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<< Back to November 2003 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the November 2003 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 15/No. 5, pp. 1, 4.]

Congress Acts to Increase Science Funding, Stop TIA

By Peter Harsha

Congressional appropriators, feeling the pinch of growing deficits and an increased request for funding for continuing operations in Iraq, provided computing researchers a mixed bag in the first of the FY 2004 appropriations bills to gain approval by both the House and Senate. While Congress is poised to approve increases for science funding at the National Science Foundation (NSF) —including an increase to NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate—the amount of increase fell far below the level authorized by Congress and the President last year. On the defense side, though Department of Defense science and technology accounts will also see an increase this year, Congress prohibited any further research related to DARPA’s controversial Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program and eliminated the office responsible for the program at DARPA.

As this issue goes to press just prior to the start of the 2004 fiscal year (beginning October 1, 2003), Congress has finished work on the FY 2004 versions of the Defense and Homeland Security appropriations bills. This is a notable improvement in pace over the FY 2003 appropriations process, which did not result in final agreements until February 2003, five months into the new fiscal year. The VA-HUD-Independent Agencies bill containing FY 2004 funding for NSF is expected to receive approval in early October.

Work remains to be done on nine appropriations bills and the emergency supplemental appropriations for the war in Iraq, and Congress has passed legislation that will keep the government running through October 31, 2003, without them.

A summary of the actions to date follows.

VA-HUD-Independent Agencies

Both the House and Senate versions of the FY 2004 VA-HUD-Independent Agencies appropriations bills contain increases for NSF, including increases to the CISE directorate. However, neither bill includes an increase that approaches the 15 percent annual increase authorized by both chambers and the President last year.

The House version of the bill already approved by the whole House (316 to 109) includes $5.639 billion for NSF in FY 2004, an increase of 6.2 percent over the FY 2003 appropriation. Within CISE, the House bill would increase FY 2004 to $609.8 million, an increase of 5.3 percent over FY 2003. The Senate version of the bill, reported out of committee but not yet approved by the full Senate, is slightly less generous, increasing NSF's budget overall to $5.586 billion—5.2 percent over FY 2003. Within the Senate bill, the CISE budget would also increase to $609 million.

The reports accompanying the bills include some information of interest to the computing community. The House bill includes the concern "that researchers are reaching the physical limits of current complementary metal oxide semiconductor process technology and that this will have significant implications for continued productivity growth in the information economy. The Committee encourages NSF to examine the challenges and timelines outlined in the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors and, where feasible, increase research support in this area accordingly." The Senate bill notes the importance of continued increases to CISE and NSF's important role in driving innovation in the Information Age. Both bills contain $10 million for the final year of funding for Terascale computing.

Given the new budget constraints imposed on appropriations this session—most notably because of the Administration’s request for $87 billion in supplemental appropriations to support ongoing operations in Iraq—NSF fared better than average among federal agency appropriations. NASA, for example, was funded at the same level as in FY 2003.

The Senate should approve the VA-HUD-Independent agencies bill in early October; then a House/Senate conference committee will meet to work out differences.


Congress overwhelmingly approved the FY 2004 Defense Appropriation, which provided a slight increase to basic defense research and included a provision to stop funding for the controversial Terrorism Information Awareness project at DARPA and dissolve the office that housed it. The program, an attempt to "design a prototype network that integrates innovative information technologies for detecting and preempting foreign terrorist activities against Americans," came under fire from a number of groups, including CRA, who saw the eventual deployment of such a system as a serious threat to American civil liberties and security.

However, CRA also argued, in a letter to the House and Senate negotiators, that while a prohibition on deploying the technology might be appropriate, prohibiting research into these areas would not be in the national interest.

"We wish to emphasize that the technologies proposed for research under TIA could have valid uses in many other contexts, including predicting failure of safety-critical components, identifying fraud in contracting, and identifying suspicious transfers of controlled materials,” CRA Chair James Foley wrote. “Many other uses may be discovered as the technology matures, including in counter-terrorism. The military and the country have repeatedly benefited from the technological advantages that result from research into difficult computing problems—including information fusion, improved privacy technologies, and machine-learning algorithms for data mining. These are technologies that have been identified by many, including the National Research Council, as worthy of further study. The problems that need solving are, indeed, sufficiently hard ('DARPA-hard') as to be worth the time and investment as independent research thrusts." CRA urged that the conferees reject Senate language that would prohibit research in TIA-related areas and allow research to go forward.

Senate negotiators insisted on the more restrictive language, however. They cited not only DARPA missteps on TIA, but also concerns about controversial research into predictive markets (FutureMAP) that was quickly cancelled and, more recently, revelations that JetBlue Airways had voluntarily turned over more than 5 million customer travel records to a military contractor, as part of an unrelated database research project.

The conferees also dissolved DARPA's Information Assurance Office (IAO) where the TIA program idea had originated. IAO's former head, Adm. John Poindexter, resigned over the TIA controversy in August.

Conferees did insert vague language in the conference report that appears to allow work on TIA-related projects to continue at unspecified intelligence agencies, as long as that work does not focus on U.S. citizens. Senate appropriations staff would not comment on what the language meant.

Overall funding for defense basic research will remain essentially flat as a result of the appropriations agreement, rising to $1.418 billion for FY 2004 from $1.416 billion in FY 2003. The total investment in basic research, applied research, and advanced technology development will rise from $10.8 billion in FY 2003 to $12.2 billion in FY 2004.

Homeland Security

House and Senate negotiators finished work on the first Homeland Security appropriations bill, approving $874 million in research and development funding for the new agency, including $18 million in cyber security R&D. The $18 million is more than double the amount originally requested by the Administration ($7 million for FY 2004).

R&D work at the new agency will run the spectrum—from basic research to fully developed and deployed technologies in the hands of emergency workers. As a result, the department's new "DARPA-esque" research arm, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), will focus on short-term technologies, according to new HSARPA Deputy Director, Jane "Xan" Alexander.

Alexander, who comes to HSARPA after being a program director at DARPA, told a gathering of IT industry groups that the new research agency will focus on research horizons of 12 months or less because DARPA is focused on the "long-term" technologies.

The Homeland Security Appropriations was signed by the President on October 1, 2003.

More details about the funding levels contained in the FY 2004 appropriations bills can be found on the CRA Government Affairs web page at:

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