Computerworld has a story today that, I think, helps contribute to the common misunderstanding in some policy circles that “IT funding” is the same as “IT R&D funding.” The story combines budget news about the president’s proposed increases in federal IT funding — in this case, funding for IT procurement — with news about some aspects of the president’s science and technology budget. Here’s the first few paragraphs:
FEBRUARY 14, 2005 (COMPUTERWORLD) – President George Bush’s proposed budget for the federal government’s 2006 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, includes an increase in IT spending, despite significant cuts elsewhere.
The plan also asks Congress to permanently extend a research and development tax credit while terminating a program to develop high-risk, high-payoff technology.
The 2006 Bush budget cuts back or eliminates 150 government programs while calling for a 7% increase in government IT spending, to $65.1 billion. About 55% of IT-related funding would go to defense and domestic security programs. At the same time, the plan raises IT funding for the National Science Foundation by nearly 26%.
Separately, Bush’s science and technology budget would drop from an estimated $61.7 billion in fiscal 2005 to $60.8 billion in 2006. The science and technology budget includes programs such as space exploration, renewable energy and agricultural research, as well as technology-related research and development at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an industry trade group, praised the IT budget plan.
“America must pick up the pace in science, math and engineering,” ITAA President Harris Miller said in a statement. “Countries around the world have clearly signaled their intent to challenge U.S. leadership in technology. Our economic well-being depends on answering this challenge.”
The conflation in the article of IT procurement issues –buying IT for uses within the agency — with science and technology funding issues aimed at supporting researchers working on the next generations of technology might lead the reader to conclude that IT R&D funding did well under the budget request. Indeed, the line about the 26 percent increase in funding at NSF, as well as Harris Miller’s (ITAA) quote about the need for America to “pick up the pace in science, math and engineering,” and the bit about the extension of the research and development tax cut seem to reinforce that.
Of course, that’s not quite the case. IT R&D funding overall would decline 7 percent under the President’s plan. NSF funding for IT R&D would increase agency-wide, but only slightly — $8 million or 1 percent over FY 05.
The irony is that the very important message conveyed in Miller’s quote argues for much more robust IT R&D funding, which despite NSF’s increase in IT procurement, isn’t happening.