Computing Research Policy Blog

Nomination of NSF Director Set for Committee Vote and Likely Advancement

As we reported in December, the President nominated Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan as the next Director of the National Science Foundation, succeeding Dr. France Córdova, whose six-year term as Director ended in March. Unfortunately, as has become common these days, Dr. Panchanathan’s nomination has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic (this even necessitated Presidential Science Advisor Kelvin Droegemeier being appointed acting Director).

But, in a bit of good news, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (aka: Senate HELP committee) scheduled his nomination for a committee vote on Wednesday. Dr. Panchanathan’s nomination moved forward without a traditional hearing, likely because of the pandemic and the lack of any controversy surrounding his appointment. This is the second to last step in being confirmed to the position; only a vote by the full Senate chamber is left. Hopefully that will happen soon, though an exact timeframe is uncertain (nominations are considered at the discretion of the Senate majority and, specifically, the Senate Majority Leader). Be sure to check back for more updates.

6/4/20 Update: Good news! Dr. Panchanathan’s nomination was voted favorably by the the Senate HELP committee yesterday, clearing him for consideration by the full Senate. We’ll update again once his nomination is confirmed.

CRA Releases Statement on Reported Plans to Suspend or End the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program

Today, CRA released the following statement:

May 29, 2020


We are aware of efforts in both the Administration and Congress aimed at suspending or curtailing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for students on F-1 visas in the United States. As an organization representing more than 200 PhD- or research-focused computing departments in North America, eight leading industrial computing research labs, and six affiliated professional societies in the computing fields with a combined membership of over 200,000, we strongly oppose any efforts to limit or end the OPT program, which plays an important role in keeping some of the world’s best talent in the U.S., working and innovating in the U.S. economy. 

The argument given for ending the program now — prioritizing U.S. workers over foreign talent given the overall high levels of unemployment in the economy — does not make sense when applied to the computing fields. In January 2020, prior to the impact of the COVID pandemic, unemployment in the computing fields was at 3.0 percent, a figure generally considered “full employment.” By April 2020, when the impacts of the pandemic forced overall unemployment up to 15 percent, unemployment in the computing fields actually dropped to 2.8 percent, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey data by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP). An analysis by NFAP of Active Job Postings in Computing Occupations amplifies this point, noting that between April 14 and May 13, 2020, there were more than 625,000 active vacancies in jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree in computing. The OPT program is not harming U.S. computing workers, and importantly, jobs in computing cannot be filled by workers transitioning from non-technical fields without significant retraining that can span multiple years.

Suspending or curtailing the OPT program would destroy a key pathway for many of our best foreign students to contribute to U.S. innovation. Indeed, our innovation ecosystem — that extraordinarily productive interplay between U.S. research universities, industrial and federal research labs, and the people and ideas that flow between them — depends on a great majority of those foreign-born degree recipients deciding to stay and continue their work in the U.S. According to the National Science Foundation, 72 percent of foreign born STEM graduates stay employed in the U.S. for at least 10 years after graduation. But, uncertainty around the status of the OPT program threatens to upend that trend. Foreign students attending our schools now and intending to use the program to complete their graduate education and help find more permanent employment in the U.S. are increasingly likely to seek employment elsewhere, either in their homeland or in countries more open to highly skilled foreign talent. 

Ending or suspending OPT (and the associated Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program) would not only damage the current cohort of foreign graduate students studying in the U.S. and hoping to stay. The availability of the pathway that the OPT program provides is a huge incentive to the best foreign graduate students deciding whether or not to study in the U.S. Any uncertainty around the program, especially in light of uncertainty about the status of other aspects of U.S. immigration and visa policy, is likely to discourage many students from applying to U.S. institutions at all, providing a new advantage to economies in other parts of the world who will gladly welcome their talents. 

We agree that Federal pandemic response efforts should be prioritized towards aiding U.S. workers and others in the U.S. affected by COVID. However, efforts to curtail or suspend the OPT program will not achieve that goal. Instead, those efforts will cause great harm to an innovation ecosystem that continues to be a crucial part of our recovery effort. We strongly oppose any effort to end the program.

New Legislation Proposes Major Reorganization of NSF

Last week, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Democratic Leader in the Senate, introduced bipartisan 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. The bill, called S. 3832 “The Endless Frontier Act,” proposes a major reorganization of NSF and possibly a significant change to the culture of the agency.

