Computing Research Policy Blog
In our continuing series following the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Defense (DOD). In a mirror of this year’s NSF request, it’s déjà vu all over again: a terrible request for the defense research accounts that makes one think the Biden Administration hit copy and paste on their proposal from last year.
A little background: the 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.
All three of DOD S&T’s accounts do badly under the Biden Administration’s plan. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, gets a big cut of 14 percent; going from $2.76 billion in the FY22 Omnibus to $2.38 billon under the Administration’s plan (a cut of $380 million). The details for 6.1 accounts are not any better: the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts are cut at 23, 48, and 9 percent, respectively.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is also cut heavily at 16 percent; going from $6.91 billion in FY22 to $5.79 billion under the Administration’s framework, a loss of $1.12 billion. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would also not escape a large cut, going from $9.22 billion in FY22 to $8.29 billion in FY23, a cut of $930 million, or 10 percent. In short: no good news here.
DARPA is the only bright spot among the defense accounts, escaping any proposed cuts. The agency would see a healthy increase, going from $3.87 billion in FY22 to $4.12 billion in FY23, an increase of 6.5 percent (or $250 million).
|FY21||FY22||FY23 PBR||$ Change||% Change|
As with last year’s defense research request, it’s fair to ask, what’s going on here? Especially in light of the Biden Administration’s general support for scientific research. The most likely reason is one we’ve talked about before: budget gamesmanship by Pentagon leadership. Namely that they pull money from what is seen as a Congressional priority (ie: research funding) to put toward something else that does not have the same support. If the scheme works, Congress puts money back into R&D and the moved money “sticks” elsewhere in the DOD budget. It’s not a new strategy, as the Trump Administration (and the Obama and Bush Administrations before them) did this same thing. Given that defense spending generally isn’t getting the attention with the Biden Administration that it has in Administration’s past, there’s probably more of a feeling from the Pentagon leadership that they have to do this. And they are likely to keep doing it until there’s a reason to stop.
These budgets are now in the hands of Congress, and it will be interesting to see how they are handled. It’s likely, though not assured, that this will play out much like this past year’s defense budget: a House mark that is better than the Administration’s, though not objectively good, and then a Senate mark which is quite good. The final numbers will be somewhere between the two. But one thing for sure is that this is a bad place to start this process and the defense research community in Washington will need to put in another year of hard work to get these proposed cuts rejected. CRA will continue to make the case, in concert with our friends and allies in the other scientific fields and higher education institutions, for the importance of these Federal investments in defense research for our national security. We’ll keep track of the progress at each step of the process, so please check back for updates.
Earlier this week, the Biden Administration released its long anticipated Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Budget Request. As we have done in years past, we’ll be writing a series of posts on the assorted agency budgets that are important to the computing research community. First up: the National Science Foundation. As with last year’s budget request, the Biden Administration is advocating a strong vision for NSF, assigning the agency a leading role in many of the Administration’s science priorities, and backing it up with a generous budget increase.
Under the Administration’s FY23 plan, NSF fares very well; the agency would see a 19 percent increase compared to the FY22 Omnibus. NSF would go from $8.84 billion in FY22 to $10.5 billion in FY23, an increase of $1.66 billion.
A large part of that increase would go into Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for research grants. R&RA would increase from $7.20 billion in FY22 to $8.43 billion in FY23, a plus up of $1.23 billion (or 17 percent). Education and Human Resources (EHR), the subaccount that contains the agency’s education programs, would also see an increase of $370 million, going from $1.01 billion in FY22 to $1.38 billion under the President’s plan; that’s an increase of 37 percent.
|FY21||FY22||FY23 PBR||$ Change||% Change|
* – Please see below for a note about EHR.
The Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate (CISE), located within R&RA, and the home for most computing research support at NSF, will likely receive an increase, though it’s hard to be sure at the moment. This is because CISE doesn’t currently have an estimate on its budget for FY22 (remember, NSF’s budget was just approved by Congress last month). CISE would receive $1.15 billion under the President’s FY23 budget plan, which is an increase over the directorate’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget of $1.01 billion.
According to the program’s budget justification, the funds will support, “the Nation’s priorities through investments in AI, advanced computing systems and services including high-performance computing (HPC), QIS, advanced communications technologies, advanced manufacturing, semiconductors and microelectronics, biotechnology, cybersecurity, and disaster response and resilience.” The directorate’s plans will also, “continue to invest in a broad suite of activities to support broadening participation in research and education in CISE fields and STEM more generally.” Specifically called out are CISE’s Broadening Participation in Computing Alliances (BPC-A) and Minority-Serving Institutions Research Expansion (CISE-MSI) programs, and the directorate’s investments in Computer Science for All (CSforAll) and CISE Graduate Fellowships (CSGrad4US).
