictions impose a one-year limit on student visas — normally granted for five years — for students from China wishing to study robotics in the U.S. Because one year is not sufficient for a course of study, the restriction would have the effect of a blanket ban on Chinese participation in robotics Ph.D. programs at U.S. universities.
Theft of intellectual property and other controlled information in academia is a serious problem. However, there are already effective mechanisms to combat such theft. The higher education community combats it through long-standing partnerships with Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.1 Restrictions on visas of Chinese robotics students based solely on citizenship, not on assessments of risks posed by those students, can hurt unfairly Chinese students who have for years contributed to scholarship and innovation, benefiting the U.S. and the field.
Indeed, we expect that this new restriction will significantly impair, rather than improve, U.S. leadership in robotics. The U.S. already is competing with a number of nations in Asia and Europe for international leadership in robotics. Our competitors in Europe, Korea, and Japan will welcome the influx of talent from international students, including those from China, who are discouraged from studying in the U.S. as a result of this policy.
We urge the U.S. Department of State to reconsider this guidance and continue to use the authority the Department already has to extensively vet every student applying to study in these areas, regardless of citizenship, on a case-by-case basis.
1. See the joint statement of the American Council on Education, Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council on Governmental Relations, June 6, 2018
Congress has taken its first steps at setting funding levels for FY19 and at first glance, it looks positive for some key science agencies.
The House Appropriations committee last week passed it’s version of the FY19 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations and included a 5.2 percent overall increase for NSF, including a 5.0 percent increase to the Foundation’s Research and Related Activities Account vs. FY18 (which was a 5.0 percent increase over FY 17). That’s a great place to start as the House has tended to be a bit more parsimonious for the research accounts than their counterparts in the Senate (who will consider their version of the bill later this year). NSF’s Education and Human Resources account would see flat funding compared to FY18. Major Research Equipment would see a boost of nearly 50 percent to $268 million for a couple of telescopes and a regional class research vessel.
The committee also published its report accompanying the bill, which contains some additional detail. Some of the interesting/relevant bits of the NSF section.
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
The Committee recommends $8,174,890,000 for the National Science Foundation. This significant investment, which is $407,534,000 above fiscal year 2018, shows the Committee’s support of science, the academic community, and the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, and engineers across the country. The Committee underscores the importance of basic research that both improves the lives of Americans and expands our understanding of the Earth, the depths of our oceans, our Solar System, the Universe, and oceans on other planets. NSF must redouble its important efforts thus far to ensure that this funding is invested wisely to improve our way of life and expand our knowledge base. The Committee supports infrastructure investments that expand our understanding of the universe and inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences. The Committee recognizes that current and future large scientific facilities represent an enormous investment of Federal resources that must be administered wisely.
Abstracts and the national interest.—The Committee underscores the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 114–329), which directs NSF to issue and periodically update, as appropriate, policy guidance for both Foundation staff and other Foundation merit review process participants on the importance of transparency and accountability to the outcomes made through the merit review process. Further, this law directs that each public notice of a Foundation-funded research project justify the expenditure of Federal funds by describing how the project reflects the statutory mission of the Foundation, as established in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.); addresses the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria; and clearly identifies the research goals of the project in a manner that can be easily understood by both technical and non-technical audiences. Further, this legislation directs NSF to apply a broader impacts review criterion to identify and demonstrate project support of the following goals: increasing the economic competitiveness of the United States; advancing of the health and welfare of the American public; supporting the national defense of the United States; enhancing partnerships between academia and industry in the United States; developing an American STEM workforce that is globally competitive through improved pre-kindergarten through grade 12 STEM education and teacher development, and improved undergraduate STEM education and instruction; improving public scientific literacy and engagement with science and technology in the United States; or expanding participation of women and individuals from underrepresented groups in STEM. [Ed note: this is essentially a restating the so-called “research in the national interest” language from the COMPETES Reauthorization passed in 2016.]
RESEARCH AND RELATED ACTIVITIES
The Committee recommends $6,651,500,000 for Research and Related Activities, which is $317,024,000 above fiscal year 2018 and $500,820,000 above the request. The Committee believes that strategic investments in the physical sciences are vitally important for the United States to remain the global leader in innovation, productivity, economic growth, and good-paying jobs for the future.
Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE).—The Committee supports CISE efforts to work with the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings within Education and Human Resources to build on current efforts to support computer science education in Pre-K–12 classrooms.
