The House Science, Space and Technology Committee today first marked up, then passed unanimously a reauthorization of the Federal government’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program. Called the Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2012, (H.R. 3834) the bill sets policies for the 15 Federal agencies who participate in the $3.6 billion a year program, which represents the sum total of the Federal investment in unclassified computing research.
The bill is substantially similar to the NITRD Act of 2009 from the last Congress that CRA endorsed, with a few reservations. While we appreciated that bill’s focus on enacting the recommendations of a review of the NITRD program by the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, we thought the bill could have been made stronger with some additional focus on computer science education and diversity issues throughout the NITRD program. The sponsors of the bill have apparently taken that to heart and added language that addresses three of the four points we raised. (The remaining point dealt with the Department of Education and its lack of participation in the NITRD program, but that’s not something the House Science, Space and Tech Committee has jurisdiction over, so it’s not something they could add to the bill at this point.)
The core of the new bill, as in the old bill, is aimed at fostering greater coordination between the 15 participating agencies and codifying an advisory committee of experts from industry and academia charged with reviewing the program’s progress and recommending new directions to reflect changes in the field or in national priorities. Both elements are key recommendations of the most recent review of the NITRD program, undertaken by the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) and released in December 2010. In an effort to aid coordination among the agencies in setting priorities and research agendas, the bill requires that the program create a five-year strategic plan, updated every three years. The advisory committee will review the strategic plan on a three-year schedule (changed at the markup from 2 years in the original bill) and report the results to Congress.
The bill would also create a new NITRD activity called “Large-scale Research in Areas of National Importance.” Included under this activity would be:
… large-scale, long-term, interdisciplinary research and development activities in networking and information technology directed toward application areas that have the potential for significant contributions to national economic competitiveness and for other societal benefits. Such activities, ranging from basic research to the demonstration of technical solutions, shall be designed to advance the development of research discoveries.
The President’s advisory committee is required to make recommendations to NITRD for research to support under this activity. The bill also requires that if two agencies are working on research in the same area, “they must strive to collaborate through joint solicitations and selection of applications,” a dicey requirement, given how difficult can be to get a single-agency solicitation out the door. (But there is wiggle room in that “strive to collaborate” language.)
The bill also adds a new research area in Cyber-Physical Systems to the NITRD research portfolio. To help figure out how best to carry out research in this area, the bill calls for the creation of “University/Industry Task Force” to explore mechanisms for collaborative research, set an agenda focused on “national significant challenges and requiring collaboration, as well as figuring out everyone’s role in the activity, figuring out the intellectual property issues, and figuring out how to pay for it. And after answering these challenges, the committee shall disband.
New to the bill are sections on Cloud Computing Services for Research, and Improving Networking and Information Technology Education. The former requires the NITRD national coordinating office (NCO) to convene an interagency working group to examine “issues around funding mechanisms and policies for the use of cloud computing services for federally-funded science and engineering research.” In addition, the committee during the markup today added language that requires the working group to also examine the needs of research focused on cloud computing.
The latter new section adds a responsibility to NSF to “use its existing program, in collaboration with other agencies, as appropriate to improved the teaching and learning of NIT at all levels of education and to increase participation in NIT fields, including by women and underrepresented minorities.”
CRA was pleased to offer its support for H.R. 3834 before today’s markup. Here’s what we said:
February 6, 2012
Chairman Hall and Ranking Member Johnson:
As an organization representing over 240 industry and academic institutions involved in computing research and six affiliated professional societies, together representing over 150,000 computing professionals, the Computing Research Association is pleased to support your efforts to bolster federal information technology research through the Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act (H.R. 3834). We supported a substantially similar bill, the NITRD Act of 2009 (H.R. 2020), in the previous Congress, and believe the changes you have made to the bill – particularly to add a greater emphasis on computer science education and diversity throughout the NITRD programs – make this a much improved bill.
We also believe H.R. 3834 will make federal IT R&D stronger by enacting several of the recommendations from the most recent review of the program by the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (in December 2010). In particular, we are pleased that the bill requires the NITRD agencies to create a five-year strategic plan for the program, and to have the program’s progress periodically reviewed by a committee of experts from academia and industry. Doing so will help ensure that the research priorities of the program reflect changes in the field and national priorities.
We believe that given the size and scope of the NITRD program, its importance to the Nation, and the rapidly-changing nature of the field, it is crucial that this advisory committee be comprised of the leading minds in the academic and industrial research communities, and that the committee be free-standing, independent and able to report its findings directly to the President’s Science Advisor. We are pleased that the bill language does not preclude this, but would appreciate additional emphasis of these characteristics in the bill or the report accompanying the bill.
Thank you for your work on this legislation and for your long-standing support of the federal investment in networking and information technology research. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues as you endeavor to move this legislation forward this session.
The bill will likely head to the House floor very soon, where it’s expected to pass overwhelming, just like the NITRD Act of 2009 did (though stranger things have happened). The task is more challenging the Senate, which has failed to act on the House bill in each of the last three Congresses and hasn’t produced a version of its own. Whatever the result, we’ll let you know!