Overall, the requested budget would allow CISE to fund an estimated 8,300 research grants in FY23 (7,054 were funded in FY21), allowing for an estimated 26 percent funding rate. The directorate estimates that its activities will support a total of 21,900 people in FY23; that number includes senior researchers, other professionals, postdos, graduate students, and undergrads. Finally, CISE says that it provides about 79 percent of the federal funding for fundamental computer science research at U.S. academic institutions.
As for NSF’s newest directorate, the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP), the Biden Administration calls for $880 million for FY23. As with CISE, TIP doesn’t have a FY22 budget to compare against; however, the Administration did recommend $865 million in their budget request a year ago. In the TIP justification document, the directorate will, “advance emerging technologies to address societal and economic challenges and opportunities; accelerate the translation of research results from the lab to market and society; and cultivate new education pathways leading to a diverse and skilled future technical workforce comprising researchers, practitioners, technicians, and entrepreneurs.” Within TIP’s request, $200 million is set aside to create “Regional Innovation Engines.” TIP’s goal with these “NSF Engines” is to, “create regional-scale innovation ecosystems throughout the U.S. and spur economic growth,” catalyzing, “new business and economic growth in those regions of America that have not fully participated in the technology boom of the past several decades.” TIP is also making major NSF-wide investments in, “emerging technologies to sustain and enhance U.S. competitiveness.” It should be no surprise that the largest single investment is for AI, with QIS, advanced wireless, and microelectronics and semiconductors being well represented.
How TIP will integrate with the existing R&RA directorates and the rest of the Foundation is still somewhat of an open question. The directorate could look and operate very different once Congress has its say in the matter. We will have to keep an eye on both how Congress sets the policy direction for TIP, as well as how the directorate is stood up.
As the saying goes, it feels like déjà vu all over again! For the second year President Biden has proposed large investments for NSF. The catch is, again, that Congress has to agree with this plan and then appropriate the funds. It didn’t exactly do that last year, even though NSF was lavished with bipartisan praise and attention. Hopefully, the USICA and COMPETES bills, which have slowly made their way through both chambers, will be conferenced and passed into law soon; that could give NSF a much needed push with Congressional appropriations. But we said much the same thing last year, so it’s best to keep hopes reasonable until we see more concrete actions taken by Congress.
But, as with last year’s request, this budget plan shows great confidence in NSF, and it is an excellent place for the FY23 budget process to begin. Next stop is the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, both of which should hold hearings on the agency’s budget soon and will then start drafting their bills. We can expect to get the first indications sometime in the summer. We’ll be keeping track, so please check back for more updates.
* Note about EHR: NSF is proposing changing the name of EHR to the Directorate for STEM Education (EDU) and rename the Division of Human Resource Development (HRD) within EDU to the Division of Equity for Excellence in STEM (EES). According to NSF this is to, “more accurately capture the totality of the Directorate’s work.” We’ll have to see if Congress will go along with this, even though it appears to be only a name change. It will likely be looked at by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as well as the authorizing committees with jurisdiction over NSF: the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee.
Yesterday, the Biden Administration released some details of their $5.8 trillion budget request for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23). We say “some details” because there are several important supporting documents that the Administration plans to release over the next week. Despite the lack of a few details, it is still possible to have a high-level view of the Administration’s plans; from what we see in this request, research agencies across the federal government will do quite well under President Biden’s budget request, much as they did in last year’s request.
The President’s FY23 proposal calls for $1.6 trillion for discretionary funds, including $813 billion for defense-related programs and $769 billion for domestic spending. That compares to $1.5 trillion enacted in the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Biden earlier this month; that had $782 billion for defense and $730 billion for domestic spending.
Many of the general themes of this budget proposal are the same as with last year’s budget request and the R&D priorities memo that OSTP released at the end of the summer. The Administration is still focusing heavily on climate change; health and pandemic readiness programs; scientific innovation in critical and emerging technologies; and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
One item to note: the Administration decided to release their budget plan with comparisons to Fiscal Year 2021, not the recently passed FY22 Omnibus. It’s unclear why this was done. We are making comparisons here using the FY22 Omnibus numbers (where we can), hence why our information may not match other news outlets.