The legislation proposes several changes to NSF. The first big change, though it’s functionally the smallest, is the change of NSF’s name to the “National Science and Technology Foundation.” Within that, it establishes a new “Directorate of Technology” to, “advance innovation in the key technology focus areas through fundamental research and other activities…and…develop and implement strategies to ensure that the activities of the Directorate are directed toward the key technology focus areas.”

Those “key technology focus areas” are spelled out and CS/IT is heavily represented. The initial listing is:

– artificial intelligence and machine learning;
– high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware;
– quantum computing and information systems;
– robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing;
– natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention;
– advanced communications technology;
– biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology;
– cybersecurity, data storage, and data management technologies;
– advanced energy; and
– materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other key technology focus areas.

The directorate would have to undergo a review of these areas every four years, when they can be removed, added, or changed. However, there can be no more than ten such focus areas at any time.

In terms of operations, the bill would require that the program managers within this new directorate to operate like their equivalents at DARPA:

“The employees of the Directorate may include program managers for the key technology focus areas, who shall perform a role similar to programs managers employed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for the oversight and selection of programs supported by the Directorate.”

Additionally, the new directorate would have the authority to hire experts on short-term assignments, again similar to the way the DARPA functions. Science Magazine has a good breakdown on potential benefits and costs of this culture shift (the article also has both praise and skepticism of the legislation from the higher-ed and research communities).

With regard to funding, the bill authorizes $100B for the new directorate. Starting at $2B in Fiscal Year 2021 and increasing to $35B for Fiscal Year 2025. The new directorate is supposed to work with the other NSF directorates, and other federal research agencies, to further progress in these focus areas; for example, the directorate is specifically authorized to move funding to any of the other directorates, but the reverse is specifically prohibited.

There are other sections of the bill, dealing with other areas of the nation’s R&D ecosystem. The fourth section of the bill deals with redesigning the Department of Commerce’s Regional Technology Hub program for the purposes of, “accelerating the commercialization of research; strengthening the competitive position of industry through the development, commercial adoption, or deployment of technology; and providing financial grants, loans, or direct financial investment to commercialize technology.’’ It authorizes $10 billion for this program. And the fifth section requires OSTP, in coordination with the Directors of NSF and National Economic Council, Secretary of Commerce, the National Security Council, among others, to write a report to:

“review such strategy, programs, and resources as the Director of the (OSTP) determines pertain to United States national competitiveness in science, research, and innovation to support the national security strategy;

As well, that report then informs a national strategy to:

“develop a strategy for the Federal Government to improve the national competitiveness of the United States in science, research, and innovation to support the national security strategy.”

Some things to keep in mind with this legislation. First, this is an authorizing (or policy) bill, not an appropriations bill; meaning that if it were to become law, funding is not a given. From what we have heard there have been no discussions with appropriators about this legislation. However, it is a bill sponsored by the Democratic Leader of the Senate; that alone gives it potential legs. It is also a bipartisan sponsored bill, a rarity these days.

But how likely is it to become law? It’s hard to say right now. While there is a version of this bill that has been introduced in the House, it’s not clear it will get a hearing by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction. There have also been concerns about NSF being able to use such a large infusion of funds. On a more practical level, and as we’ve noted before, Congress is still working on responding to the pandemic and it is unlikely to take up other issues soon. That could change quickly though, as Senator Schumer could attach this to a piece of must-pass legislation; one potential scenario is attaching it to the Defense policy bill, legislation that is typically passed every year.

On a very high level, this legislation is quite good. It 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. A $100 billion infusion of new research funding is also quite good. However, there are potential concerns about what will happen to NSF with such a large reorganization and potential culture change; will that be for good or ill? This legislation, and similar proposals, is likely to be around for a while, so please keep checking back for more updates and developments.

What’s Happening with the Federal Budget, Particularly with the Research Agencies, During the Pandemic?

It should come as no surprise that the normal operations of official Washington have been heavily disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Current events have derailed almost every aspect of the usual budget process. Adding to that, the situation remains very fluid as to when legislation, or any official business, will be acted upon by Congress; case in point, at the beginning of April, the House told its members they wouldn’t reconvene until the beginning of May, at the earliest (that obviously didn’t happen, as the House reconvened last week to pass emergency legislation).

