Computing Research Policy Blog

CRA Statement Applauding President-elect Biden’s Announcement of His Science Team


The Computing Research Association commends President-elect Biden for his announcement today that the Presidential Science Advisor will be a member of the Cabinet for the first time in history.  We applaud his commitment that “science will always be at the forefront” of his administration, and we look forward to working with the highly talented and qualified team of advisors he named today.  We are confident they will contribute a strong scientific voice to the myriad challenges facing our country.

Biden Names Science Team; Eric Lander as Science Advisor; Elevates Position to Cabinet-level


President-elect Joe Biden announced today he intends to nominate Dr. Eric Lander, biologist and former leader of the Human Genome Project, to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and serve as the Presidential Science Advisor. Biden also announced that he was designating the Presidential Science Advisor a cabinet level position for the first time in history, illustrating the importance the new administration will place on the guidance of science in policymaking. Also named today as Deputy Director of OSTP is Dr. Alondra Nelson, who is the president of the Social Science Research Council and a distinguished scholar of science, technology, social inequality and race.

Biden also named two external C0-Chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Dr. Frances H. Arnold and Dr. Maria Zuber will chair the committee tasked with reviewing elements of the nation’s science enterprise and providing guidance on problems facing the nation. Dr. Arnold is an expert in protein engineering and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dr. Zuber is an expert in geophysics and planetary science, an astronaut who was the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission, and a former chair of the National Science Board.

Biden’s team will also include Kei Koizumi, who will serve OSTP’s Chief of Staff, and Narda Jones, who will be OSTP’s Legislative Affairs Director. Koizumi was a member of President Obama’s OSTP staff, as well as an expert on science budgets for AAAS. He’s also well known to CRA for his frequent appearances at our Leadership in Science Policy Institutes leading discussions on the Federal Budget process. Jones was the Senior Tech Policy advisor and Counsel for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Biden’s announcement, five days before his January 20th inauguration, is in marked contrast to the timing President Trump’s naming of Kelvin Droegemeier to head OSTP, which came nearly two years into Trump’s term. Also the naming of Lander as Presidential Science Advisor in addition to Director of OSTP, and the elevation of that position to the President’s Cabinet, places Lander in a potentially much more influential policy role within the administration.

Lander and Nelson both require confirmation by the Senate before they can take their new positions. It’s unclear how quick the Senate will take up that process. But we’ll have all the details for you here.

The President-elect’s announcement is here.

Update: CRA released a statement on today’s announcement:

The Computing Research Association commends President-elect Biden for his announcement today that the Presidential Science Advisor will be a member of the Cabinet for the first time in history.  We applaud his commitment that “science will always be at the forefront” of his administration, and we look forward to working with the highly talented and qualified team of advisors he named today.  We are confident they will contribute a strong scientific voice to the myriad challenges facing our country.

 

FY21 Update: Final Budget Numbers Released; Research Fares Well


UPDATE (12/28/20): After threatening a veto, and risking a government shutdown, Trump signed the budget into law Sunday night. Fiscal Year 2021 is complete.

Original Post: When last we left the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget process, we were waiting for Congress to get the final bill across the finish line. It took them two additional continuing resolutions (one set for 48 hours; a second one for 24 hours), but Congressional leaders finally hammered out an agreement. The numbers are mostly positive for the federal research accounts, though there are lots of ups and downs in there.

CJS: NSF, NIST, and NASA

NSF would receive $8.49 billion for FY21 overall, an increase of $210 million over last year (or +2.5 percent). The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a similar 2.5 percent increase, up from $6.74 billion in FY20 to $6.91 billion for FY21. As well, the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would also see an increase of 3.0 percent, going from $940 million in FY20 to $968 million in FY21. These numbers are mostly between the House mark and the Senate numbers released in November, though they are much closer to the Senate numbers.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate FY21 Final $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.28B $7.74B $8.55B $8.48B $8.49B +$210M +2.5%
R&RA $6.74B $6.21B $6.97B $6.91B $6.91B +$170M +2.5%
EHR $940M $931M $970M $963M $968M +$28M +3.0%