Let’s get into the details of the request:
National Science Foundation: Topline $10.5 billion, an increase of $1.66 billion, or 19 percent, over FY22 Omnibus levels. As with last year’s President’s request, NSF is the big winner by percentage increase among the science agencies. And the good news here goes down the line, with the Research and Related Activities (RRA) account receiving an increase of 17 percent and the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account receiving a 37 percent increase.
The budget materials also call for the CISE Directorate to receive a budget of $1.15 billion for FY23. It’s hard to get a solid idea on whether this is an increase for CISE, as they don’t have an estimate for their FY22 budget yet. It is an increase over the directorate’s FY21 budget of $1.01 billion. According to the program’s budget justification, the funds will, “accelerate climate and clean energy research, advance equity in science, engineering, and society, and bolster U.S. leadership in critical and emerging technologies.” The directorate’s plans also call for major investments in artificial intelligence, QIS, and semiconductors.
Established in the FY22 Omnibus is the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP). The requested topline for TIP is $880 million. Since Congress didn’t set a specific amount for the directorate in the Omnibus, there isn’t a comparison that can be made to last year’s budget (the Administration did request $865 million in their FY22 request last year). The aim for TIP is, “to advance emerging technologies to address societal and economic challenges and opportunities; accelerate the translation of research results from the lab to market and society; and cultivate new education pathways leading to a diverse and skilled future technical workforce comprising researchers, practitioners, technicians, and entrepreneurs.” We’ll have to keep a close eye on TIP as it makes its way through the budget process, as Congress is likely to have significant changes for the directorate in the near future.
Department of Energy, Office of Science: Topline $7.8 billion, an increase of $320 million or 4.3 percent over FY22 Omnibus levels. Within the Office of Science account, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, home to most of SCs computing research programs, would fare slightly worse. The program would be funded at $1.07 billion, which is an increase of $30 million, or 2.9 percent, over last year. DOE hasn’t released their detailed justification but what is provided by the Administration makes clear the department will continue their investments in AI, QIS, and Exascale computing.
The Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, fairs quite well in the Administration’s proposal. The program would receive a topline of $700 million, which is an increase of $250 million over the FY22 Omnibus, or +56 percent. The budget documents state that, “this investment in high-potential, high-impact research and development would help remove the technological barriers to advance energy and environmental missions.” It would also appear that the Biden Administration is stepping away from plans to create a new ARPA-C program, for climate research, instead focusing efforts at ARPA-E. This is likely because ARPA-C did not get much traction in Congress last year. The Administration states that, “the budget…proposes expanded authority for ARPA-E to more fully address innovation gaps around adaptation, mitigation, and resilience to the impacts of climate change.”
National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST): The topline is $1.48 billion, an increase of $250 million, or 20 percent, over the FY22 Omnibus. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see almost as good of an increase; $975 million for this year, which is $125 million more (+15 percent) than it received in the FY22 Omnibus.
National Institutes of Health (NIH): The health research agency has a complicated budget request. At the topline, it would appear to do quite well, being funded for FY23 at $49.04 billion, receiving an increase of $4.08 billion over the FY22 Omnibus, or +9.1 percent. However, things are a bit deceptive, as the new ARPA-H program is included in that number. Modeled after DARPA at the Defense Department and ARPA-E at the Department of Energy, ARPA-H received $1 billion in the FY22 Omnibus and would receive $5 billion under the President’s FY23 plan. So, the majority of NIH’s increase is going to the new ARPA-H program, leaving only modest increases for the rest of the agency.
Department of Defense (DOD): Unfortunately, the information that has been released for the defense research accounts is contradictory to the information we have been using to track these accounts over the last few years; we will need more time to analyze this information. However, for DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, the topline is provided: $4.12 billion, an increase of 6.5 percent (+$250 million) over FY22 levels.
NASA: Topline $26.0 billion, an increase of $2 billion or 8.3 percent over FY22 levels. The justification for the space agency’s FY23 budget is to invest in, “human and robotic exploration of the Moon; new technologies to improve the Nation’s space capabilities; and addressing the climate crisis through cutting-edge research satellites and green aviation research.” To that end, the Administration plans on providing the NASA Science program with a budget of $7.99 billion dollars, which is an increase of 5.1 percent, or $390 million, over FY22 Omnibus levels.
What happens now? The budget process now heads to both chambers of Congress for deliberations. Due to the late start, with last year’s budget only being finalized earlier this month, this is likely to be a long year for the federal budget process. Throwing in that this is an election year, it’s safe to say it’s unlikely FY23 will be finalized at the start of the fiscal year (which is October 1st). But we’ll be keeping track of developments, as well as have our normal detailed dives into specific agency’s requests, so be sure to check back for more information.