High-performance computing planning.—The Committee believes it is strategically important to preserve U.S. leadership in quantum computing and urges NSF to make significant investments in this area. The Committee commends NSF on its commitment to high performance computing and data analysis capabilities and urges NSF to make timely and significant investments in high-performance computing. NSF should remain committed to enabling leaps in computational simulation and data analyses for the broad range of research the Nation requires and as recommended by the recent National Research Council (NRC) report, Future Directions for NSF Advanced Computing Infrastructure to Support U.S. Science and Engineering in 2017–2020. Within 180 days of enactment of this Act, NSF shall provide the Committee with an update on its high-performance computing investment plans as well as a response to the NRC report and its plans to incorporate, to the extent practicable, the NRC’s recommendations regarding NSF’s approach for maintaining and modernizing its supercomputing capabilities at existing or future facilities.
EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES
STEM education.—NSF shall continue to award competitive, merit-reviewed grants to support STEM education as authorized by the STEM Education Act of 2015 (Public Law 114–59). In addition, the Committee expects NSF to provide grants for research about STEM education approaches and the STEM-related workforce in order to develop innovations in mentoring, training and apprenticeships.
Broadening participation programs.—To broaden the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM education programs and, ultimately, the STEM workforce, the recommendation provides no less than $35,000,000 for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program; $46,000,000 for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation; $64,500,000 for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program; and $14,000,000 for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program.
Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).—Hispanic Serving Institutions and the HSI grant program play an important role in increasing the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of Hispanic students pursuing STEM degrees. The Committee directs NSF to fund the HSI-specific program and demonstrate a $50,000,000 investment no later than September 30, 2019.
Innovation Corps.—The recommendation includes no less than the fiscal year 2018 level for the NSF Innovation Corps program to support new and existing I–Corps Teams, Sites, and Nodes.
Cybersecurity research.—The Committee encourages NSF to form partnerships with Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities with respect to cybersecurity research.
AGENCY OPERATIONS AND AWARD MANAGEMENT
Safeguarding U.S. research advances.—The Committee directs the National Science Foundation, in consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology and other agencies as needed, to work with the academic community, through workshops or other mechanisms as appropriate, to identify best practices for universities and institutions of higher education so that they may be aware of and can address data security concerns, including intellectual property protection in NSF-funded research projects or at NSF-funded facilities. NSF shall report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this Act regarding how it plans to implement this direction.
Other Science Agencies
The bill also contains funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The subcommittee would fund core research programs at NIST slightly below FY18 levels in the bill, but cut research facility construction by nearly 18 percent. Even with the reductions, the appropriators would fund NIST science activities at a level 56 percent higher than the President requested in his budget.
House appropriators also approved their version of the Energy and Water appropriation bill, which includes funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and ARPA-E. In the bill the Office of Science would receive an increase of 5.4 percent over FY18 — far better than the 11.8 percent reduction called for in the President’s budget request. In the report accompanying the bill, we learn that the House appropriators were even more generous to the Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program than the President’s already significant request.
In the bill, ASCR would grow to $915 million — nearly 13 percent vs. FY 18, and more than the 11 percent growth requested by the President. Included in that budget is an increase of 9.8 percent to the Exascale Program (up $20 million to $225 million), Argonne LCF would grow 27 percent, Oak Ridge LCF by 13.8 percent, and NERSC up 6.4 percent. New in the budget is $26 million to launch an artificial intelligence and big data initiative. In the report accompanying the bill, the committee justifies the new program thusly:
Artificial intelligence technologies that may improve the analysis and interpretation of big data can lead to substantial improvements in the Department’s ability to meet its nuclear security, energy, and science missions. The Committee provides $26,000,000 to launch an artificial intelligence and big data initiative.
The report also encourages the Department to “prioritize research in applied and computational mathematics, supercomputing, and quantum computing to ensure the U.S. remains competitive in this field.” ARPA-E continues to receive funding in the House bill, though down a bit from FY18. ARPA-E would be funded at $325 million in FY19, down from $353 million in FY18, but way above the $0 requested by the President.
So, this is a good start for some key science agencies. It’s certainly much much better than the President proposed back in February, but with the two-year budget agreement in place, we knew there was still room for continued growth after some healthy increases in FY18. Having been approved by the committee, the bills will head to the House floor in the coming weeks. We’ll keep an eye on how things progress, as well as an eye on the Senate.
