Computing Research Policy Blog

Department of Defense FY 2022 Request: This is a Terrible Budget Request

In our continuing series following the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Defense (DOD). 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. Unlike the requested budgets of NSF and DOE, most of these accounts are cut heavily under the President’s plans for FY22.

All three of DOD S&T’s accounts are pretty grim. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, is cut heavily at 14.5 percent; going from $2.67 billion in FY21 to $2.28 billon under the Biden Administration’s plan (a cut of $388 million). The details for 6.1 accounts make it look worse: the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s “University Research Initiative” subaccounts are cut at 31.1, 18.9, and 17.5 percent, respectively.

Additionally, the overall Applied Research (6.2) account is also cut at 14.5 percent; going from $6.45 billion in FY21 to $5.51 billion under the Administration’s framework, a loss of $937 million. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would receive a large cut too, going from $7.76 billion in FY21 to $6.89 billion in FY22, a cut of $862 million (or 11.1 percent). All very bad.

DARPA would be the only account to escape cuts. The agency would see an increase, but just barely. It would go from $3.50 billion in FY21 to $3.53 billion in FY22, an increase of 0.8 percent (or $27 million). Effectively, DARPA is flat funded.

FY20 FY21 FY22 PBR $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.60B $2.67B $2.28B -$388M -14.5%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $6.45B $5.51B -$937M -14.5%
DOD 6.3 $7.40B $7.76B $6.89B -$862M -11.1%
DARPA $3.46B $3.50B $3.53B +$27M +0.8%

What’s going on, especially in light of the Biden Administration’s general support for scientific research and for federal science agencies? There are two things happening here. The first is that there is likely some budget gamesmanship happening 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 it works, Congress puts money back into R&D and the moved money “sticks” elsewhere in the DOD budget. Not a new strategy, as the Trump Administration (and the Obama and Bush Administrations) did this same thing. Given that the Defense Department in general is a big loser in Biden’s FY22 budget, it makes this view likely.

However, there is a second view that the President is under significant pressure from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to make up for cuts to domestic programs during the Sequestration Budget years of the past decade. To that end, increases elsewhere in the federal budget have to come from somewhere and the Department of Defense takes the hit.

These budgets are now in the hands of Congress, and it will be interesting to see how they are handled. One thing we do know is that CRA will continue to make the case for the importance of these Federal investments in defense research for our national security and the criticality of remaining a global leader in science and technology. We’ll keep track of their progress, so please check back for updates.

Senate Passes Endless Frontier Act

Last night, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which includes the Endless Frontier Act, the bill sponsored by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Young (R-IN) that proposed a major reorganization, and increased funding authorizations, of the National Science Foundation, among other provisions. The authorization levels for the National Science Foundation ($81 billion over five years, of which $29 billion for the new Directorate for Technology & Innovation) and the Department of Energy ($16.9 billion over five years) are unchanged from what was agreed to during the Senate Commerce Committee markup in May. Additionally, the CHIPS Act, which provides $52 billion in emergency appropriations for semiconductor R&D, also survived the amendment process. One amendment that was agreed to by the Senate, proposed by Senator Sasse (R-NE), authorized an additional $3.5 billion per year for five years to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA); that would double DARPA’s current budget. The USICA passed on a bipartisan basis with a vote of 68 Yeas to 32 Nays.

The process now goes to the House of Representatives. We have heard that the full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will consider their NSF for the Future Act next week, with consideration by the full House soon after. Seeing that the USICA covers several more topics than the NSF for the Future Act, it’s still unclear how conferencing the different bills will work. We will be keeping track of developments as they happen, so please check back for updates.

Department of Energy FY 2022 Request: Relatively Modest Budget Increases with Exascale and QIS Featured as Administration Priorities

In our continuing series following the Biden Administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Energy (DOE). Similar to the NSF budget request we detailed earlier, but DOE gets just a bit less generous of a request.