Yesterday the Director of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, formally announced the establishment of the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, or TIP. This is the first new NSF directorate established in more than 30 years. This move came about because of the passage of the Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill by Congress last week, which stipulated that NSF was authorized to establish this new directorate.
TIP’s mission is to position NSF as the nation’s lead science agency for innovation and to maintain the country’s competitiveness in new research fields and technology. As Dr. Panchanathan said in the announcement, “TIP is about developing exciting new approaches that supercharge research outcomes and enhance the cycle of discovery and innovation so that more solutions and technologies are available to the American people faster than ever.”
In addition to announcing the formation of the new directorate, Erwin Gianchandani was named as the inaugural assistant director for TIP. Dr. Gianchandani is no stranger to the computing community, as he is a former Director of CRA’s Computing Community Consortium, as well as the former Deputy Assistant Director at NSF’s CISE Directorate. NSF Director Panchanathan called Dr. Gianchandani, “a visionary leader with a wealth of experience in research, innovation, and partnership programs.”
At present it’s just a reorganization of existing programs at the agency, with little in terms of details on the TIP website. But NSF is repositioning much of its existing portfolio of innovation and translation programs into the new Directorate, such as the NSF’s Lab-to-Market Platform comprising the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps), Partnerships for Innovation (PFI), and Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR and STTR) programs, and the NSF Convergence Accelerator. Likely new programs and missions will follow as authorization legislation is agreed to by Congress in the, hopefully, near future.
CRA looks forward to working with the new TIP Directorate and its leadership to see how we can keep the United States the world leader in innovation for generations to come.
UPDATE: The Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus late in the evening on March 10th, sending it to President Biden to be signed into law. Therefore, Fiscal Year 2022 is complete.
Original Post: Over six months after the fiscal year began, Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) is inching closer to being passed into law by Congress. Unfortunately, this massive legislative package does not contain good news for many of the research accounts that the computing community is concerned about, most especially NSF.
Released in the early hours of March 9th, the FY22 Omnibus funding legislation is a legislative behemoth of over three thousand pages combining all twelve appropriation bills, a new four day continuing resolution (till March 15th), and two supplemental funding requests (one for the Ukraine War and the other for COVID response; to add to the drama, the COVID supplemental was ultimately yanked from the final package). Not only is there a lot going on with this legislative package but there is also not a lot of time for Congress to act, with the current continuing resolution (CR) only running until Friday March 11th.
Before getting into the details of the Omnibus, it’s worth taking a step back to understand what thinking that has shaped the funding plans for Fiscal Year 2022. Both the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats were adamant that they were increasing non-defense spending (which includes most of the research agencies we care about), while keeping defense spending flat. Their view is that during the sequestration budget years, non-defense spending had disproportionally received cuts and Democrats would be making up for lost time. The Administration budget request, and both the House and Senate budget plans, were developed with this mindset.
But when Democrat and Republican appropriators came to an agreement on final top line numbers for FY22 in mid-February, it was decided that defense and non-defense spending would be raised equally. This was because Democrats needed Senate Republicans to pass a final bill into law and this was the price of that support. At a high level, the details of the FY22 Omnibus confirm this agreement: the bill provides $730B in non-defense funds, a $46 billion increase over fiscal 2021, while it includes $782B in defense funds, a $42 billion increase. Unfortunately, that means the increases for non-defense spending in both the House and Senate plans had to be pared back; in NSF’s case, that meant a significant change in fortunes.
CJS: NSF, NIST, and NASA
The National Science Foundation would receive $8.84 billion for FY22, an increase of $350 million over last year or +4.1 percent. The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a similar 4.2 percent increase, up from $6.91 billion in FY21 to $7.2 billion for FY22. Finally, the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would also see an increase of 4.3 percent, going from $996 million in FY21 to $1.01 billion in FY22.
As for the new TIP Directorate, no dollar amount is given for establishing it. However, in the explanatory statements for Division B, which covers NSF, the appropriators say, “the agreement (meaning the omnibus) supports the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) within R&RA that builds upon and consolidates existing NSF programs.” This gives the agency the greenlight to start spending money on new initiatives within TIP. The Administration had requested $865 million in its initial request for the agency, so that will likely be what the agency will spend.
