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[Published originally in the September 2006 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 18/No. 4]
Congress on Track to Provide Big Boost to Physical Sciences, Computing
But Despite Gains, DARPA IT Research Still at Risk in Appropriations
By Peter Harsha
Before adjourning for the traditional August congressional recess, appropriators in the House and Senate approved a collection of funding measures that would significantly increase funding for federal research efforts in the physical sciences, mathematics, computing and engineering next year.
Both chambers’ appropriation committees have passed FY 2007 appropriations bills that provide boosts to the research budgets of the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, effectively endorsing—at least in the short term—a Presidential initiative to double research funding for those agencies over the next 10 years.
The President’s “American Competitiveness Initiative” (ACI), announced as part of his 2006 State of the Union address in January, aims to boost future U.S. innovation and competitiveness by addressing a number of areas of concern, including research investments, education, workforce and immigration issues, and tax credits. A key element of the ACI is the acknowledgment that the federal research investment in fundamental “physical sciences” (broadly defined as including physics, chemistry, computing, mathematics and engineering) has lagged the overall increase in the federal research and development portfolio. To address that shortfall, the ACI commits to a 10-year plan to double the research budgets of the agencies most responsible for funding that research: NSF, NIST and DOE’s Office of Science.
Though initially there appeared to be resistance among the House Leadership to any significant increase in federal discretionary spending for FY 2007 (as detailed in CRN Vol. 18/No. 3, May 2006), the House acted swiftly to approve appropriations measures that fully fund the President’s ACI targets.
In late May, the House passed its version of the FY 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which included a 14 percent increase to the budget of DOE’s Office of Science. Within the $4.1 billion approved for the Office of Science is $319 million for Advanced Scientific Computing Research, an increase of $84 million, or 36 percent, over the FY 2006 level. In addition, House appropriators chose not to earmark the President’s requested funding levels; instead, appropriators provided funding above the President’s request for congressionally directed projects.
In late June, the House passed its version of the FY 2007 Commerce, Science, State, Justice Appropriations, which contains funding for NSF, NIST, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Again, ACI-targeted agencies fared very well in the bill, with both NSF and NIST receiving the President’s request for significant increases. Under the House plan, NSF would see a $439 million, or 8 percent, increase in FY 2007. The Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate (CISE) would see a 6.1 percent increase, the same as in the President’s request. NIST core research would grow to $467 million, an increase of $72 million, or 18 percent, over FY 2006. NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program would see a cut to $92 million (12 percent decline from FY 2006) and the Advanced Technology Partnership program—a source of continuing controversy in Congress—would receive zero funding in FY 2007, matching the President’s request.
Science agencies not targeted by the ACI did not fare as well in the House bills. Under the House plan, NASA would be slated for an $83 million cut, down to $16.7 billion in FY 2007—though NASA Science would increase $75 million. NOAA overall would receive a $322 million cut—about 9 percent less than FY 2006. And the National Institutes of Health would see only a slight increase of about 1 percent to its budget in FY 2007.
Senate progress on appropriations measures has been much slower than in the House, owing primarily to procedural issues unique to the Senate regarding how it proceeds with appropriations in the absence of a Joint Congressional Budget Resolution, as was the case this year. But by the August recess, Senate appropriations bills dealing with ACI-targeted agencies had either secured approval by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, or the relevant subcommittee, though none had yet reached the floor for consideration by the full Senate. In those bills (the FY 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations and the FY 2007 Commerce, Science, Justice Appropriations), Senate appropriators took, with some differences, very similar approaches to the ACI agencies as their House counterparts.
Under the Senate appropriators plan, NIST’s core research would receive the full $104 million called for in the ACI; NSF would receive $410 million above the FY 2006 level, just $29 million short of the House level and the President’s request; and the DOE Office of Science would receive $645 million more than FY 2006, $110 million more than the House level and the President’s request. (Advanced Scientific Computing Research would receive the President’s requested level in the Senate bill.)
The Senate took very different approaches to non-ACI-targeted agencies, however. Under the Senate plan, NOAA would receive $4.43 billion in FY 2007—an increase of $536 million over FY 2006, $753 million more than the President’s request, and $1.0 billion more than the House approved level—and NASA would increase $126 million (compared to an $83 million cut in the House).
But perhaps the most significant difference between House and Senate bills from the computing research community’s perspective is the significantly different treatment of information technology research at the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA IT research, which had been slated to grow at a robust rate in the President’s request and the House appropriations bills, faces significant cuts in the Senate version of the FY 2007 Defense Appropriations.
For the second year in a row, the Senate Appropriations Committee has targeted DARPA’s Cognitive Computing program for cuts—this time on the order of $70.8 million in FY 2007, a reduction of 32 percent versus the request and 9 percent versus FY 2006. Programs targeted by the SAC are “Integrated Cognitive Systems” (-$60 million vs. FY 2006), “Learning Locomotion and Navigation,” (-$3.8 million), and “Improved Warfighter Information Processing” (-$7 million).
In addition, the SAC would cut $13.4 million from the Information and Communications Technology account at DARPA, a cut of 5 percent from the request (but still an increase of $34 million versus FY 2006). The SAC also would cut the Computer Science Study Group program at DARPA—established this year to help expose young faculty to DOD-oriented problems in Computer Science—from the requested level of $6.6 million in FY 2007 to $3 million. All three accounts—Cognitive Computing, Information and Communications Technology, and Computer Science Study Group—received full funding in the House version of the Defense Appropriations.
As this goes to press, it is not yet clear what the motivation is behind the cuts. Based on similar cuts last year, speculation within the computing research advocacy community is that the SAC remains unconvinced of the military utility of the Integrated Cognitive Systems program at DARPA. DARPA has appealed the cuts and CRA has joined with a number of institutions affected by the cuts to work to oppose them. The full Senate is not likely to consider the Defense Appropriations bill until early September. If the full Senate were to approve the bill with the cuts included—which at this point seems likely—a House/Senate conference would have to resolve the disparity between the bills. Therefore, CRA’s efforts, and those of the representatives of the other institutions affected by these cuts, will primarily focus on this conference stage.
For the most up-to-date details on the progress of this effort and the very latest developments in the appropriations process, see CRA’s Computing Research Policy Blog (http://www.cra.org/blog). You, too, can join the effort to advocate for federal support of fundamental computing research by joining CRA’s “Computing Research Advocacy Network.” Sign up for CRAN at http://www.cra.org/govaffairs/advocacy/cran to get the latest details and find out how you can take part.
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