Two key parts of DOE for the computing community are the Office of Science (SC), home of most of the agency’s basic research support, and ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

As we detailed in the “skinny” budget that was released in April, the President’s FY22 request for DOE SC is $7.44 billion; which is an increase of 5.8 percent, compared to the FY21 enacted level of $7.03 billion. The increase goes to, “investments in Administration priorities including basic research on climate change and clean energy, fundamental science to transform manufacturing, and biopreparedness.” Additionally, SC will begin a new broadening participation initiative, called Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce (RENEW). It is a, “targeted efforts to increase participation and retention of underrepresented groups in SC research activities.” The request will also support, “ongoing investments in priority areas including microelectronics, critical materials, quantum information science (QIS), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), exascale computing, integrated computational and data infrastructure for scientific discovery, and accelerator science and technology.”

Within the Office of Science account, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program – home to most of SCs computing research programs — would fare less well. The program would be funded at $1.04 billion, which is an increase of $25 million, or 2 percent, over last year. ASCR’s increase will:

“strengthen U.S. leadership in strategic computing with operation of the Nation’s first exascale computing system, Frontier, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and deployment of a second system, Aurora, at Argonne National Laboratory…(it) also broadens the foundations of AI and QIS, and expands the infrastructure that enables data-driven science…(and) increases support for the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship and the initiation of a new activity, RENEW, to increase participation and retention of underrepresented groups in areas relevant to ASCR.”

As for ARPA-E, in a change from the last few years of budget requests that recommended cancelling the program, the agency would see a healthy increase. Under the President’s plan ARPA-E would receive $500 million, an increase of $73 million over last year, or 17 percent.

FY20 FY21 FY22 PBR $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $7.00B $7.03B $7.44B +$400M +5.8%
ASCR $980M $1.02B $1.04B +$25M +2.0%
ARPA-E $425M $427M $500 +$73M +17%

In another Biden Administration priority, the DOE request includes $200M for the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C). This is in line with the President’s efforts to respond to climate change, and the program’s mission will be, “to identify and promote research with the potential to make revolutionary advances in breakthrough sciences, to translate scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations, and to accelerate transformational technological advances in areas that industry by itself will not support because of technical and financial risk and uncertainty.” It will be interesting to see Congress response to this program, as it’s likely to attract even more ideological attacks than ARPA-E has received, while benefiting from less bipartisan favor.

As with NSF’s request, the budget is now in Congress’ hands, and we’ll continue to track progress. Please keep checking back for more updates and additional information.

NSF FY2022 Request: Strong Vision for NSF’s Future Backed Up with a Robust Funding Increase

At the end of last week, the Biden Administration released its long anticipated full Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) 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.

NSF fares quite well in the President’s request, a stark change from previous years budget request. It’s worth noting that this fuller budget request is in line with the “skinny” blueprint that was released in April. Under the Administration’s plan, the agency would see a nearly 20 percent increase compared to FY21, in overall funding. NSF would go from $8.49 billion in FY21 to $10.2 billion in FY22, an increase of $1.7 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 $6.91 billion in FY21 to $8.14 billion in FY22, a plus up of $1.2 billion (or 17.8 percent). Education and Human Resources (EHR), the subaccount that contains the agency’s education programs, would also see an increase of $319 million, going from $968 million in FY21 to $1.29 billion under the President’s plan; that’s an increase of 33 percent.

FY20 FY21 FY22 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.28B $8.49B $10.2B +$1.7B +19.8%
R&RA $6.74B $6.91B $8.14B +$1.2B +17.8%
EHR $940M $968M $1.29B +$319M +33%
CISE $996M $1.01B $1.12B +$29M +11%

The Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate (CISE), the home for most computing research support at NSF, would receive an 11 percent increase under the President’s plan, growing by more than $110 million over FY21. That increase would be roughly evenly divided across the directorate, with the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF), Computer and Network Systems (CNS), and Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) all receiving about 9 percent more in FY22 (or about $20 million), and the Information Technology Research (ITR) program receiving $29 million (or about 24.5 percent more than FY22). That ITR funding is requested to “support convergent activities that transcend the traditional disciplinary boundaries of individual NSF units.”