Regular readers will notice these numbers are well below both the House (+13.4 percent) and Senate (+11.8 percent) marks, to say nothing of what the President proposed (+19.8 percent). But when you consider that inflation is currently running at 7.5 percent, this increase is an effective cut; the agency won’t be able to maintain the same level of effort. This is a terrible way for the agency to close out the fiscal year, especially given what Congress is planning for NSF with the USICA and COMPETES bills. In fact, it’s fair to ask how the agency is supposed to keep the nation competitive without providing sufficient funding?
|FY21||FY22 PBR||FY22 House||FY22 Senate||FY22 Final||$ Change||% Change|
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) numbers are better and it’s the big winner within the CJS section of the Omnibus. The top line for the agency would be well funded, receiving $1.23 billion in FY22, which would be an increase of $200 million or a 19 percent increase. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would also see a healthy increase for FY22: $850 million, which is $62 million more (+7.9 percent) than it received for FY21. Despite being objectively good numbers, these are well below either the House or Senate plans for either the agency’s top line (House +33 percent; Senate +35 percent) or STRS (House +19 percent; Senate +16 percent).
|FY21||FY22 PBR||FY22 House||FY22 Senate||FY22 Final||$ Change||% Change|
NASA’s budget is similar to NSF, in that it will receive increases that don’t keep up with inflation. The top line for the agency goes from $23.27 billion in FY21 to $24 billion in FY22, an increase of $730 million or 3.1 percent. That is well below both the House (+7.6 percent) and Senate (+6.6 percent) marks.
As for the NASA Science account, it would receive a 4.1 percent increase and go from $7.30 billion in FY21 to $7.60 billion in FY22. Much like the agency’s top line, these numbers are well below both the House (+9.2 percent) and Senate (+8.2 percent) marks.
|FY21||FY22 PBR||FY22 House||FY22 Senate||FY22 Final||$ Change||% Change|
Energy: Dept of Energy, ASCR, and ARPA-E
The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would receive a relatively good increase in the FY22 Omnibus. The agency’s budget would go from $7.03 billion in FY21 to $7.475 billion in FY22, an increase of 6.3 percent or $445 million. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see a deceptively good increase of 2.0 percent – going from $1.02 billion in FY21 to $1.04 billion in FY22. I say deceptive because, much like the House and Senate plans, the ASCR construction subaccounts receive large decreases due to their projects coming closer to be completed. Meanwhile the ASCR research subaccounts would receive increases of 6 to 7 percent.
Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would receive an increase but not near the House (+41 percent) or Senate (+17 percent) plans. The agency would be funded at $450 million in FY22, an increase of 5.4 percent or $23 million over FY21. Additionally, the proposed ARPA-C (Climate) was not funded in the FY22 Omnibus.
|FY21||FY22 PBR||FY22 House||FY22 Senate||FY22 Final||$ Change||% Change|
|DOE SC Total||$7.03B||$7.44B||$7.32B||$7.50B||$7.475B||+$445M||+6.3%|
Defense: DOD and DARPA
In some good news, the Defense Department’s research accounts fared much better in the final Omnibus agreement. Regular readers will recall that the House numbers were not good (though not as bad as the Biden Administration’s request), while the Senate numbers were pretty good. The final numbers were very much a compromise between the two chambers but provided increases for all the accounts.
Basic Research (6.1) would receive an increase, going from $2.67 billion in FY21 to $2.76 billion in FY22, an increase of 3.4 percent or $90 million. The Administration originally requested a 14.5 percent cut for the account; the House had proposed an 8.7 percent cut, while the Senate numbers suggested a 12.5 percent increase.
The Applied Research (6.2) account fairs better. The account would see an increase of 7.1 percent compared to last year’s budget, going from $6.45 billion in FY21 to $7.1 billion (+$460 million) in FY22. These were both better than the House (-8.3 percent) and the Senate, (+1.3 percent) marks.
The Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would also receive the biggest increase, going from $7.76 billion in FY21 to $9.22 billion in FY22; an increase of $1.46 billion or 19 percent. This is significantly better than both the House (-1.5 percent) and Senate (+4.98 percent).
Finally, DARPA would also receive a healthy increase over FY21. The agency would go from $3.50 billion in FY21 to $3.87 billion under the FY22 Omnibus, an increase of 10.6 percent or $370 million. This is better than the House mark (-0.6 percent) but below the Senate’s (+12.1 percent).
|FY21||FY22 PBR||FY22 House||FY22 Senate||FY22 Final||$ Change||% Change|
Unless something extraordinary happens, these are likely to be the final numbers for FY22. While Congress currently has until the end of the week to pass this package, the House included a new CR (running until March 15th) in their flurry of votes, just in case extra time is needed. But that’s likely the last CR Congress will consider for this fiscal year. The House passed the Omnibus late last night. It now heads to the Senate and will likely receive expedited consideration, but the timing will be incredibly close to avoid a break in funding authority (hence the four-day CR). Expect the Senate to move slowly but it will pass, short of some incredible political grandstanding (which can’t be ruled out these days).