While both chambers hope to get through all 12 annual appropriations bills in “regular order” through this summer, it’s unlikely any will see final approval until after the November elections. Even getting the Continuing Resolution required to keep government operating after Sept 30th in the absence of finished FY19 appropriations bills may be tricky as the President has repeatedly threatened to shut the government down over border security issues. We’ll have a better idea how that is likely to play out in early September…
Until then, a little good news. We’ll have more details as we learn them!
On May 9th, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an alliance of over 140 professional organizations, universities, and businesses, held their 24th 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 Jingrui He and her graduate student, Dawei Zhou, from Arizona State University. They demonstrated Dr. He’s research in complex anomaly/outlier detection. Her work, titled “Modeling the Heterogeneity of Heterogeneity: Algorithms, Theories and Applications,” earned a NSF CAREER award in 2016.
This research has wide ranging applications such as in financial fraud prevention and malicious insider threat detection. Dr. He spoke about the information sources she uses, the data heterogeneity (or quality of the non-uniform data sets) that’s typically present in such applications, as well as the techniques that can be used to leverage with data to identify the targets of interest (such as, new financial fraud patterns such as synthetic identities or lone wolf type of hacking attacks).
All of this work is supported from the CISE directorate at NSF. Dr. He’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 Cornell University’s “Cabernet, Copper, Caterpillar & Cement: Using High Energy X-Rays as a Multi-Disciplinary Tool of Discovery;” to the American Sociological Association’s “Opioid Distribution on a Darknet Cryptomarket;” to the American Political Science Association’s “Exploring Trade-offs in Cyber Offense and Defense Through the Lenses of Computer and Political Science;” the exhibition was a great display of the different types of research being supported by NSF. Look here to see a list of the participating organizations and what other exhibitors presented.
Late last week, the Department of Education announced its Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant program for 2018. This is the second program (first being the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program) which supports the Administration’s policy of dedicating $200 million to STEM and CS within DOEd.
The EIR program, which was established under the amended Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provides funding to, “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students; and rigorously evaluate such innovations.” The program uses a three tier structure that links the amount of funding that an applicant receives to the quality of the evidence supporting the efficacy of the proposed project, with the expectation that projects that build this evidence will advance through EIR’s grant tiers: Early-phase, Mid-phase, and Expansion. Code.org has an excellent summary of the program with a list of priorities, both for the whole program and for each tier, along with eligibility requirements and deadlines for applications.
This is a new source of funds for the CS education community to compete in and it is a great sign of the community expanding visibility. The deadline to apply is May 9th.
In advance of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s three days of appearances before congressional committees starting today, ACM’s US Public Policy Council sent the following letter to the members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s a strong statement from USACM, noting the importance of “understand[ing] how privacy and trust in an era of big data, pervasive networks and socially embedded platforms must be addressed in order to promote the public interest broadly in our society, including specifically the integrity of our democratic institutions.”
Dear Senators Grassley, Thune, Feinstein and Nelson:
ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is the world’s largest and oldest association of computing professionals representing approximately 50,000 individuals in the United States and 100,000 worldwide. Its US Public Policy Council (USACM) is charged with providing policy and law makers throughout government with timely, substantive and apolitical input on computing technology and the legal and social issues to which it gives rise.
On behalf of USACM, thank you and the Committees for undertaking a full and public exploration of the causes, scope, consequences and implications of the enormous breaches of privacy and public trust resulting from Facebook’s and outside parties’ use and misuse of vast amounts of Facebook users’ and millions of others’ data. The technical experts we represent – including luminaries in computer science, engineering and other computing disciplines – stand ready to lend their expertise to you and your staffs at any time as the hearing and legislative processes progress.
USACM believes that the issues raised by this incident, and the intense scrutiny now appropriately being brought to bear on it, make this a watershed moment. The issue and challenge is not merely how to address the failings of a single company, but to understand how privacy and trust in an era of big data, pervasive networks and socially embedded platforms must be addressed in order to promote the public interest broadly in our society, including specifically the integrity of our democratic institutions.