In addition to CISE support for the broad scope of the computing research fields – indeed, in FY21 the directorate estimates it is responsible for funding 87 percent of the federal funding for fundamental computer science research at U.S. academic institutions – the request notes major investments in Advanced Manufacturing, Advanced Wireless Research, Artificial Intelligence, and Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace, with significant increases in funding in FY22 for Climate: Clean Energy Technology, Microelectronics and Semiconductors, and Quantum Information Science. CISE support would continue for the AI Research Institutes program, which would grow from $25.5 million in FY21 to $30.5 million in FY22. Including support from other directorates, the AI Research Institutes program would grow to $69 million in FY22 (from $51 million).

Overall, the newly requested funding would allow CISE to fund an additional 440 research grants compared to FY21 (2,010 in FY21 vs. 2450 FY22 estimate), raising the overall funding rate from 24 percent to 27 percent.

In a briefing with CRA staff, CISE AD Margaret Martonosi noted the goals guiding development of this request were a desire to enhance fundamental research overall, strengthen U.S. leadership, advance equity, advance climate science, and advance the continuation of facilities construction. Included in the request is $100 million targeted around racial equity-related programs. Martonosi also highlighted directorate priorities around AI, increasing engagement with Minority Serving Institutions, Climate Change, Advanced Wireless Research and the Resilient and Intelligent Next-Generation Systems (RINGS) program, and working with the new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate.

The new directorate is perhaps the biggest change in this year’s NSF request. Under the President’s plan, it would be established within R&RA and be similar to the Directorate of Technology & Innovation, proposed in the Senate’s Endless Frontier Act, and the Directorate for Science & Engineering Solutions, which is in the House Science Committee’s NSF for the Future bill. TIP’s mission would be to:

“closely collaborate with all of NSF’s other directorates and offices, as well as with other stakeholders in the Nation’s research, innovation, and education enterprise, to advance science and engineering research and innovation leading to breakthrough technologies as well as solutions to national and societal challenges, sustaining and enhancing U.S. competitiveness on a global stage; accelerate the translation of fundamental discoveries from lab to market, advancing the U.S. economy; and create education pathways for every American to pursue new, high-wage jobs, supporting a diverse workforce of researchers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs.”

The Biden Administration is recommending that TIP be established with an initial budget of $865 million, though the President’s American Jobs Plan calls for a total of $50 billion to be invested in the new directorate over the next 8 years. In addition to directorate funding of NSF-wide investments in the major investment areas noted above, the directorate request includes $200 million for new Regional Innovation Accelerators (RIAs). These centers are intended to, “build and expand the capacities for innovation at the level of individual communities and/or regions,” by tackling use-inspired, solutions-oriented research and innovation. The goal is to help areas without the research infrastructure of a Silicon Valley become the next Silicon Valley by partnering NSF, academia, industry, non-profits, state and local governments and venture capital. The RIAs would be funded at $10 million per year for 10 years.

How the new directorate would integrate with the existing directorates is still somewhat of an open question. What it will look like after Congress has its say in the matter is another. But with its inclusion in the budget request, and its prominent role in both major NSF reauthorization proposals in Congress, it’s clear that some directorate-like entity tasked with a technology development mission will be stood up at the Foundation, probably in FY22.

These large new investments in NSF may seem like too-good-to-be-true news for NSF, so what’s the catch? The catch is Congress has to agree with this plan and then appropriate the funds. Given the bipartisan praise and attention that NSF is currently receiving from Congress, with the aforementioned Endless Frontier Act and the NSF for the Future Act, a budget increase for the agency is likely. However, during one of the Senate hearings for the EFA, Senator Moran (R-KS), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations CJS Subcommittee, which is in charge of NSF’s budget, mentioned that he thought it would be difficult to appropriate funding levels this high given the subcommittee’s other obligations. Is that a fiscal conservative’s pessimistic view or an important perspective to keep expectations for NSF in check? It’s hard to say right now, but keeping hopes reasonable is always a good idea.

Still, this request shows great confidence in NSF and it is an excellent place for the budget process to begin. Next stop is the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, both of which have already begun hearings on the agency’s budget and should start drafting their bills soon. We can expect to get the first indications sometime in July. We’ll be keeping track, so please check back for more updates.