In conclusion, this is a very disappointing way to close out this fiscal year, particularly for NSF. While a four percent increase in previous years may have been something to celebrate – or at least not something to complain very loudly about – given the House and Senate proposed funding levels, the urgency around competitiveness, and the President’s budget request for the agency, hopes were considerably higher. When we add the impact of inflation, the four percent stops looking like an increase entirely and instead looks like we’re failing to keep pace with our current level of effort. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the importance of the investment in science and technology needed to remain competitive in an increasingly competitive world.
Looking ahead, we’re still waiting for the President to release his Fiscal Year 2023 request; we are now hearing it will be release by the end of this month but only as a “skinny” budget plan (meaning top line numbers and few details). And given that this is a mid-term election year, it’s safe to expect another slow budget process for FY23.
Technically begun back on October 1st, Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) is proving to be very difficult for Congressional appropriators to finish. Now, almost six months after the fiscal year was supposed to begin, Congress is set this week to vote on the third continuing resolution (CR) of FY22. This CR will fund the government until March 11th.
Regular readers will recall that back in December we mentioned that a full year continuing resolution was a real possibility and would constitute the worst-case scenario of how FY22 could end. That possibility is a little less right now, as all signs are pointing to Congressional leaders needing a little more time to iron out a compromise. While that sounds good, it worth keeping expectations in check; as we saw with the America COMPETES Act, bipartisanship can collapse quickly.
We can expect Congress to have this CR passed into law by the end of the week, barring any hiccups. After that, we should have an idea by the end of February whether FY22 is complete or we’re onto CR Number 4, which may or may not be a dreaded full year. And keep in mind, the budget process for Fiscal Year 2023 has yet to begin. Please be sure to check back for more updates.
UPDATE: The House passed the COMPETES Act on February 4th on a 222-to-210 vote.
Original Post: Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the America COMPETES Act of 2022. Very long-term readers will notice the call back to the original America COMPETES Act of 2007, which was a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation which called for the doubling of the research budgets of NSF, NIST, and the DOE Office of Science, as well as a major investment in the country’s STEM education. While those commitments weren’t fully realized, the House Democratic leadership is clearly hoping to rekindle the spirit of national importance from 2007.
This new COMPETES Act is a package of legislation that will allow simpler conferencing with the Senate’s US Innovation and Competitiveness Act (USICA), which passed last summer. Both are considered “China competition” bills, as the main goal of both COMPETES and USICA is to bolster the country’s competitiveness with China and respond to its rise as peer-rival to the US. Support for research, and the National Science Foundation specifically, figures heavily into both bills.
Of most note within this new COMPETES Act are the titles containing the NSF for the Future Act and the DOE Science for the Future Act. Both bills are the same, or have minor additions, to what was passed by the House last summer and the language still calls for significant increases to the budgets of NSF (+111 percent over five years) and DOE Office of Science (+59 percent over five years). CRA endorsed the NSF for the Future Act in May of 2021.
In addition to those two parts, there are additional titles in Division B of the bill, which is devoted to “Research and Innovation.” Division B is the House Science Committee’s section of the legislation and is made of several bills the committee has moved over the last several years (you can read detailed breakdowns on the Science Committee’s website). Some of the legislation of note includes:
- NIST for the Future Act – Much like its NSF and DOE counterparts, this is a reauthorization of NIST and calls for bold funding for the research agency for the next five years.
- STEM Opportunities Act – Calls for policy reforms, research, and data collection to identify and lower barriers facing women, minorities, and other groups underrepresented in STEM studies and research careers.
- Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act – This is to combat sexual harassment in the country’s science enterprise. It does so through a research grant program at NSF to study the problem, data collection on the prevalence of harassment, and directs OSTP to issue policy guidelines for research agencies awarding extramural research grants, emphasizing the importance of information sharing among Federal science agencies, among other provisions.
- Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act – Establishes a two-year, $250 million agency-wide early career fellowship pilot program at NSF, providing a bridge for recent Ph.D. graduates to stay in their research career while navigating the disruptions to the academic research job market due to the pandemic. Modeled after CRA’s CI Fellows program, the legislation calls for two cohorts of 1,600 fellows working in all STEM disciplines to carry out their research at the U.S. institutions of their choosing.
