Computing Research Policy Blog

DARPA takes aim at IT sacred cows

Government Computing News has an interesting, short article on DARPA’s focus on new computer architectures and networking protocols, discussed this week at the DARPATech conference in Anaheim.

Flaws in the basic building blocks of networking and computer science are hampering reliability, limiting flexibility and creating security vulnerabilities, program managers said this week at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s DARPATech conference.
Among the IT holy grails that DARPA wants to see revamped are the Internet Protocol, the seven-layer Open Systems Interconnection model—which defines how devices communicate on today’s networks—and the von Neumann architecture, the basic design style underpinning almost all computers built today.
Many military commanders have been slow to adapt IT for critical tasks because they sense the equipment is unreliable, said Col. Tim Gibson. He is a program manager for DARPA’s Advanced Technology Office, which is leading efforts to radically redefine computer architecture.
“You go to Wal-Mart and buy a telephone for less than $10 and you expect it to work,” Gibson said. Yet people usually do not expect the same of their computers. “We don’t expect computers to work, we expect them to have a problem.”
“If a commander expects a system to have a problem, then how could they rely upon it?” Gibson said.

There’s an aspect of this that could be worrisome. DARPA Director Tony Tether told CRA’s Computing Leadership Summit last month that the Department of Defense increasingly sees the Internet and computer networks in general as critical to its network-centric strategy of warfare. As a result, they are, with increasing frequency, moving their information security and assurance research into the “black” or classified world. They believe that any information about DOD’s capability — offensive or defensive — in network warfare is a threat to national security. It will be interesting to see how their focus on new paradigms for the “building blocks” of computing will exist in this new, more classified environment.

Science Committee Views on the Budget

The House Science Committee released its annual Views and Estimates, its analysis of the President’s budget request for the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction. The Committee provides this analysis to the House Budget Committee, which is in the process of putting together the House Budget Resolution for FY 2005.
The document confirms that the Science Committee’s top objective for the coming year will be evaluating the President’s space exploration initiative. But also cited for attention interagency efforts for networking and information technology R&D and cyber security R&D. Here’s what the Committee had to say about the President’s request in those areas:

The Administration proposes a 1 percent decrease from the FY04 estimated level for the interagency program on Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD). This program includes important work on high-end computing and high-confidence software and systems, and the Committee believes that funding for work in this area should be raised, not lowered.
While cybersecurity R&D is not a formal Presidential initiative, significant effort is being put into programs in this area at a number of agencies. While the budget requests $76 million for cybersecurity R&D and education and training programs at NSF (up 19 percent) and $18.5 million for cybersecurity R&D at NIST (up 48 percent), this funding is still well below the levels authorized in the Cyber Security Research and Development Act (P.L. 107-305). In addition, within the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, the FY05 budget requests only $18 million for cybersecurity R&D, the same level as in FY04. The Committee believes that increased funding for, and increased coordination of cybersecurity R&D programs are needed.

About half of the committee members endorsed this V&E, including the Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert and new Committee Ranking Member Bart Gordon. Here’s the complete list.

CRA, Taulbee Survey Mentioned in NY Times

In a piece about the outsourcing phenomenon and its impact on computer science students, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates’ recent tour of UIUC, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, MIT, and Harvard trying to drum up enthusiasm for the discipline, the NY Times cited CRA’s Taulbee Survey as evidence of the declining numbers of undergraduates in comp sci. Despite the downturn, Gates used the visits to stress the positives.

In an effort to counter the trend, Mr. Gates, who personifies technological optimism and the potential payoff, sought to reassure students that their futures were no less bright in an era of outsourcing. The effect of computer technology, he told them, is just beginning and opportunity abounds. Computing, he added, is an ideal field for fine minds to make a difference in society.

Here’s the article: Microsoft, Amid Dwindling Interest, Talks Up Computing as a Career

USENIX Open Letter Re: SCO’s Assault on Open Source

Thanks to Ellie Young of USENIX for passing this along:

The SCO Group, Inc. (SCO) has recently sued IBM and Novell and launched broad attacks on the legality of and the economic justification for so-called open source licensing, including the free licensing of Linux. (see As an organization dedicated to advancing the skills and contributions of computer researchers and developers, the USENIX Association is compelled to address and refute the position SCO has taken regarding open source software.
Usenix will be sending this letter to Congress and the press.