President Biden Requests Increases for Non-Defense Federal Research; Cuts to Defense Research in FY2022

Cover of the President's FY2022 Budget RequestOn Friday, President Joe Biden released his $6 trillion, detailed request for the FY 2022 Federal Budget, including a 9 percent increase for Federal investments in research and development across the government. This strong commitment to R&D in a budget request is a marked departure over the budget requests for science in the previous administration. It also reflects a belief by the current Administration that science can help make real progress on concerns around climate change, our health and well-being in the face of pandemic and other disease, and ensure that the U.S. maintains its economic and technological leadership against a growing threat from China and other global competitors. 

Across the board, non-defense science agencies fared well in the President’s request. As we noted from the President’s “Skinny Budget” released back in April, the National Science Foundation would receive nearly 20 percent in additional funding in FY22 under the President’s plan, with the CISE directorate receiving an increase of 11 percent over FY21. The President’s request also calls for the creation of a new Directorate of Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) alongside the existing research directorates that would focus on helping move research into the marketplace. That focus includes a $200 million requested investment in new regional innovation accelerators to help parts of the country with underdeveloped research infrastructures compete better with established tech centers like Silicon Valley. The overall requested investment in TIP would be $865 million in FY22 under the President’s plan, with a goal of total spending for the directorate of $50 billion over the next 8 years. 

DOE’s Office of Science would see a more modest increase of 6 percent over FY21 under the President’s plan, with the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program growing by 2 percent to support exascale and the Leadership Class computing centers. 

NIST would see its budget grow by 45 percent, including an increase of 16 percent for the Science and Technical Research and Service program.

NASA would grow by 7 percent, including a 9 percent increase for NASA Science programs. 

And the National Institutes of Health would see a 21 percent increase in FY22 — its budget growing to more than $54 billion under the President’s plan. 

On the Defense side, the situation is not nearly so favorable for research. Defense basic research (6.1) would decline by 13 percent under the President’s plan; applied research (6.2) would decline by 14 percent; and Advanced Technology Development would see an 11 percent decline. As is nearly always the case with the Defense request (especially for research), there is often much give and take between the President’s requested budget and the one ultimately settled on by Congress, but such big requested cuts as a starting point in the negotiation ought to raise concerns. 

As always, the President’s budget request marks just the first step in the annual process that will result in the final appropriations bills that will fund all the operations of government. Congress will have its say in the coming weeks and months. While the budget requests of the previous administration were routinely ignored by Congress, many of the increases proposed in this one — especially those for NSF — will find favor in both parties, though perhaps not quite to the same degree. 

In the coming days, we’ll have deeper dives on all the key science agencies, including a close look at NSF CISE and the new TIP Directorate. And, of course, we’ll bring you all the details as the appropriations process makes its long, meandering way to final resolution this Fall (or Winter?). 

Tale of Two Bills: Competing Visions of NSF’s Future Make Their Way Through Congress

Over the last two months, competing visions of the future of the National Science Foundation have been making their way through the House and Senate. And much like the famous opening line of Tale of Two Cities, their paths could not be more dissimilar. On the House side, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act has made deliberative and bipartisan progress through the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Meanwhile, on the Senate side, the Endless Frontier Act has been introduced; pulled, reworked, and reintroduced; heavily amended during a marathon Senate Commerce Committee hearing; and is now before the full Senate undergoing another round of amendments. Very different paths.

Let’s start with the Senate and the Endless Frontier Act. This has been a moving target with major changes to the bill happening at every legislative step. Regular readers will recall that the bill was first introduced in mid-April; it was almost immediately pulled from a scheduled Senate Commerce Committee hearing because of a large number of amendments, which is a sign that the legislation would not progress as written. The legislation was reworked, incorporating as many amendments as possible, and was reintroduced at a marathon 6+ hour hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee. At that hearing, the bill was further changed.

The new Endless Frontier Act is quite different. The bill still establishes a new Directorate for Technology & Innovation (abbreviated TD for “Tech Directorate”) with the directorate’s program managers expected to operate like their counterparts at DARPA. As well, the ten Technology Focus Areas (which are largely unchanged from previous versions) are now required to be reviewed every year; it had been every three years. Additionally, the new language transfers several current efforts of NSF into the new directorate. Most make sense and aren’t problematic, such as the Convergence Accelerator and the I-Corps programs; however, it does transfer the National AI Research Institutes program out of CISE with potential ramifications for the CS research community.