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) numbers are more mixed. The top line for the agency would be flat funded, receiving the same $1.03 billion in FY21 that it received last year. However, the institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see a healthy increase for FY21: $788 million, which is $34 million more (4.4 percent) than it received for FY20; that’s right between the House and Senate marks.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate FY21 Final $ Change % Change
NIST Total $1.03B $738M $1.04B $1.05B $1.03B 0 0
STRS $754M $652M $789M $787M $788M +$34M +4.5%

NASA’s budget is very much a compromise between the House (which was bad) and Senate (which was pretty good). The top line for the agency gets an increase, going from $22.63 billion in FY20 to $23.27 billion (an increase of $640 million or 2.8 percent). The NASA Science account would do nearly as well, as it would receive a 2.2 percent increase. The account would go from $7.14 billion in FY20 to $7.30 billion in FY21.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate FY21 Final $ Change % Change
NASA Total $22.63B $25.25B $22.63B $23.50B $23.27B +$640M +2.8%
Science $7.14B $6.31B $7.10B $7.27B $7.30B +$160M +2.2%

Energy: Dept of Energy, ASCR, and ARPA-E

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would receive only a slight increase (less than 1 percent) over FY20 levels; bringing the agency’s budget to $7.03 billion for FY21, an increase of only $30 million. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see a more generous increase of 4.1 percent – going from $980 million in FY20 to $1.02 billion in FY21. These numbers are basically the House passed numbers from over the summer.

In an interesting change, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would not fare as well in the final compromise bill than it had in either chamber’s bills. The agency would be flat funded, receiving a slight increase of less than 1 percent ($427 million for FY21, rather than $425 million in FY20). While not an increase it is still significantly better than being eliminated, as it was under the administration’s plan.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate FY21 Final $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $7.00B $5.84B $7.05B $7.03B $7.03B +$30M +<1%
ASCR $980M $988M $1.02B $1.03B $1.02B +$22M +4.1%
ARPA-E $425M $0 $435M $430M $427M +$2M +<1%

Defense: DOD and DARPA

In another change, though this time good, the Defense Department’s research accounts fared much better in the final agreement. Regular readers will recall that the House numbers were not objectively good, while the Senate numbers were pretty bad (though not as bad as the administration’s request)

Basic Research (6.1) gets a good increase, going from $2.60 billion in FY20 to $2.67 billion in FY21, an increase of 2.7 percent or $70 million. Both the House and Senate numbers were below this mark.

The Applied Research (6.2) account fares even better. The account would see an increase of 6.3 percent compared to last year’s budget, going from $6.07 billion in FY20 to $6.45 billion (+$380 million). Again, better than both the House and Senate, who both recommended cuts.

The Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would also receive an increase, going from $7.40 billion in FY20 to $7.76 billion in FY21; an increase of $360 million or 4.9 percent. This is better than both the House and Senate, who, again, both recommended cuts.

Finally, DARPA would see an increase over FY20 but only a slight one. The agency would go from $3.46 billion in FY20 to $3.50 billion under the FY21 plan, an increase of just 1.2 percent (or $40 million). This is between the House and Senate marks.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate FY21 Final $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.60B $2.32B $2.62B $2.41B $2.67B +$70M +2.7%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $5.39B $5.92B $6.00B $6.45B +$380M +6.3%
DOD 6.3 $7.40B $6.33B $7.08B $6.75B $7.76B +$360M +4.9%
DARPA $3.46B $3.57B $3.51B $3.49B $3.50 +$40M +1.2%

Where do things head from here? Trump has until Dec. 28 to sign the bills, after Congress passed, and he approved, an additional seven-day continuing resolution. The stopgap legislation is being used as a backstop to make sure there isn’t a shutdown while Congress delivers the final appropriation bills to the White House heading into the holidays. Once he signs the final bills, this budget will be put to rest for the year. It’s been a long year, but it’s nice to see the finish line in sight. Next year will bring a new administration and hopefully a new approach to research policy and funding. Be sure to check back in the new year, when this whole process starts back up.

FY21 Update: Still Waiting for a Final Budget & Will Have to Wait Another Week (at least)


The calendar year of 2020 is quickly ending, but Congress hasn’t finished its work on the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget, which technically started back on October 1st. Our last update back in November was about the Senate publicly releasing their budget bills, with an eye to wrapping up the process on December 11th (AKA: today). Unfortunately, not much has happened since November.