Hearings, Hearings, Hearings

The last two days have featured a number of congressional hearings of interest to the computing research community. Here’s a brief summary:
Senate VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, Thursday – OSTP Director John Marburger, NSF Interim Director Arden Bement, and National Science Board Director Warren Washington testified before subcommittee chair Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) and Ranking Member Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to defend the Administration’s FY 05 budget request for NSF and the physical sciences. Bond and Mikulski both cited the large disparity in federal funding between the life sciences supported by NIH and the physical sciences and engineering as supported by NSF. Bond said he was “alarmed by the disparity” and believed it put the nation on track to lose its leadership in technology. “I think we need to treat this as a crisis,” Mikulski agreed.
Senate Budget Committee, Wednesday – Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told the Senate Budget committee that DHS was not using data-mining techniques to threaten the privacy of US citizens. “I can assure you nothing we are doing in the Department of Homeland Security has been designed to collect information or spy on Americans…We are getting access to personal information and to some extent, proprietary information,” Ridge said. (Thanks to Tech Daily (subscription req’d) for the quote). Ridge was responding to concerns from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Senator who led the charge against DARPA’s Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) project in 2003. Wyden has a very negative perception of data-mining, and believes its use by the federal government is intrinsically bad. “Nobody is in charge, nobody knows how many programs involve data mining, nobody knows how much money is being spent, or how many agencies, and no one knows whether there are any privacy protections,” he told Tech Daily.
House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science, and Research and Development, Wednesday – DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology Charles McQueary defended his agency’s decision to direct the most funding towards research aimed at preventing biological attacks rather than cyber security research. The ranking minority member of the full committee, Rep. Jim Turner (D-TX) criticized the funding level for cyber research, saying “I’m not certain I’m very comfortable with the process that leads us to conclude that $18 million (the DHS request for FY 2005) is sufficient for cyber.”
House VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, Wednesday – OSTP Director John Marburger told the House appropriations subcommittee that he satisfied with the President’s request for R&D in FY 2005. “We’d be in good shape,” if the budget was enacted as proposed, he said. He also noted a few areas of technology he believed would provide the most return on the government investment in research, including nanotechnology, information technology, and biomedical research.
House Science Committee, Wednesday – The Science Committee heard testimony on the impact of US Visa Policy on Scientific Research at a hearing timed to correspond with the release of a new GAO study on the same subject commissioned by the committee one year ago. In the report, GAO found that the average delay in issuing a visa to a foreign researcher or student is 67 days, and that much of that delay is attributable to a faulty process for the Visa Mantis program. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) noted the concerns the science committee has with the issue: “Americans must keep our doors open to innovation and new ideas. The work of foreign students and the collaboration with their American born colleagues has not only created scientific discoveries and technological advancements for our country, but it has resulted in job creation that our economy so desperately needs. The visa system should incorporate enhanced security checks that do not create unnecessary or burdensome bureaucracies that will only further damage our scientific leadership and image throughout the world.”
House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, Tuesday – In a suprise move, Subcommittee Chair Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) introduced his own version of a database protections bill, reneging on an agreement the committee had reached with the House Judiciary Committee, which has already passed its version of the legislation. Stearns bill, which was subsequently approved by the subcommittee, is a more restrictive version of the judiciary committee bill — a bill which would provide publishers of databases of facts broad protections against the misappropriations of their databases. Stearns bill sets a more stringent test for content to be protected than the judiciary measure, which is supported by a coalition of database companies, publishers, realtors and newspaper companies. USACM has some great background material on the issue. Wednesday’s markup throws into doubt the fate of either bill, as the House Leadership had counted on an agreement between the two committees to work together.

Slides from CRA Computing Leadership Summit Online!

Thanks to all who attended CRA’s annual Computing Leadership Summit. We were treated to a great series of talks from:
John Sargent, Senior Policy Advisor, Technology Administration, US Department of Commerce. Sargent went over a fascinating set of statistics he and his colleagues at the Technology Administration have managed to pull out of Bureau of Labor Statistics sources (and elsewhere) that paint an interesting picture of the current and future IT workforce. His slides on “Adequacy of the US Science and Engineering Workforce” and offshore outsourcing are chock full of data.
Peter Rooney, Deputy Chief of Staff, House Science Committee. Rooney brought the summit participants up to date regarding the Science Committee’s plans for IT R&D in the coming year.
Anthony Tether, Director, DARPA Tether described the focus of DARPA’s IT R&D efforts and addressed concerns university researchers have about the research funding regime at the agency (but was relatively unsympathetic).
Erik Jacobsson, Director, NIGMS Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. Jacobsson described NIGMS’ efforts to ramp up its IT R&D efforts as part of NIH’s new Roadmap for Medical Research.
We’ve been able to post on the CRA government affairs site some of the slide presentations used by the speakers. Thanks to all who participated!

TIA Fades to Black

Though Congress killed DARPA’s TIA project and eliminated the office in which it was housed, this AP story details how much of the research formerly funded by the agency has been transferred to classified programs at unspecified intelligence agencies.
This is emblematic of a worrisome trend at DARPA of taking formerly unclassified, fundamental research projects and turning them “black” or classified. While there are likely quite a few areas of research which rightly should be classified for national security reasons, there should also be some concern that programs aren’t being turned “black” — and therefore out of public scrutiny — simply because they might be controversial. There is a cost to the progress of science when research goes black — results aren’t disseminated, certain researchers and institutions are barred from working in the area (for reasons of US or institutional policy), and public oversight doesn’t occur….

Big Problems for NIST, Cybersecurity in FY04

Thanks to Spaf for pointing out this piece that ran in Government Executive Magazine. Here’s the most relevant bit:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) acting chief of staff Mat Heyman has warned that a proposed $22 million budget cut for the agency in fiscal 2004 would force NIST to cut back on its cybersecurity projects, stop all activities under the Help America Vote Act and seriously curtail efforts under the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). NIST currently does important work to secure utility control systems and has played a “prominent role in helping state and local election officials implement new voting systems.” Under the budget cuts, these efforts, along with the MEP, would have to be significantly scaled back or halted. Members of the House Science Committee are unhappy with the proposed cuts and are looking for ways to mitigate them.

The Administration says it’s taken care of most of this shortfall in its FY05 budget request, however the numbers aren’t quite there. The Administration does include an increase at NIST in the President’s request, but doesn’t include an estimated $36 million believed to be required to shut down the ATP program at NIST as called for in the budget request.
One possibility is that the FY04 shortfall could be made up in a supplemental appropriation like the one that will be necessary to cover the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns (costs also not included in the President’s budget request).

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