The funding authorizations are also different from previous versions. NSF, minus the new TD, gets a plus up of 30 percent over five years — a rough average of 5.5 percent a year. The Foundation would grow from just under $9 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 to just over $11 billion in 2026. In a significant change from previous versions of the bill, the new tech directorate would receive just over $40 billion in authorizations over five years, starting out at $2.5B in FY22 and growing to $14.9B in FY26, well down from the $100 billion originally proposed. As in the previous versions, that funding would be targeted to R&D activities in the key focus areas, support for scholarships and fellowships, test beds, efforts to improve academic tech transfer, and capacity building at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority serving institutions (MSIs). Additionally, in perhaps the most contentious change, the Department of Energy would also receive a $16 billion funding authorization over five years to perform research in the Technology Focus Areas. Guidance to DOE on how to spend the authorization is limited to “R&D and address[ing] the energy-related supply chain activities within the key focus areas.” Much of these DOE funds come directly at the expense of the new directorate; in fact, Senator Young (R-IN), one of the co-sponsors of EFA, called this amendment a “poison pill” during the committee hearing.

Chart Comparing Funding Levels in Endless Frontier Act to NSF for the Future Act

There are other provisions of note in the new language. Perhaps the most significant is a new emphasis on the geographic diversity of which states receive NSF funds. Senator Wicker (R-MS), the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, championed this issue during previous hearings. The new language now requires NSF to use “at least 20 percent” of the funding provided to the TD to carry out the EPSCoR program, which helps states who historically receive less NSF funding to build up their research capacity. In addition, the legislation also requires that “at least 20 percent” of all NSF funding must be used to carry out EPSCoR. Senator Wicker called this a “quantum leap” in terms of providing geographic diversity; seeing as last year NSF used about 3 percent of its research funding for EPSCoR, the Senator’s description is close to the mark. Provisions echoing this are throughout the legislation language for almost everything that is authorized.

There are also new provisions concerning research security, putting potentially greater scrutiny on controls for the research funded at the new directorate. There are two sections that are potentially concerning for the research community (legislative text in full). One section (Sec. 2303) puts prohibitions and reporting requirements on principal investigators from taking part in foreign talent recruit programs, with complete bans on recruitment programs from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. The second section (Sec. 2304) is about “Additional Requirements for Directorate Research Security;” while vaguely worded, it could potentially lay the groundwork for putting controls on the research performed in the new directorate. The language is not clear as to what those controls would be, but it leans heavily on NSF to figure out how to protect the research in the technology focus areas.

While not a clean process, EFA did pass the Senate Commerce Committee with a bipartisan vote of 24-4. It was then moved quickly to the Senate floor last week, combined into a package with other legislation, and renamed the “United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021.” The bill is now 1400+ pages and has several new sections corresponding to several pieces of other legislation considered by other Senate committees. A major addition to the package is the “Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Fund,” which provides $52 billion in emergency appropriations for semiconductor R&D. These funds are to both help bolster and expand the semiconductor industry in the United States and to foster research on next generation chips. Much of this legislative package deals with responding to the rise of China as a peer-rival to the US, so there are many sections handling foreign policy matters. But there are also sections dealing with research security, such as subjecting foreign donations to US academic institutions to oversight by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS). In short, this is no longer an authorization bill; it is much bigger.

The legislation was expected to be finalized and voted on before the Memorial Day weekend, but that has since changed; it is now expected to be handled in June when the Senate reconvenes after their holiday recess.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the response has been very different. After the Senate Commerce Committee passed EFA, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee put out a statement saying much of the Senate bill lacks a clear vision for NSF and is weighed down by special interest provisions. Rep. Lucas’ view should be seen as a barometer of Republican support for NSF; they will advocate for increases but only to an extent, and those increases must be well justified.

