This article is published in the March 2010 issue.

Science, Computing Research Fare Well in Obama FY11 Budget


Rumors of an Administration pullback in its support for science proved unfounded, as President Barack Obama in early February released an FY 2011 budget request that continues three key science agencies on trajectories that would see their funding double by 2017. The news for federal support of computing research was even better, with computing research accounts in several agencies slated for even greater percentage increases.

Despite the Administration’s plan to freeze many discretionary spending accounts in the budget beginning in FY 2011, Obama’s budget makes exceptions for research funding at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—three agencies that are at the core of the President’s National Innovation Strategy. “Investment in science and basic research is critical to long-term economic growth,” the budget reads, providing justification for its $61.6 billion in funding for civilian research and development, an increase of $3.7 billion, or 6.4 percent more than the agencies received in FY 2010.

Under the President’s plan, NSF would receive an 8 percent increase over its FY 2010 level, DOE’s Office of Science a 4 percent increase, and NIST a 7.3 percent increase. All federal science agencies were not treated equally, however. Overall, the federal budget for research and development (military and civilian) would stay relatively flat at $147.7 billion in FY 2011, an increase of just 0.2 percent over FY 2010.

“Embedded in a relatively flat overall R&D budget are some very healthy increases in areas that are most important for the nation’s future,” said Presidential Science Advisor John P. Holdren at the budget release on February 1.

Cuts fell on the Department of Homeland Security’s basic research efforts (down $54 million, or 24 percent), applied research at the Department of Defense ($21 million, essentially the same funding level as FY 2010), and the Administration announced it was halting NASA’s return-to-the-moon program, Constellation.

The science community had grown anxious in December as reports surfaced that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the ultimate authority on agency budget requests, had balked at the funding levels required to keep the science agencies on the “doubling track.” Science Magazine reported in a December 4, 2009, story that OMB planned to hold NSF’s increase to just 2.9 percent in FY 2011 and DOE’s Office of Science to just 1.6 percent.

In response, a number of science advocacy groups, including CRA, weighed in with OMB Director Peter Orszag to encourage support for the President’s previous commitments to funding for NSF, DOE Science, and NIST. CRA joined with ACM’s U.S. Public Policy Committee, IEEE–Computer Society, and IEEE-USA to make the computing community’s case for support.

Because the Administration’s deliberations prior to the release of the budget are secret, it is not known whether the initial reports were erroneous or whether OMB’s thinking changed, but the budget as released adopts the “doubling path” funding levels the President committed to with the release of his National Innovation Strategy in September 2009.

The President’s plan would provide an 8 percent increase to NSF, $552 million more than the agency’s FY 2010 budget. Of that $552 million, $455 million would go to the foundation’s research accounts (also an 8 percent increase over FY 10). And of those research accounts, no research directorate would see bigger increases in the President’s plan than NSF’s home for computing research: the Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate.

The directorate does so well in large degree because its programs match well with the agency’s priorities, said NSF Assistant Director for CISE Jeannette Wing, which in turn map well with the President’s priorities. Part of the President’s National Innovation Strategy for FY 2011 includes a focus on energy technologies, understanding and mitigating climate change, and promoting green jobs. Under the President’s plan, CISE would participate in two foundation-wide programs that meet this focus:

  1. Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES)—A $765.5 million program aimed at integrating NSF’s work in climate and energy science to generate the discoveries and tools needed to “inform societal actions that lead to environmental and economic sustainability.” CISE’s $29.3 million role in the program would focus on work with direct impact, like energy-intelligent computing; indirectly, with advances in computing to reduce energy consumption in other sectors (e.g., Smart Grid, Smart Home, Smart Transportation); and foundational, understanding how energy contributes to algorithmic complexity and system performance (i.e., can we develop more energy-efficient algorithms?).
  2. Cyberlearning for Transforming Education (CTE)—CISE’s $15 million share of this $41 million program would be used to fund research about “Anytime, Anywhere Learning,” “Personalized Learning,” and understanding all four permutations of: “(Cyber) Learning about (Cyber) Learning.” A goal is to develop fundamental knowledge about learning to inform new cyber tools and techniques.

In addition to these two new areas, CISE would continue its participation in two other foundation-wide efforts. Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) would receive $105.5 million in the agency’s plan, of which $50 million would be shared by CISE. CDI is the agency’s “Computational Thinking for Science and Engineering” program.

The other foundation-wide priority with CISE participation is the Science and Engineering Beyond Moore’s Law program, a $70.2 million program aimed at figuring out where we go when current silicon technologies reach the limits of Moore’s law. CISE would contribute $15 million to the effort, funding research on new computing technologies (including quantum information science), approaches, and models.

Other highlights include a $70 million increase to the directorate’s Trusted Computing efforts, continued work with the Engineering directorate on the Cyber Physical Systems program, significant increases in the CAREER program (7.1 percent increase to $54.6 million in FY 2011), and a Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF) program that has grown to $2.55 million in FY 2011. Wing strongly encouraged more GRF proposals from the computing community.

One program not fully addressed in the budget documentation is the status of the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program within CISE. As part of the FY2011 budget, NSF announced a new “Comprehensive Broadening Participation of Undergraduates in STEM,” a $100.3 million effort to “realign and build on existing programs and activities” and break down “programmatic stovepipes.” It is unclear how BPC fits into the new foundation-wide effort, if at all, and at press time Wing would only say that it was under discussion.

The NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure would also see an increase in FY 2011 under the President’s plan. The agency requested $228 million for FY11, an increase of $13.8 million, or 6.4 percent over FY 2010. Overall, the agency would increase IT research and development funding throughout the agency by 7 percent next year. The agency’s total contribution to the federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program would rise to $1.17 billion in FY 11, an increase of $79.6 million from FY 10.

Computing flourishes in the President’s request, according to Wing, because computing inherently speaks about innovation (which means jobs), and because “all the Administration’s priorities are well addressed by our technologies.”

Computing also fares well at the Department of Energy. Overall, the Office of Science, the home of the majority of the agency’s basic research and computing research efforts, would receive a 4 percent increase over FY 2010, bringing the research budget to $5.1 billion. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program would receive an 8.1 percent increase in FY 2011, to a total of $426 million. Basic energy science would see an increase of 12 percent, for a total of $1.8 billion in FY 2011.

For a complete breakdown of computing research in agency budgets, as always, check CRA’s Computing Research Policy Blog at https://turing.cra.org/blog.

Science, Computing Research Fare Well in Obama FY11 Budget