Congressional leaders are now trying to buy themselves another week to work, pushing a continuing resolution (CR) until next Friday, December 18th. Both the House and Senate have approved the measure and the President should sign it shortly.

While that CR is for all purposes taken care of, it’s increasingly unclear which will happen first: a final FY21 budget is approved into law or the end of the current session of Congress (which ends on January 3rd). If Congress can’t get things together, then they will need to punt the decision into the next calendar year and the new 117th Congress. If that comes to pass, the expectation is another, longer CR, which will go to a date in March 2021. This all assumes a normally functioning Executive Branch, which is not a given.

Things are still very fluid, we’ll update things when we know more, so please keep checking back.

National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act Inches Closer to Passage


UPDATE (1/5/21): On New Year’s Day, and in one of it’s last acts, the 116th Congress overrode President Trump’s veto and passed the National Defense Authorization Act into law. That means the National Artificial Intelligence Act is law.

Original post: Last week the long awaited conferenced National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA; the defense policy bill) was publicly released. Regular readers will recall that earlier in the year that the House Science Committee’s National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act (HR 6216) was included in the House version of the NDAA. At that time, there was no equivalent in the Senate NDAA and it was unclear if it would survive the conference negotiations. Fortunately, the AI Initiative Act was included in the conference agreement released last week.

The bill is not significantly different than the version passed by the House in July, but there are some changes. The federal agencies and departments that are involved in the Initiative were broadened, but in a way that makes sense, given that the bill crosses jurisdictional boundaries (think the Department of Defense was insert in place of DARPA and the Department of Commerce was included instead of just NIST). Plus, the agencies can be added at this stage without much difficulty. Additionally, language that involved the creation of “voluntary standards” was removed. We’re not sure why this occurred; our running theory is that it could mean the Senate Commerce Committee has an AI standards bill in mind for the future. Finally, the language requiring PIs to include an ethics statement in their proposals seems to be less prescriptive in this version, potentially giving agencies more say in what will need to be included.

The good news is that the authorized funding levels are as they were in the original Science Committee bill, including all five years for each of the three agencies’ institutes. The bill authorizes nearly $5 billion in funding for AI research at NSF over the next five years ($4.796 billion), $1.15 billion at the Department of Energy, and $390 million at NIST. Also, there’s a new section in the NIST Institutes title that includes $10 million for a NOAA institute; it only has one year of funding authorized though. Also, much of the wording within the institute sections are not significantly different than what passed in the House NDAA (though the NIST section got a couple of additions, including the NOAA section).

Unfortunately, it is not a definite that this bill will become law. Outgoing President Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA unless it includes repeal of the Section 230 protections for internet providers and online companies. This is in addition to his veto threat from the summer over stipulations about renaming military bases (those have also survived the conference negotiations). Both chambers seem to have no stomach for attaching repeal of Section 230 protections in this piece of must pass legislation, and it appears Congress will test Trump’s threat. Seeing as both the House and Senate versions passed their chambers with large majorities, this veto appears doomed to be overridden. But stranger things have happened this year. The House is expected to vote in the next day or two, as the bill must pass this year.

Let’s hope this gets over the goal posts! If so, it will cap over two years of work with CCC and the community to get the AI Research Roadmap written and then translated into legislation and policy. We’ll keep watching what happens and report when we know more, so please check back.

FY21 Update: Senate Releases Numbers in Preparation for Budget Endgame in December


When last we left the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget process, we were worried about a potentially stalled continuing resolution at the end of September. Luckily, no one wanted to shut down the government just before the November Election; a CR was passed and signed into law. The CR created a new deadline to get a permanent budget into place, which is December 11th. Now with the election behind us, and hoping to jumpstart the process, yesterday the Senate Appropriations Committee released its slate of appropriations bills. Let’s get into the details.