There are some official actions that are happening. In terms of emergency funding, the CARES Act, passed at the end of March, has about $180 million dollars in emergency research funding for NIH, NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NIST. As well, there was about another $86 million for three agencies (NASA, NOAA, and NIST) to support “continuity of operations;” ie, any operations that were disrupted by the pandemic, such as rescheduling a space science mission at NASA. Additionally, there was support for higher education, in the form of about $14 billion; however, that isn’t set aside for research and by all reports is being used by colleges and universities for administrative purposes (meaning, keeping the lights on). All that funding was directly related to responding to the pandemic. If you would like a more detailed breakdown, Science Magazine has a good one (Science even has a free collection of science news and other articles related to the pandemic).

While there was another piece of emergency legislation that was passed last week, it only contains money for NIH and it is directly tied to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is likely to be more emergency legislation in the future, but the timing is unclear; research funding, or even funding to restart the country’s research enterprise, could be included, but that is also not certain at this time.

With regard to the regular Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) appropriations, things are just as unclear. We have heard that the House Appropriations Committee is still planning to act on its FY21 bills, with the plan to do so in May timeframe. Its Senate counterpart has been less vocal about their plans, but the expectation is they will take action later in the summer, in the late-June-July timeframe. However, this is still very preliminary; Congress has still not settled on how it will physically operate while remaining in compliance with social distancing guidelines. Already we have seen some Congressional committees operate what are called “paper hearings,” or hearings that only occur with written testimony. This, and other changes, could become the norm for the duration of this emergency.

Despite being several months into this emergency, Washington is still feeling it’s way through how to operate. That means certainty about what will happen, and when, are in high demand but low supply. We are still monitoring what’s happening, even while safely at home; please check back for more updates.

House SS&T Committee Introduces Bipartisan AI Research Bill to Significantly Increase Research Authorizations

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) yesterday introduced long-awaited legislation aimed at solidifying the U.S. leadership role in artificial intelligence research, education, and workforce development. The National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act of 2020 (H.R. 6216) would authorize significant increases to the research budgets at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology over five years, allow for the creation of AI research institutes focused on economic sectors, social sectors, or cross-cutting AI technology challenges, and designate a new policy infrastructure for AI research across the Federal government.

This is a good bill.

The legislation is well aligned with many of the recommendations found in the community-led CCC 20-year AI Research Roadmap document, including the call for center-scale, interdisciplinary research efforts, support for foundational computer science research across a broad range of related areas, and support for education and workforce development efforts at Federal science agencies. The bill is also the product of a long drafting process that involved extensive consultation with academic, industry, and government stakeholders that sought to ensure not only the bill represented a clearly interdisciplinary approach to funding this area of national priority, but also that the committee’s concerns about ethics, safety, security and equal opportunity were baked in. To their credit, Chairwoman Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas sought to move beyond incremental improvements to the Federal AI research ecosystem, authorizing hefty increases to three key science agency budgets for AI research. NSF would see authorizations for its current level of investment (~$478 million in FY20) grow to $1.055 billion in FY25, including an increase of $390 million in FY21. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would see its ~$120 million in FY20 investment authorized to $262 million in FY25. And NIST, which will spend ~$23 million on its AI research and standards efforts in FY20 grow to $93.7 million in FY25. All told, the bill would authorize $6.34 billion in spending on AI research over five years at those three agencies.

In addition to funding authorizations, the bill also formalizes a policy/advisory infrastructure for AI research by establishing a NITRD like interagency coordination committee and national coordination office, as well as a PITAC-like advisory committee for AI research. The bill also calls for a National Academies report on AI Impact on Workforce, creates AI Fellowship and Traineeship programs at NSF, funds AI education efforts at NSF, and calls on GAO to assess thee composition of computing resources supported by the Federal government and evaluate future computational needs to maintain U.S. leadership in AI.

The bill isn’t perfect. In an effort to ensure that researchers consider the ethical dimensions of their research, as well as the safety and security of their work, the bill will require all grant proposers to NSF (and DOE) to include a “Statement of Ethics” — perhaps similar to a broader impacts statement — along with their proposals. What that statement will include is left to the NSF Director and the Secretary of Energy to determine respectively, within 18 months of the bill’s passage. While we fully support the goal of making researchers more aware of the ethical dimensions of their work, we’re not sure this is approach is going to be the most effective way to do that.

Nevertheless, CRA supports this effort and has provided an endorsement of the bill.