- Malign Foreign Talent Recruitment Program Prohibition – A general prohibition for American-based researchers, who accept federal research dollars, from participating in talent recruitment programs run by China, Russia, and Iran, as well as any other country deemed by the State Department to be a malign state.
Looking elsewhere in the legislation, Division A of the bill is the House version of the CHIPS Act. It calls for $52 billion in R&D funding for semiconductor industry, as well as financial support to encourage the industry to bring some of its manufacturing back to the United States. The R&D funding sections are identical to what’s in the Senate’s USICA bill; however, the House language goes further and provides an additional $45B in loans and grants to support domestic manufacturing of critical goods. While the money and assistance to the semiconductor industry is quite popular, and has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, this extra provision is likely to cause partisan problems (more on that in a moment).
House Democratic Leadership released a section-by-section breakdown of the entire COMPETES Act, which provides more details on all of the sections of the legislative package.
In short, this is a huge piece of legislation, covering a large number of topics, not all of it directly relevant to the research community. There are additional sections on foreign policy and import taxes on commercial products, to give just two examples. But it does provide for a better legislative counterpart to the Senate’s USICA bill and will allow an easier conferencing process. At least, from a nuts-and-bolts-legislative-process perspective it will be easier.
Here is where the politics come into play: House Republicans don’t like this bill. Even normal science allies, like House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), an original co-sponsor of the NSF for the Future Act, don’t like this bill. Many of the complaints are centered around the additional funding in the CHIPS Act section, though other sections are receiving criticism. There is likely some electoral politics in the calculus, with the mid-term elections in November on everyone’s minds and Republicans expecting to recapture the majority in both chambers. It’s unclear at present whether Senate Republicans, who have been supportive of the Senate USICA bill, will take up their House counterparts’ objections during the conference process. Only time will tell.
House leadership is planning on moving COMPETES this week, so we should have an idea soon on how deep the political divides have become. And conference negotiations with the Senate should start soon thereafter. We will be following events closely, so be sure to check back for more updates.
Last week the Biden Administration announced several new immigration actions they are taking to attract STEM talent and strengthen the nation’s competitiveness. The actions are being taken by both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and are designed to ease the pathway for foreign students studying in the US to stay and work in the country once their studies have finished. The changes are more technical tweaks, rather than broad reforms, which would require new legislation from Congress. However, many of the changes have long been advocated by the higher education and high-tech communities and should provide some relief.
Of perhaps most note for the computing community are the 22 new fields of study being added to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. OPT is a program that permits F-1 students earning bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in certain STEM fields to remain in the US for up to 36 months to work in their field of study. CS and IT fields are heavily represented in the group of new fields. Of particular note is data science; its exclusion from the OPT STEM category has come up in several instances with CS and CE departments recently. CRA has been helping these affected departments navigate the byzantine regulatory system of OPT, so the inclusion of several new CS/IT fields of study is a welcome win for the community.
Other actions being taken by DHS include:
– Updating its policy manual related to “extraordinary ability” (O-1A) nonimmigrant status regarding what evidence may satisfy the O-1A evidentiary criteria. O-1A nonimmigrant status is available to persons of extraordinary ability in the fields of science, business, education, or athletics, though it has rarely been used by the STEM community. DHS is clarifying how it determines “extraordinary abilities,” such as PHD holders, in the STEM fields and will provide examples of evidence that can be submitted by petitioners, as well as how to provide evidence of comparable significance.
– DHS is also issuing an update to its policy manual on how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates national interest waivers for certain immigrants with exceptional abilities in their field of work. Current law provides that USCIS may waive a job offer requirement, allowing immigrants whose work is in the national interest to petition for themselves, without an employer; the USCIS policy update clarifies how the national interest waiver can be used for persons with advanced degrees in STEM fields and entrepreneurs.
Additionally, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is announcing a new “Early Career STEM Research Initiative.” This is to facilitate non-immigrant BridgeUSA exchange visitors coming to the US to engage in STEM research through research, training or educational exchange visitor programs with host organizations, including businesses. ECA is also announcing new guidance that will allow undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields on the J-1 visa to stay in the US for periods of up to 36 months after their programs conclude. The 36-month timeframe is the current amount of time just for PhD students; other educational levels had less time.
While these are good and long-overdue changes that provide much needed assistance to the STEM community and the nation’s high-tech workforce, they are technical tweaks, rather than transformative reforms. Given the US governmental system, the executive branch is constrained in how far they are able to make changes without the input of the legislature. Hopefully, Congress will see these actions and take up broader high-skilled immigration changes in order to provide more relief for the country’s STEM community and workforce. CRA will continue to monitor these issues and report on any new developments.