CJS: NSF, NIST, and NASA

The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill provides a 2.4 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) funding for NSF. The Foundation would receive $8.48 billion for FY21 overall, an increase of $200 million over last year. The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a similar 2.5 percent increase, up from $6.74 billion in FY20 to $6.91 billion for FY21. As well, the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would also see an increase of 2.4 percent, going from $940 million in FY20 to $963 million in FY21. These numbers are between the very bad numbers in the President’s Budget Request (PBR) back in February and the slightly better numbers in the House mark over the summer.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.28B $7.74B $8.55B $8.48B +$200M +2.4%
R&RA $6.74B $6.21B $6.97B $6.91B +$170M +2.5%
EHR $940M $931M $970M $963M +$23M +2.4%

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) numbers are a bit more mixed, but very similar to the House numbers. The top line for the agency would be just above being flat funded, receiving just a 1.9 percent increase, going from $1.03 billion in FY20 to $1.05 billion in FY21 (a $20 million increase). However, the institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see a healthy increase for FY21; $787 million for this year, which is $33 million more (4.4 percent) than it received for FY20.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate $ Change % Change
NIST Total $1.03B $738M $1.04B $1.05B +$20M +1.9%
STRS $754M $652M $789M $787M +$33M +4.4%

In a bit of change from the above, NASA’s budget under the Senate is much better than the House’s mark. The top line for the agency gets a healthy increase, going from $22.63 billion in FY20 to $23.50 billion under the Senate plan (an increase of $870 million or 3.8 percent). The NASA Science account would fare better, as it would receive a 1.8 percent increase, rather than a slight cut. The account would go from $7.14 billion in FY20 to $7.27 billion in FY21 under the Senate number.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate $ Change % Change
NASA Total $22.63B $25.25B $22.63B $23.50B +$870M +3.8%
Science $7.14B $6.31B $7.10B $7.27B +$130M +1.8%

Energy: Dept of Energy, ASCR, and ARPA-E

The Senate’s Energy and Water bill proposes only a slight increase (+<1 percent) for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science over FY20 levels; bringing the agency’s budget to $7.05 billion for FY21, an increase of only $30 million. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see a more generous increase of 5.1 percent – going from $980 million in FY20 to $1.03 billion in FY21. This is a bit of a mix in comparison to the House numbers, where the top line was slightly better (though not good) but it provided less for ASCR.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, would receive $430 million for FY21, a 1.2 percent increase from $425 million in FY20. That is exactly half of what the House provided, but significantly better than the President’s plan to zero out the agency. In fact, the committee was quite emphatic in their report language, saying, “the Committee continues to definitively reject the short-sighted proposal to terminate ARPA–E, and instead increases investment in this transformational program.”

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $7.00B $5.84B $7.05B $7.03B +30M +<1%
ASCR $980M $988M $1.02B $1.03B +$50M +5.1%
ARPA-E $425M $0 $435M $430M +$5M +1.2%

Defense: DOD and DARPA

This is where the very bad news resides. Regular readers will recall that the House Defense numbers released in the summer were not objectively good, but appeared good in comparison to the PBR. The Senate’s numbers are mostly between these two bad options.

Basic Research (6.1) gets a significant cut against FY20 numbers. The account goes from $2.60 billion to $2.41 billion in FY21, a decrease of 7.3 percent or $190 million. This is below the House number in July.

The Applied Research (6.2) account fairs relatively better. The full account would see a decrease of 1.2 percent compared to last year’s budget, going from $6.07 billion in FY20 to $6.00 billion (a loss of $70 million). This is actually better than the House’s mark.

The Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would receive the largest cut, going from $7.40 billion in FY20 to $6.75 billion in FY21, a cut of $650 million or 8.8 percent. This is significantly lower than the House number.

All of these accounts would receive a boost, and significant ones at that, if compared to the Trump Administration’s plan. Which probably explains what the Senate appropriators were comparing their numbers against.

Finally, DARPA would see an increase over FY20 but only a slight one. The agency would go from $3.46 billion in FY20 to $3.49 billion under the Senate’s FY21 plan, an increase of just 1 percent (or $30 million). The Administration requested $3.57 billion for the agency, the one defense research account to receive an increase in the PBR; the House approved $3.51 billion.