The bill has a better than reasonable chance of passage. We know the House SS&T Committee will consider the bill (mark it up) at the end of this month, pending any further schedule chaos caused by the pandemic. Given its bipartisan sponsorship by the Chair and Ranking Member of the committee, it likely will pass and make it to the House floor, where it’s also likely to pass. The Senate is a little further behind the curve. They also have a National AI Initiative Act (S. 1558) that is less comprehensive, though similar to the House version, but it has not yet received any consideration in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Ideally, H.R. 6216 would be the bill that Senate Commerce takes up after passage in the House.

The bill is also well-aligned with the AI research goals of the Administration. You may recall in the President’s FY21 Budget Request released back in February, President Trump called for significant boosts in funding for AI research at NSF, NIST and DOE (along with cuts to just about everything else). Whether that translates into the President’s approval should this bill cross his desk is an open question, but the odds are good. And though this is “just” an authorization bill — it authorizes appropriators to spend money in certain ways, but the appropriators aren’t obligated to do it — AI and Quantum Information Science have been shown pretty clear priority by congressional appropriators in the last few budget cycles. Indeed, funding for Quantum Information Science has generally followed the levels authorized in the National Quantum Initiative Act passed back in 2016. So there’s reason to be optimistic that funding could also follow this bill.

And there’s also reason to be optimistic that the funding will be quite interdisciplinary, with AI defined quite broadly. The bill notes the types of interdisciplinary work the committee expects would benefit, including (but not limited to) computer vision, robotics, hardware for accelerating AI systems, information theory, causal and statistical inference, data mining, information extraction, human-robot interaction, intelligent interfaces, computational neuroscience, reasoning and representation, speech and language, multi-agent systems, intelligent interfaces, human-artificial intelligence cooperation, artificial intelligence-augmented human problem solving, developmental biology, zoology, botany, morphological computation, organismal systems, algorithmic explainability, methods to asses, characterize, and reduce bias in datasets, safety and robustness of AI systems including assurance, verification, validation, security and control, privacy and security, fields and research areas that address the application of AI systems to scientific discovery and societal challenges, social, ethical, safety and security implications of AI systems, social impact of AI systems on different groups within society (especially historically marginalized groups) and qualitative and quantitative forecasting of future capabilities and applications. And that’s just at NSF. Agency heads will have a fair amount of flexibility for meeting the goals of this act with any of the funding that results.

So, of all of the approaches to prioritizing AI research to meet the national imperative to maintain leadership in this crucial area, this bill seems to hold the most promise. The committee has produced a one-pager on the bill. You can read the full text as well.

We’ll be following the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process. Stay tuned here for updates.

Roundup of FY2021 Research Agency Requests: NIST, NIH, and NASA, A Familiar Theme of Cuts

In our continuing series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget request, we close out with a roundup of an assortment of Federal research agencies. These include the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NASA. There’s a familiar theme to all of these accounts: cuts to research (even when it looks like an agency was a budgetary winner).

First, we’ll go into the agency that, at first blush, looks like a big winner: NASA. The top line for the space agency is one of the big winners in the President’s budget request; it received a 5.3 percent increase, going from $22.63 billion in FY20 to $25.25 billion in FY21. However, that increase goes almost entirely to the Human Exploration (+46 percent) and Space Technology (+43 percent) accounts. NASA Science, which handles the research funding at the agency, gets a significant cut of 12 percent, going from $7.14 billion in FY20 to $6.31 billion in FY21. Additionally, the STEM Engagement account at NASA would be eliminated under the President’s plan. So much for being a big winner.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NASA Total $21.50B $22.63B $25.25B +$2.62B +5.3%
NASA Science $6.91B $7.14B $6.31B -$830M -12%

The trend continues with NIST. The top line for the agency would see a significant cut of 28 percent, going from $1.03 billion in FY20 to $738 million in FY21. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see a not as large, but still significant, cut of 13 percent; going from $754 million in FY20 to $652 million in FY21.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NIST Total $986M $1.03B $738M -$292M -28%
STRS $725M $754M $652M -$102M -13%

Finally we come to the National Institutes of Health; even this popular agency doesn’t escape the budgetary chopping block. Under the President’s plan, the agency would go from $41.7 billion in FY20 to $38.7 billion in FY21, a reduction of $3 billion or 7.2 percent.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NIH $39.1B $41.7B $38.7B -$3.0B -7.2%

As with the other research accounts we’ve profiled, these cuts are unlikely to make it into a final FY21 budget. However, this is a bad place to begin the process; as just one example, Congress could provide flat funding and say they “saved” the agencies from worse budget cuts. Additionally, when the FY21 budget will be finalized is anyone’s guess; almost certainly it won’t be done before the November election.