As your Committees prepare to convene, USACM offers the following broad observations grounded in our technical understanding and commitment to the highest ethical standards in our professional practice:
- It is critical to understand the full scale and consequences of how Facebook’s past and present business practices or failures compromised, and may continue to undermine, users’ and others’ privacy and data security. It is also critical, however, to understand the technology underlying its actions and omissions so that truly effective technical and legal means may be designed to assure the protection of privacy by limiting data collection and sharing, ensuring real user consent and notice, and providing full transparency and accountability to its community members. These and other fundamental principles are detailed in USACM’s 2018 Statement on the Importance of Preserving Personal Privacy;
- The actions and omissions already confirmed or publicly acknowledged to have occurred by Facebook appear to stem from systemic deficiencies in a range of processes considered essential by computing professionals, including proactive risk assessment and management, as well as protecting security and privacy by design;
- Facebook’s actions and omissions should be measured against all appropriate ethical standards. The first principle of ACM’s long-established Code of Ethics states that, “An essential aim of computing professionals is to minimize negative consequences of computing systems . . . and ensure that the products of their efforts will be used in socially responsible ways.” Adhering to broadly accepted social norms the ethical code also requires that computing professionals “avoid harm to others,” where harm includes injury, negative consequences, or undesirable loss of information or property.
- The present controversy underscores that we are living in an era of mega-scale data sets and once inconceivable computational power. Consequently, the nature, scale, depth and consequences of the data, technical and ethical breaches understood to have occurred thus far in the Facebook case are unlikely to be confined to a single company, technology or industry. That argues strongly for Congress to comprehensively revisit whether the public interest can adequately be protected by current legal definitions of consent, the present scope of federal enforcement authority, and existing penalties for breach of the public’s privacy and trust on a massive scale; and
- Size and power are not the only consequential hallmarks of the new information era. Ever more complicated and multiplying synergies between technologies (such as platform architecture, data aggregation, and micro-targeting algorithms) exponentially increase the vulnerability of personal privacy. Similarly increasing complexity in the ways that social media continues to be woven into modern life amplifies the threat. Together these trends make it clear that addressing separate elements of this rapidly changing ecosystem in isolation is no longer a viable means of protecting the public interest. Rather, we urge Congress to consider new and holistic ways of conceptualizing privacy and its protection.
Thank you again for your work at this pivotal time and for formally including this correspondence and the attached Statement in the record of your upcoming hearing. USACM looks forward to assisting you and your staffs in the future. To arrange a technical briefing, or should you have any other questions, please contact ACM’s Director of Global Public Policy, Adam Eisgrau, at 202-580-6555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stuart Shapiro, Chair
cc: Members of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees
Though it required negotiations that stretched nearly seven months into the fiscal year it is designed to fund, the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations act won the approval of a sizable majority in Congress and the reluctant approval of the President at the end of March, providing substantial boosts in Federal spending, including healthy increases to science investments across the government.
Passage of the omnibus bill was made possible by an agreement in February to increase statutory limits on discretionary spending for FY 2018 and FY 2019. That extra spending room ensured that congressional appropriators could boost military spending sufficiently to satisfy a majority of the GOP and increased non-defense spending sufficiently to woo enough congressional Democrats to overcome opposition from the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House. In the end, the 2,000+ page bill boosts Federal discretionary spending to $1.3 trillion in FY 18, and boosts Federal R&D efforts by nearly 13 percent.
While appropriators generally don’t spread funding increases evenly throughout their bills, overall, science agencies fare well in this bill, in many cases receiving meaningful increases for the first time in several years.
Overall, NSF will see an increase of 3.9 percent in FY 18, bringing its total budget to $7.77 billion, $295 million more than FY 17. The Research and Related Activities Account — the home of the Foundation’s research directorates, including the Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate — will see an increase of 5 percent to $6.3 billion, the highest it has received since FY 10. The appropriators were silent on how that money ought to be distributed to the various directorates, but historically, the NSF Director has tried to distribute increases proportionately across the directorates. NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate, home to many of NSF’s STEM Education programs, will see an increase of 2.5 percent, bringing its total budget to $902 million in FY 18.
The Department of Energy’s Office of Science received one of the largest increases among science agencies in the bill, growing 16.1 percent to $6.26 billion in FY18. Included in that increase is a substantial 25.1 percent increase to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program. Much of the ASCR increase is focused on the office’s exascale efforts, with the Exascale program receiving an increase of 25 percent (to $205 million), including increases to the Mathematics and Computer Science research accounts, as well as significant increases to current DOE HPC labs at Argonne and Oak Ridge in preparation for exascale deployments beginning in 2021. ARPA-E, which faced elimination threats in both the President’s budget and the House appropriations bill, survives in the omnibus and grows to $335 million, an all-time high funding level for the office.