FY20 FY21 PBR FY21 House FY21 Senate $ Change % Change
DOD 6.1 $2.60B $2.32B $2.62B $2.41B -$190M -7.3%
DOD 6.2 $6.07B $5.39B $5.92B $6.00B -$70M -1.2%
DOD 6.3 $7.40B $6.33B $7.08B $6.75B -$650M -8.8%
DARPA $3.46B $3.57B $3.51B $3.49B +$30M +1%

Where do things head from here? Given the differences between the House and Senate numbers, some form of compromise will need to be reached for final passage of a budget. With the election of President-Elect Biden and both chambers likely to stay in their respective party’s control, it’s likely that this budget will be finalized before the end of the year, if not before the December 11th deadline, rather than be punted to 2021. However, as has been the case for four years, outgoing President Trump is a potential wild card. Will he stand by his budget request numbers and refuse to sign anything else into law? With no electoral restrictions, Trump may want to burnish his fiscal bonafides for a future Presidential run and veto a compromise bill that comes out of Congress. This process is far from over. We’ll keep following this process and report back when news develops.

Post 2020 Election Analysis: What Happened, What’s Still in Doubt, and How Does It Impact Computing Research?


November 3rd has passed, but the 2020 Presidential Election is ongoing. While there are quite a lot of unknowns, not least of which is who was elected President, there are some things that we know right now. Additionally, we can point to some key races that are still undecided. What does this mean for federally supported research here in Washington? Let’s get into the details.

The Democratic Party will retain control of the House of Representatives, though likely with a reduced majority. There are a few members of the House Science Committee that we are watching (results are as of publication):

Defeated:
Kendra Horn – D – OK 5th – Science Committee Space and Aeronautics sub-committee chair; Stephanie Bice (R) elected
Dan Lipinski – D – IL 3rd – Third most senior Democrat on Science Committee; defeated in May primary

Too Close to Call:
Haley Stevens – D – MI 11th – Science Committee Research and Technology sub-committee chair
Mike Garcia – R – CA 25th – Science Committee member
Conor Lamb – D – PA 17th – Science Committee member

The leadership of the House Science Committee is likely to not change; Chairwoman Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Lucas (R-OK) are likely to keep their positions. As well, the key members of the committee should be returning (though one, Haley Stevens (D-MI), is a surprising open question). However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the rank and file membership of the committee is expected to be different. This is due to the relatively low profile of the Science Committee; i.e., once junior members attain more seniority, they tend to move on to higher profile committee assignments, while newly elected freshman members will take their place. The good news is any new members are potentially new research champions.

We did know going into this general election that we were losing one key Science Committee member, Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who lost his primary in May (Marie Newman (D), who beat Lipinski, won her election). Rep. Lipinski – one of only 17 PhDs in the House — has been a long-time champion for research on the committee and his leadership will be missed.

Turning to the Senate, it’s still unclear at publication time if control of the chamber has changed. There is a chance we won’t know who controls the chamber until the outcome of the Presidential election (i.e.: who is the tie-breaking VP?) is certain. In either case, we don’t anticipate significant differences in how the Senate will approach most research policy issues (though there is at least one piece of legislation that could get a big boost if Chuck Schumer (D-NY) becomes the Senate Majority Leader).

Getting into specific Senate races, we do know that a major GOP science champion was defeated: Cory Gardner (R) was beaten by John Hickenlooper (D) in Colorado. Senator Gardner made research investments a key issue during his time in office, even when many in his party were opposed to new spending. While Senator-elect Hickenlooper is likely to support research too, given the importance federally supported research is to his state, there is no guarantee he will be a leader to the same extent as Gardner. However, in a specific CS angle, while governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper was a big champion for computer science education.

Additionally, we are still waiting for the result of Gary Peters’ (D) election in Michigan. Senator Peters teamed up with Senator Gardner on multiple occasions to support and promote, on a bipartisan basis, federal science research. At publication time, Senator Peters contest with John James (R) is too close to call.

We did lose a Senate champion to retirement: Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee. A very long-time champion of Department of Energy research, as well as a promotor of STEM education, his leadership on the right side of the aisle will be hard to replace. Bill Hagerty (R) won the election for this seat; he’s likely to still support DOE research, given its importance to his state, but we’ll have to see if he takes on the research champion mantle left by Senator Alexander.

Finally, there’s the Presidential election. It is what it is. Should President Trump prevail, we can expect more of the same budget requests and continuing immigration policy fights. Should Vice President Biden win, we can expect a little bit of confusion due to the transition but, hopefully, a more hospitable environment for U.S. research and higher-ed institutions.