Next steps in the FY21 budget process are for each chamber of Congress to come up with their individual funding plans; that process should start within the next month. You’ll have updates; so keep checking back for more information.

Department of Defense FY 2021 Request: With Few Exceptions, this is a Very Bad Budget

In our continuing series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) 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. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, most of these accounts are cut under the Trump Administration’s plans for FY21.

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 11 percent; going from $2.6 billion in FY20 to $2.32 billon under the Trump Administration’s plan (a cut of $280 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 23.6, 30.4, and 9.5 percent, respectively.

Additionally, the overall Applied Research (6.2) account is also cut at 11 percent; going from $6.07 billion in FY20 to $5.39 billion under the Administration’s framework, a loss of $680 million. Finally, Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would receive the largest cut, going from $7.40 billion in FY20 to $6.33 billion in FY21, a cut of $1.07 billion (or 14 percent). All very bad.

The one bright spot would be DARPA, which would see an increase. It would go from $3.46 billion in FY20 to $3.57 billion in FY21, an increase of 3.2 percent (or $110 million).

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.53B $2.60B $2.32B -$280M -11%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $6.07B $5.39B -$680M -11%
DOD 6.3 $7.36B $7.40B $6.33B -$1.07B -14%
DARPA $3.43B $3.46B $3.57B +$110M +3.2%

It’s hard to explain these numbers, especially when you factor in that the Department of Defense, as a whole, was a big winner under the Administration’s budget plan. The typical view of the policy community is that this is normally a deliberate budget tactic 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. And it isn’t a new strategy; both the Bush and Obama Administrations did this same thing. However, given that this Administration cut so much from elsewhere in the Federal budget, and that DOD as a whole is taken care of so well, it make little sense that Defense research is hit so hard under this budgetary plan.

The reality is, like with the other research agencies, this budget plan is DOA and will not be taken seriously. It will be interesting to see how both chambers of Congress approach these budgets though; Congress sees Defense research as a national priority, but there are many priorities to take care of this year. As with NSF and DOE, this is not a good place to start the process and we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. So please keep checking back for updates.

Department of Energy FY 2021 Request: Office of Science is Hit Hard with Cuts; Computing Research Fairs Better

In our continuing series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget request, we now turn to the Department of Energy (DOE). There are similarities with the NSF budget request we detailed earlier, including large funding reductions.

The 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.

For SC, the President’s FY21 request of $5.84 billion is a cut of 17 percent, compared to the FY20 enacted level of $7 billion. While that is pretty horrible, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which is within the Office of Science, and where most of the computing research at the agency is located, would fair better. The program would be funded at $988 million, which is an increase of $8 million, or plus 1 percent, over last year. In comparison, the Fusion Energy Sciences and Biological and Environmental Research programs would be the hardest hit, and see cuts of 37 percent and 31 percent, respectively. ASCR’s modest increase is to support research in artificial intelligence and quantum information sciences, just like NSF’s funding, in addition to the long running Administration priority of achieving exascale (pages 47 and 48).

As for ARPA-E, it would once again be zeroed out, as it was in the President’s budget requests for the last two years. Despite that record of requests, Congress has maintained ARPA-E funding and provided an increase of 16 percent in FY20 (which happened after a 4 percent increase in FY19).

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $6.59B $7.00B $5.84B -$1.16B -17%
ASCR $936M $980M $988M +$8M +1.0%
ARPA-E $366M $425M $0 -$425M -100%

In terms of Administration priorities, it’s again similar to NSF’s request with an emphasis on artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences (QIS), and (unique to DOE) exascale. The Administration is still planning for the first exascale system to be deployed in 2021 at Argonne National Lab, and a second to come on line at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the, “2021-2022 timeline.” This has been an Administration priority since the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request (ie: the Administration’s first). There is also a mention of a third exascale system for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the national security part of the Department tasked with civilian oversight of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and infrastructure. This system will be located at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and is expected to be delivered by FY 2023.