To that end, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has been moving their own NSF bill. Regular readers will recall that Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Lucas, along with Subcommittee on Research and Technology Chairwoman Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Ranking Member Michael Waltz (R-FL), introduced the National Science Foundation for the Future Act in late March and have been holding several hearings about NSF since. On May 13th the Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a markup of the legislation. In contrast with the Senate, the legislation is unchanged since introduction, it received only a few non-controversial amendments during this hearing, and it was passed unanimously on a voice vote. The next step is for the full Science Committee to markup the legislation; that’s likely to happen in early June. Consideration on the House floor should happen soon after. The Science Committee is also beginning the process of reauthorizing the Department of Energy’s Office of Science; we’ll have more details on that in a future post.

CRA endorsed the NSF for the Future Act in early May.

What happens next? At some point, these two different views on NSF’s future have to be reconciled and a compromise worked out. The main draw for EFA has been its higher funding level for the agency but, because of all the amendments, it is now much closer to the levels in the NSF for the Future Act; that is actually good from a compromise perspective. But since the USICA covers so many topics, many of which the House has not begun to cover, will the House even consider a conference? Or would it attempt to break the matter up into smaller pieces? Would the Senate agree to go along with that approach? It’s not unusual for legislation to remain idle before there’s an agreement between the two chambers, but that idleness can last months. Should the Senate pass the EFA/USICA bill, the likelihood that something gets worked out is high. But the timeframe is TBD. We’ll keep tracking all the developments, so please check back for more information.

Dr. Eric Lander Confirmed as Next Presidential Science Advisor

Today the United States Senate confirmed on a voice vote Dr. Eric Lander as the next Presidential Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). Nominated in January by President Biden, Dr. Lander, a world-renowned biologist and former leader of the Human Genome Project, will be the first Science Advisor in history to be a member of the President’s Cabinet.

CRA released a statement commending the President’s nomination of Lander back in January and we look forward to working with the new Science Advisor and his team to advance the nation’s computing and information technology research.

CRA Statement on the Introduction of the Bipartisan National Science Foundation for the Future Act

The Computing Research Association applauds the bipartisan effort to increase dramatically investments in American science and technology research at the National Science Foundation through the introduction of the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225). The cosponsors of the bill, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), along with Subcommittee on Research and Technology Chairwoman Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Ranking Member Michael Waltz (R-FL), all long-time champions of America’s scientific research enterprise, continue their leadership with this well-crafted vision for the future of the National Science Foundation.

The legislation proposes many improvements and updates to the Foundation. In particular, we view the proposed investments in the Foundation’s Research and Related Activities account as essential for the continued health of the US research enterprise, the country’s economic competitiveness, and our national defense. Additionally, the provisions on STEM education and workforce development, as well as the section on broadening participation, are crucial to address long-standing problems in the country’s scientific ecosystem and will help it to grow and benefit all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or economic standing.

We thank the bill’s co-sponsors and look forward to working with all parties to help perfect the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.

Senator Schumer Reintroduces Endless Frontier Act, Latest Proposal for Major Reorganization of the National Science Foundation

Yesterday, Senator Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Majority Leader, along with Senator Young (R-IN) and a bipartisan group of 10 other Senators, reintroduced the Endless Frontier Act, legislation that would authorize $100 billion in new funding for the National Science Foundation and make the agency responsible for maintaining the country’s global leadership in innovation. There is also a bipartisan version introduced in the House. Regular readers will recall that this bill was introduced last year and its reintroduction has been anticipated.

There are several differences between this bill and what was introduced a year ago. One notable difference is that it no longer stipulates a change to NSF’s name. Another is that this is not a straight reauthorization of NSF; it is much broader and can likely be filed under a “national competitiveness” heading. There are several sections on NIST and the Department of Commerce, on such topics as Supply Chain Resiliency, Regional Technology Hubs, and a Manufacturing USA program (some of this, but not all, was in last year’s bill).

However, the core of last year’s proposal is back with some meaningful tweaks. It again proposes a new technology development directorate, now named the “Directorate of Technology and Innovation.” And it still would require the Program Managers and experts of the new directorate to operate like their counterparts at DARPA. And the key technology focus areas are back, though slightly broadened in some area:

(i) artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other software advances;
(ii) high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware;
(iii) quantum computing and information systems;
(iv) robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing;
(v) natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation;
(vi) advanced communications technology;
(vii) biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology;
(viii) cybersecurity, data storage, and data management technologies;
(ix) advanced energy, batteries, and industrial efficiency;
(x) advanced materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other key technology focus areas;

The legislation still requires that there only be ten focus areas at any one time, and they can be changed every three years. It’s unclear where the new directorate will reside in NSF; the text appears to give discretion to the NSF Director to determine this.