Regardless of outcome, CRA is poised to help whomever is driving the ship of state understand the importance of investments in research and the myriad opportunities for computing research to help address areas of national need. As part of that effort, we’ve been rolling out our 2020 Quadrennial Papers. These white papers, produced through CRA’s subcommittees, explore areas and issues around computing research that have the potential to address national priorities over the next four years. As well, there’s still the Fiscal Year 2021 budget to settle, hopefully, in December. Progress on the budget will likely hinge on how the election unfolds. As always, there’s still more to keep track of, so please check back for more updates!

UPDATE 11/14/20: A number of the races that we identified as too close to call, have now been called. Haley Stevens (D-MI), Conor Lamb (D-PA), and Senator Peters (D-MI) were all reelected. However, it seems Mike Carcia (R-CA) is still too close to call. Of course, the Presidential election was called for now President-Elect Biden (D).

CRA Releases ‘2020 Quadrennial Papers’ Focused on Illuminating Computing Research Challenges and Opportunities for the Next Four Years


[This article originally appeared in the CRA Bulletin.]

Today the Computing Research Association (CRA) released the first of more than a dozen planned white papers produced through its subcommittees, exploring areas and issues around computing research with the potential to address national priorities over the next four years. Called Quadrennial Papers, the white papers attempt to portray a broad picture of computing research detailing potential research directions, challenges, and recommendations for policymakers and the computing research community. The release of the 2020 Quadrennial Papers covers five thematic areas: Core Computer Science, Broad Computing, Socio-Technical Computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Diversity & Education.

CRA today released the first set of four papers from the Core Computer Science theme, papers that explore the foundations of our algorithmic world through theoretical computer science, ponder computing challenges in the post-Moore’s Law world, address the opportunities with next generation wireless technologies, and prepare us for the challenges of security in a post-quantum computing world. Over the next several weeks, CRA will release papers in the four other thematic sets.

The Quadrennial Papers are a part of CRA’s mission to catalyze the computing community to advance future research directions in the field. CRA’s Computing Community Consortium subcommittee (CCC), Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research (CRA-WP), and Education subcommittee (CRA-E), all contributed white papers to the effort. The topics chosen represent areas of mutual interest among the committee members spanning various subdisciplines of computing research.

CRA, primarily through the CCC, has been producing these white papers every four years since 2008 on topics as wide-ranging as Robotics and Synthetic Biology to Intelligent Infrastructure and the Internet of Things. The papers have frequently had notable impact, including helping motivate a re-envisioning of DARPA, establishing the need for a Big Data Initiative, buttressing support for a National Robotics Initiative, and laying the groundwork for an Artificial Intelligence Research Roadmap. Contributors have included members of CRA committees, as well as experts in academia and industry inside and outside the computing research community.

CRA thanks all those authors, contributors and reviewers who were part of the effort to bring these papers to fruition. As each of the 2020 Quadrennial papers is released, it will be available at https://turing.cra.org/cra-quadrennial-papers/.

Three New Immigration Rule Changes from the Trump Administration; All Likely to Impact the Computing Research Community


The Trump Administration continues to issue regulatory rule changes that impact the US higher education and research communities. Regular readers of the Policy Blog will recall that earlier this year the Administration issued multiple proclamations and other policy changes, with regard to legal immigration that impacted the US research community in some way. While the Administration backed off in some of these instances, they never did so completely; in fact, the rhetoric and desire to make lasting changes to the American immigration system remained.

In the last month, the Trump Administration has issued three new rule changes that will impact the higher education and high-tech research communities. Mostly these changes centered around rules and requirements for holders of H-1B visas, however there are changes to holders of F, J, and I visas as well. Let’s get into the details.

The first changes were announced on September 25th and it was a proposed rule change to the “duration of status” for holders of F academic student, J exchange visitor, and I representatives of foreign information media nonimmigrant visas. The change would require a fixed time schedule for the visa holder (2-4 years), allowing for a request to extend, rather than the current “duration of status” (ie: the length of time required to complete their studies). The proposed rule allowed for 30 days for comments before being reviewed for possible adoption; the expectation is the rule will be adopted regardless of the public comments made.