Like at NSF, the Administration is steering new money into DOE’s existing programs in AI and QIS. According to the Administration, DOE’s AI investment will be $125 million for FY21, an increase of $54 million dollars over last year. Additionally, the Department’s spending on QIS will increase to $237 million in FY21, which is an increase of $70 million over FY20. Finally, the Budget includes $25 million for the Office of Science to support early stage research for a quantum internet.

As with NSF’s request, it is unlikely that Congress will take this proposed budget seriously; just looking at Congress’s history of ignoring the Administration’s recommended ARPA-E budgets show that. However, like with NSF’s request, this is a bad way to begin the budget process for the year. Please keep checking back for more updates and additional information.

NSF FY2021 Request: AI and Quantum Research Get Priority but it’s Paid for with Cuts to Other Research Fields

On Monday, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) Budget Request. Despite administration signals and bipartisan calls for a budget request in line with the funding agreement made in July, the President decided to ignore that agreement and release a funding blueprint with deep reductions to domestic discretionary spending. The federal research portfolio, which is a part of domestic discretionary spending, didn’t escape cuts.

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.

Overall, NSF’s top-line doesn’t fare well in the President’s request. Under the Administration’s plan, the agency would see a 6.5 percent reduction compared to FY20, in overall funding. NSF would go from $8.28 billion in FY20 to $7.74 billion in FY21, a reduction of $540 million.

The majority of that reduction would come from Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for research grants. R&RA would decline from $6.74 billion in FY20 to $6.21 billion in FY21, a cut of $530 million. Comparatively, Education and Human Resources (EHR), the subaccount that contains the agency’s education programs, would see a reduction of $9 million, going from $940 million in FY20 to $931 million under the President’s plan.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.08B $8.28B $7.74B -$540M -6.5%
R&RA $6.52B $6.74B $6.21B -$530M -7.9%
EHR $910M $940M $931M -$9M -1.0%

These reductions to NSF mask large new investments in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Sciences (QIS). According to the Administration, they are increasing AI R&D by more than 70 percent over FY20 and doubling the agency’s QIS investment. While good news for these specific sections of the computing research community, this is the literal definition of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” As CRA made clear in our statement on the Administration’s budget request, “failing to adequately fund a broad portfolio of research puts the nation at risk of missing key breakthroughs,” and, “it also threatens to constrain progress in the same critical fields the President has chosen to highlight.”

How likely is this request to being passed into law? Very unlikely. The budget process heads to Congress, where the President’s funding recommendations will likely will be largely ignored (especially by the Democratic controlled House of Representatives), as have the three previous budget requests the Administration has submitted. Still, it’s worrisome that even when this Administration prioritizes key research investments, it does so at the expense of all other fields. This is not a great place for the budget process to begin.

CRA Statement on the FY2021 Presidential Budget Request

CRA commends the Administration for recognizing the importance of Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Science to the Nation’s security and competitiveness, and for addressing that with significant new investments in the President’s Budget Request for FY2021. However, we take issue with the proposed cuts to a large number of other areas of science. 

Failing to adequately fund a broad portfolio of research puts the nation at risk of missing key breakthroughs and the leadership position to capitalize on them. It also threatens to constrain progress in the same critical fields the President has chosen to highlight. For example, the social sciences will be crucial to developing appropriate ethical guidance for the development of AI systems, economic scientists will help us understand the impact of AI and quantum computing on our workforce, and breakthroughs in materials science will be required for advanced manufacturing and quantum science progress. 

A broad Federal research investment portfolio also builds the science and technical workforce that is vital to support design, building, operation, and extending technologies fundamental to industry and defense. Cutting research funds will have a long-term, negative effect on the growth and training of that crucial community. Additionally, our technical workforce has consistently benefitted from adding personnel who are well-educated in the liberal and fine arts. Their perspective in human-centric design, aesthetics, cultural norms, psychology, history, and other aspects outside the STEM disciplines has resulted in a more robust and global set of solutions within the STEM space. Furthermore, those individuals bring new problem-solving insights and paradigms to bear on technological problems, giving us a distinct, innovative advantage over countries that consistently devalue non-STEM disciplines. 

The United States has maintained its scientific, economic and military leadership in part because of its broad support for research across disciplines; recognizing that the interplay among scientific fields has provided extraordinary benefits; and understanding that perfect knowledge of where the next great breakthrough will arise is impossible. While we agree that areas such as AI and Quantum Science are ripe for priority, any additional investment should not come at the cost of progress in all other fields. 

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