This article is published in the March 2012 issue.

Despite Austere Budget, Science Would See Increases in President’s Plan


In his last annual budget request before facing voters this November, President Obama showed his commitment to debt reduction by calling for cuts across almost all Federal agencies. But amidst the cuts, the President’s budget contains some key investments in research and development, including increased investments in computing research, that demonstrate his belief that Federally supported research can help spark the innovation required to keep the Nation placed at the top of an increasingly competitive world.

The President’s budget, released on February 13, 2012, sticks to tight discretionary spending caps agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011-caps that would amount to nearly $1 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade. Though nearly every Federal agency would receive cuts to some programs under the proposal, key Federal science agencies would actually see increases in FY 2013 compared to FY 2012. In good news for computing researchers, key computing accounts would see even higher percentage increases than the overall R&D average increases under the President’s plan.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science-three agencies identified in the America COMPETES Act of 2009 as key to the Nation’s productivity prowess-would all see increases in the President’s budget. Computing accounts in each agency fared disproportionately well. Research at the Defense Department, especially basic research, holds its own despite a one-percent cut across the Department.

National Science Foundation

NSF “fared very well,” announced NSF Director Subra Suresh during his agency’s budget briefing on February 13. The agency garnered an increase of $340 million in FY 2013 compared to FY 2012, an increase of nearly 5 percent. Computing research, in particular, did even better. The agency’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate (CISE)-the home for fundamental computing research at the agency-would see an increase of 8.6 percent in the President’s plan, the highest percentage increase among all the major science directorates.

How does computing warrant this seemingly preferential treatment? In large part, the reason lies with the agency’s new priorities-a suite of mostly new initiatives announced by Suresh under what he called the new “OneNSF Framework.” In each, computing plays a key, or even foundational, role:

  • Cyber-enabled Materials, Manufacturing, and Smart Systems (CEMMS)-$247 million across the foundation, including $91 million in CISE;
  • Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (CIF21)-$106 million NSF-wide, $16 million in CISE;
  • Expeditions in Education (E2)-$49 million NSF-wide, $4 million in CISE;
  • NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps)-$19 million NSF-wide, $6 million in CISE;
  • Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE)-
  • $63 million NSF-wide, $4 million in CISE;
  • Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC)-$110 million NSF-wide, $69 million in CISE;
  • Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES)-$203 million NSF-wide, $11.5 million in CISE.

While some of this funding represents research already funded under different programs-for example, CISE already supports research in CEMMS through the ongoing work in Cyber-physical Systems and the National Robotics Initiative, as well as through the now discontinued Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation program-much of it is new money for the directorate. In addition, the directorate is funneling $17 million from three programs that have ended (Network Science and Engineering [NetSE], Social-Computational Systems, and the Interface between Computer Science and Economic and Social Sciences [ICES]), into core CISE research areas. This process of identifying new initiatives, securing new funding for them, letting them run their course, and then ending them and folding that money back into the CISE core is key to growing the CISE budget, and the Foundation budget as well, over time.

In addition to the cross-agency priorities, CISE maintains a number of CISE-level crosscutting programs, including the Expeditions in Computing program, the Computing Education for the 21st Century program (which includes CISE efforts in computing education, research on teaching and learning, and broadening participation), Smart Health and Wellbeing, Enhancing Access to the Radio Spectrum (EARS), and Mid-scale Research Infrastructure, which includes increasing the “GENI footprint” and pushing ahead with US Ignite.

Finally, in his detailed briefing on the CISE directorate during the budget release, CISE AD Farnam Jahanian stressed that while there’s a focus on the initiatives in this budget, the net result for the CISE “core” research areas is very positive. Put simply, as CISE grows, so grows the CISE core. And CISE will continue to grow as long as computing continues to stay relevant to national priorities and the priorities of the Foundation.

Department of Energy’s Office of Science

DOE’s Office of Science would receive an increase of 2.4 percent over FY 2012 under the President’s plan for FY 2013, to a total of $5 billion. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, home to much of the computing research at DOE, would see a 3.3 percent increase, to $456 million in FY 2013. Basic Energy Science would also receive an increase to $1.8 billion, an increase of 6.6 percent. Hardest hit in the Office of Science is the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists program. It would lose $4 million, or 21.6 percent of its FY 2012 funding. Also losing out in the agency’s budget were the Office’s high-energy physics, nuclear physics and fusion energy science program, which would see cuts of 1.8 percent, 3.6 percent, and 0.8 percent, respectively.

DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would see a significant funding increase in the President’s plan, increasing 27.5 percent in FY 2013 to $325 million. This is a $70 million increase over FY 2012. In addition, the agency is asking for $25 million in “program direction,” which would allow them to hire more federal employees, support contractors, lease space, and increase IT purchases. However, the likelihood is pretty slim that Congress will approve the increases for personnel, space, and equipment, given the current spending climate in Washington.

Department of Defense

The President’s budget calls for an overall decrease of one percent to the DOD budget, but defense research programs across the services and at DARPA end up essentially flat compared to FY 2012. The White House requested an increase of just $1 million to its overall basic research account (6.1) in FY 2013, increasing it to $2.117 billion (compared to $2.116 billion in FY 2012). However, applied research (6.2) and advanced technology development (6.3) are both down. 6.2 would see a drop of $270 million to $4.478 billion in FY 2013; 6.3 would see a drop of $297 million to $5.266 billion.

DARPA would see a very slight increase overall compared with FY 2012. The agency has requested $2.746 billion in FY 2013, up $2 million from its final FY 2012 level. 6.1 research at DARPA would rise $20 million under the President’s plan to $349 million. 6.2 research would fall $136 million to $1.175 billion, and 6.3 would drop $46 million to $1.222 billion.

Looking Ahead

The President’s budget request is just the first step in the annual process of setting the Federal budget. Congress will now take its crack at reaching a budget agreement; then the authorization and appropriations battles for the agencies will start in earnest later this year. Because this is an election year, it is unlikely Members of Congress will want a vote on a tough budget before November 6. Those looking for finality in FY 2013 funding levels will likely have to wait until well after the start of the new fiscal year October 1, and probably more likely until late November or December at the earliest.

In the meantime, keep up with the latest happenings, and get much more detail on what’s in the President’s budget, by visiting the Computing Research Policy Blog at https://turing.cra.org/blog.

Despite Austere Budget, Science Would See Increases in President’s Plan