Early last week, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released it’s long-awaited guidance to all federal research agencies on how to implement the requirements in National Security Presidential Memorandum 33 (NSPM-33). That memorandum, issued in the closing days of the previous administration, is meant to, “strengthen protections of United States Government-supported R&D against foreign government interference and exploitation,” while, “maintaining an open environment to foster research discoveries and innovation that benefit our nation and the world.” The NSPM-33 was issued in response to multiple incidents over the years of foreign governments (primarily China, though Russia and Iran are also frequently cited) attempting to illicitly obtain research from federally supported researchers. The guidance is meant 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 new requirements.
An on-going concern with efforts to crack down on this “research security” problem is that it could lead to singling out people of specific ethnicities, particular those of Chinese descent. OSTP and the National Science and Technology Council were as concerned about not fueling prejudice and xenophobia as they were about protecting research. In fact, the “General Implementation Guidance” (page 1) states that research agencies need to engage with the research community throughout their implementation process, as well as to adopt measures that are “risk-based,” while avoiding retroactive application of measures. While this appears to be a good first step, there is still much work to be do, most significantly each research agency will need to put out their specific policies.
We have already seen some of those first steps and there are concerns. Back in September, the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) released their initial rubric for identifying researchers and placing them in risk categories. Those instructions focused heavily on relationships and ties (family, professional, financial) of researchers and less on actions that researchers have taken (ex: participation in a foreign government talent recruitment program or accepting gifts from people or companies aligned with foreign governments). It also named specific countries of concern, with China, Russia, and Iran used prominently. As an example, a foreign-born Chinese American researcher, regardless of citizenship status, could be labeled as “high risk” if they still had family in their home country. As another example, a native-born US researcher with foreign-born grad students from the listed countries could be labelled as “high risk.”
Once CRA became aware of this rubric, we engaged with DARPA leadership to voice the community’s concerns with this approach, its likely negative impact on the nation’s research enterprise, and to offer possible revisions. Among them, we recommended removing mention of specific countries; this would not only reduce the chance of prejudice against researchers from specific countries, but it would also help the rubric to age better. We also suggested that the focus should be more on actions taken by researchers and not on their professional or kinship relationships. Thankfully, DARPA listened and substantially changed their rubric to reflect these edits; they released the revised rubric in early December, along with a FAQ.
This is not the end of the process; it is only the initial guidance for all federal research agencies. Each agency will now need to individualize it for implementation with their communities. As well, this guidance does not explain how the federal government will use this information in making decisions about research funding and support for researchers; OSTP and the National Science and Technology Council are now beginning the initial steps in those areas. This will require constant vigilance on the part of research community to make sure it is implemented correctly and fairly. As actions are taken by the assorted research agencies, we will provide updates, so please keep checking back.
Last week, Congress rushed to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) in order to keep the government’s operations from shutting down. Those who have followed our updates on the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget already know that both Appropriations Committees have finished their work on their respective slate of bills, and we are waiting for compromised legislation to be negotiated. Unfortunately, finishing out FY22 is not that simple.
The new deadline created by the current CR is February 18th. Originally, Congressional Democrats wanted the deadline to be in mid-January. However, Congressional Republicans successfully pushed for the later date, saying that they needed more time for negotiations, specifically to eliminate any “poison pill” policy provisions or keep in so called “legacy riders” (language that has been included in funding legislation for years). Unfortunately, this creates a situation where it’s hard to predict how the fiscal year will finally end.
If past is prologue, then another CR will likely be needed; Congress has a long to-do list for early next year and the FY22 budget is only one item. But it’s hard to say how long another CR will last. There are three possible scenarios:
- A short CR, as in a few days to a week, to iron out final details;
- If negotiations drag on, a CR of a month or more;
- If no compromise can be reached, the worst-case scenario is a full-year CR that goes to October 1st (the beginning of the next fiscal year, FY23).
Why would a full-year CR be so bad? Because research agencies would not have the legal authority to start new programs and their funding would be frozen at the previous year’s levels. While Congress could make exceptions in a year-long CR, such as to allow NSF to start new efforts in their proposed new TIP Directorate, it’s not likely they would want to open the metaphorical floodgates on such a process.
The bottom-line is that closing out Fiscal Year 2022 is uncertain at the moment. Hopefully the new year will bring a compromise between the two sides in Congress and the nation’s researchers can be spared the funding hardships that come with a full-year Continuing Resolution. Please check back for more updates.
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