The likely impact of this rule change is obvious to anyone in the higher education community, particular those with experience in masters or PhD programs. Two to four years is frequently not enough time for students to complete their degree programs. This creates uncertainty for foreign students – will they have sufficient time to earn their degree? will they have to reapply? will they be readmitted if they apply? — making the United States a less attractive place for international students to come for their education. Our place as the world leader in computing technologies rests in part in our ability to attract the best and brightest minds to do research in our colleges and universities. Policies that make it more difficult to attract that talent threaten that leadership.

Two other rules were issued jointly on October 8th, though they are technically separate; one by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the other by the Department of Labor (DOL). They were issued using an “Interim Final Rule” mechanism (more on this in a moment). Let’s look at the DHS rule first, which is titled “Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program.” The new rule will revise the definition of “specialty occupation” for all H-1B petitions. The new definition requires that employers show that a university degree in a particular field, or in alternate, multiple fields, is “always” required and that the degree must be “directly related” to the job offered. It will also make a degree a requirement to apply for a visa. The previous definition required 1) “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge” and 2) “attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty.” This new rule will create special hurdles for jobs in new and emerging fields, especially in fields where multidisciplinary hiring is prevalent (such as with artificial intelligence) and will create risks concerning the ability of professionals currently in country on H-1B visas. This rule is open for comments until November 9th, and the rule will go into effect on December 7th.

The Department of Labor rule, released on the same day as the DHS rule, concerns High-Skilled Wages (both H-1B and permanent residency). As with the other rule, comments are due by November 9th, however this rule took effect immediately upon being issued. The new rule resets so-called “prevailing wages” for each of four skill levels, by raising each by increment of two to three deciles within the surveyed wage sets, often resulting in salary figure increases of 50% or more. The rule applies to all employers sponsoring professionals for H-1B status or green card status, whether the employer is H-1B cap-exempt or H-1B cap-subject and regardless of the sector of activity. The DOL wage rule will result in US employers being required to pay foreign-born professionals more than their similarly situated American colleagues and present the largest percentage of increase for early career professionals, like international students being hired by US employers from on-campus recruitment. The effect of this rule is to either price out H-1B visa holders or create an untenable conflict for employers between their native-born workers and the visa holders.

Both rules were released as “interim final rules” (IFR). In most cases, Federal agencies must go through a detailed rule making process before issuing new or modify existing regulatory rules. However, the IFR mechanism allows agencies to issue rules immediately, without going through a comment review period, for “good cause.” The rules are final, and as with the above DOL wage rule, they take effect immediately. However, using this mechanism can be problematic for the agencies because it typically sets up immediate legal challenges. Indeed, there are already lawsuits being organized by the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, joined by other organizations, to some of these new rules.

CRA is working with our partners in the science advocacy community and the higher education community to make the case to policymakers that these rules will hurt, not help, the US research community. In the case of the DHS “duration of status” change, multiple members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have sent letters to the DHS acting Secretary voicing opposition to the rule. And members of the higher-ed community, as well as the high-tech sector, are preparing for legal challenges against the other two rules. We will keep an eye on all the proceedings and will update the community as news happens, so please check back for updates.

FY21 Appropriations Update: A Continuing Resolution is Coming but Will it be Passed into Law?


Despite appearances, Congress has not forgotten about the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The problem has been the ongoing disagreement on how to respond to the COVID pandemic. Since Congress hasn’t been able to get beyond that issue, it hasn’t been able to focus on other high-level topics. However, the approaching November election, and a desire to not have a government shutdown just before voters go to the polls, has necessitated a continuing resolution (or CR) to be considered.

Released today, the CR would fund the government at Fiscal Year 2020 levels through December 11th. However, because of Congress’ inaction on a number of must-pass issues, this bill is not “clean,” meaning it is not free of other policy and funding issues. While unlikely to completely derail the process on its own, these other items could slow down or delay final passage of a CR. In fact, the initial language has already caused bickering between House and Senate leaders over topics that weren’t included in the bill’s language.

However, the bigger concern, and big question mark, is how the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Senate Republicans desire to confirm her replacement before the election, will impact all legislation in Congress. Will Senate Democrats throw up any and all legislative roadblocks to halt a vote on a proposed replacement? Would the Republicans acquiesce if such a tactic were employed? Would the Democrats be willing to risk a government shutdown just before the election? These are unprecedented circumstances and it’s hard to say what will happen. More so than ever, it’s a wait and see situation; we’ll have more updates as they happen, so please check back.

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