NIH will grow $3 billion, or 9 percent, in FY 18 — $10 billion more than the President’s request for the agency. The omnibus increases the size of the BRAIN Initiative to $400 million in FY18. Of note for NIH is a proposal in the President’s budget for next year (FY 19) that would consolidate three agencies currently under the Department of Health and Human Services — the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — into NIH. Given that these agencies — NIDILRR in particular — support a significant amount of work in computing and engineering, there are concerns in the research community that a move into NIH, which has a much different mission and culture than NIDILRR, would change the focus of the research in non-beneficial ways. Appropriators in the FY 18 omnibus gave no indication that they support the proposed move for FY 19, but this is something that CRA, along with other members of the computing research community, are following.
Across the department, basic research (6.1) will see an increase of 2.9 percent to $2.3 billion in FY 18, applied research (6.2) will grow 7.3 percent to $5.7 billion, and advanced technology development will increase 6.4 percent to $6.9 billion. DARPA will see its budget increase 6.3 percent to $3.1 billion, including a 20 percent increase to the basic sciences and large increases for ICT and electronics research, along with biotech and space technologies.
NASA receives an overall increase of 6 percent to $21 billion. NASA Science accounts will grow 7.1 percent to $6.2 billion in FY 18.
NIST Labs will wee an increase of 5 percent to $725 million.
The Science and Technology directorate at DHS will see a 7.6 percent increase to $841 million. Of note, the President’s FY 19 budget request calls for DHS’ cyber security research efforts, currently housed in the S&T directorate, to be moved outside of S&T to the National Protections and Programs Directorate (NPPD), a more operationally-oriented office than S&T, raising concerns that the character of the research supported now in the program might change to reflect shorter-term operational needs. CRA and others in the computing research community are still considering the impact of this proposal on cyber security research at DHS and monitoring progress on this through the FY 19 appropriations cycle.
NOAA will see an increase of 6.7 percent to $549 million in FY 18.
USGS increases 5.8 percent to $1.1 billion.
EPA’s Science and Technology program, a target of many on the right in Congress for its work on climate change research, will be flat funded in FY 18 at $706 million. Given the antagonism the agency faces, even from the Chair of the House Science Committee, a flat budget in FY 18 might be considered a positive outcome.
Computer Science Education Funding
The Explanatory Statement that accompanies the omnibus bill, which does not technically have the force of law but is treated as it does by the agencies, includes two explicit call outs for support of computer science education efforts (page 61 and 62) in two Department of Education grant programs. The Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program, boosted from $400 million to $1.1 billion in the bill is directed to “especially support pre-kindergarten through grade 12 computer science education programs that address the enrollment and achievement gap for underrepresented students such as minorities, girls, and youths from families living at or below the poverty line.” The Education Innovation and Research program is the subject of language that carves out $50 million for “innovative STEM education projects, including computer science education.”
Though neither piece of language guarantees new funding for efforts to improve CS Ed in the states, the explicit mention of computer science education for the first time affirms Congress’ belief in the appropriateness of those programs granting funding to CS Ed efforts. How much CS education flows will largely depend on the kind and quality of proposals received and the priority the Department of Education places on CS education.
The omnibus boosts infrastructure spending by $11 billion to $21 billion in FY 18. Included is $265 million to increase rural broadband expansion through USDA; $398 million to support “cutting-edge science at National Labs and other DOE sites”; and, $500 million for “critical funds for cyber infrastructure resilience and protection.
In sum, science agencies gained nearly across the board in the FY 18 appropriations process, reversing in many cases an 8 year trend of flat or declining budgets. In addition, the budget agreement passed in February allows for a little additional growth in the FY 19 appropriations process — about 3 percent for non-defense discretionary accounts — so we will be monitoring the process already underway and advocating for a continued priority on investments in research. As noted above, we will also be watching and advocating about the programmatic changes at HHS and DHS proposed by the President for FY 19 and will have all the details on the Computing Research Policy Blog (cra.org/blog) as we learn them.
Given that this is a mid-term election year, it is almost a guarantee that the FY 19 appropriations will not be completed until after the election in mid-November at the earliest. Indeed, how that November election shakes out will determine the end game for the appropriations process. Congress may elect to finish appropriations in a lame duck session after the election or punt the whole process to the new congress in the new year. Whatever happens, we will have all the details here
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