A new change is the funding authorization in the bill. In Section 4, it establishes a $112.41 billion fund over five years, dubbed the “Endless Frontier Fund.” The bill empowers the Director of the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) with budget authority to administer the fund. Additionally, the bill stipulates that $100 billion of this fund goes to NSF for the new directorate; it would then be authorized for each of the five years as follows:

$5B for Fiscal Year 2022
$10B for Fiscal Year 2023
$20B for Fiscal Year 2024
$30B for Fiscal Year 2025
$35B for Fiscal Year 2026

There is an additional $9.425 billion authorized for NIST and the regional technology hub program, $575 million for the “comprehensive regional technology strategy grant program,” and $2.41 billion for a new Manufacturing USA Program.

What exactly is this new directorate supposed to fund? The legislation is pretty specific, with 35 percent of funds to go to a “University Technology Centers” program; 15 percent to scholarships, fellowships, and other student support, including not fewer than 1,000 postdoctoral fellowships, 2,000 graduate fellowships and traineeships, and 1,000 undergraduate scholarships in the key technology focus areas; 5 percent to a “Moving Technology from Laboratory to Market” program; 10 percent to a “Test Beds” program; 15 percent for, “research and related activities in cross-directorate awards;” and 20 percent for research in the key technology focus areas.

The legislation also makes it much more explicit that the new directorate should work with other Federal research agencies, specifically calling out the Department of Energy, the National Labs, and NIST. While this has always been an understood function of the new directorate, it seems the bill’s authors wanted to make it clearer as to how it should work across the Federal agencies for a whole-of-government approach to innovation.

While this all appears to represent a huge potential increase to NSF, keep in mind that this is an authorizing (or policy) bill, not an appropriations bill. That means that if it were to become law, funding is not a given, and NSF would still have to get funding through the appropriations process. Still, this again shows that NSF has the confidence of key members of Congress and that it is well positioned to help lead the country’s innovation strategy.

But how does this fit in with the House Science Committee’s recent bill? And President Biden’s recently announced infrastructure plan and skinny budget? Put simply, we don’t know. These are competing visions for NSF’s future and the differences will have to be hammered out through the legislative process before anything becomes law. But the fact that this is bipartisan legislation, originating in the Senate, gives the whole effort a good chance at success. The first real indication will be a Senate Commerce Committee mark-up of this legislation expected to be scheduled for next week. So we will have to see how this process plays out; be sure to keep checking back for updates.

PS: Again, if you’re having trouble keeping all these proposals straight, here’s a handy visual cheat sheet.

Update 4/28: The EFA bill has been pulled from the April 28th Senate Commerce Committee hearing due to a large number of amendments that were offered by committee members (we have heard over 200). That is usually a sign of the current bill not having consensus to pass as written. The assumption is there will be behind the scenes negotiations to come up with new language that can address some of the concerns raised by the amendments and would make the bill more likely to pass with bipartisan support. This moves consideration of EFA to the middle of May, at the earliest, though further delays are possible. This situation is still highly fluid, so keep checking back for updates.

Catalyzing Computing Podcast on Health Informatics and Aging-in-Place Technologies

As we’ve noted previously, President Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan includes some pretty large proposed investments in R&D — on the order of $180 billion over the eight years of the plan. But that’s not the only aspect of the plan that might be relevant to computing researchers. Also included is a $400 billion investment in the “Caretaking Economy” targeted at home and community-based care for elderly and disabled people. On the new CCC Catalyzing Computing podcast, join host Khari Douglas as he talks with CCC Council member Dr. Katie Siek from Indiana University about her work on some of the aging-in-place technologies that will become an increasingly important part of the caretaking economy in the years ahead.

The CCC Blog has all the info, or you can catch the full interview on Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Blubrry | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio | Soundcloud | Youtube.

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