Exascale Escapes 2018 Budget Axe; Rest of Science Suffers

By Tiffany Trader

May 23, 2017

President Trump’s proposed $4.1 trillion FY 2018 budget is good for U.S. exascale computing development, but grim for the rest of science and technology spending. As a total crosscut of the DOE Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration, exascale-focused activities receive $508 million, a full 77 percent boost over FY17 enacted levels. The hike puts the U.S. on track to stand up an exascale capable machine by 2021.

Nearly alone among government science programs, Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) and the Exascale Computing Project (ECP) run by the Department of Energy (DOE) escaped pervasive and deep cuts in spending in the FY 2018 budget proposal (“A New Foundation for American Greatness”), released Tuesday morning. Total ASCR funding gets an 11.6 percent lift to $722 million, and ECP funding rises nearly 20 percent to $196.6 million over FY17 enacted levels ($164 million).

The rest of the Office of Science programs were not so fortunate. Neither was the NIH (19 percent cut), the NSF (11 percent cut) and most severely, the EPA (31.4 percent cut).

Science observes that aside from the $197 million allotted to the DOE’s exascale computing project, spending on computing research actually falls, and “with all the other cuts in DOE’s science programs, it’s not clear what all that extra computing power would be used to do.”

The President’s budget slashes DOE Office of Science funding 17 percent from enacted 2017 levels to $4.47 billion with five out of six research programs (all but ASCR) slated to receive steep cuts.

+ Basic energy sciences (BES), which funds research in chemistry, materials sciences, and condensed matter physics, would see its budget contract by 16.9 percent to $1.555 billion.

+ High energy physics (HEP) program would receive a cut of 18.4 percent to $673 million.

+ Nuclear physics would see its budget drop 19.1 percent to $503 million.

+ Fusion energy sciences (FES) would be cut by 18.4 percent to $310 million. The FES budget makes $63 million available for ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in France, but that’s far less than the estimated $230 million the U.S. part of the project requires to stay afloat (as reported by Science in March).

+ The biological and environmental research (BER) program, is hardest hit, facing a 43 percent chop to $349 million. Science reports, “much of that cut would come out of DOE’s climate modeling research.”

The Trump budget, which seeks $54 billion in expanded military spending, carves out additional funding for the NNSA, the organization responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. The NNSA would receive a boost of 7.8 percent, from $12.9 billion to $13.9 billion, while funding for the NNSA’s Advanced Simulation Computing program surges 10.7 percent from $663 million to $734 million.

The NNSA has requested $183 million in FY 2018 “for activities and research leading to deployment of exascale capability for national security applications in the early 2020s.” If funded, the amount would boost the agency’s FY17 exascale budget by $88 million.

$161 million of this proposed exascale allotment (listed as an Exascale Computing Initiative line item, see chart below) is for the NNSA’s Advanced Simulation Computing program. The remaining $22 million (not part of ECI figures) is intended for the construction of exascale-class cooling equipment at Los Alamos National Laboratory (under the Exascale Class Computer Cooling Equipment (ECCCE) project).

Another $3 million (included in the $161 million figure) is proposed for the Exascale Computing Facility Modernization (ECFM) Project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The purpose of the ECFM project is to fund the facilities and infrastructure upgrades necessary to site an exascale-class system.

Of the nearly $508 million directed at the joint Office of Science-NNSA Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI), $346.58 million would flow into Office of Science coffers with $161 million going to the NNSA’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program.

The DOE request contains new insights into the accelerated exascale timeline, revealed in December. The proposal calls for an exascale machine to be deployed at Argonne in 2021, followed by a second exascale-capable system with a different advanced architecture at Oak Ridge. (Of course, as with everything in this proposed budget, nothing is set in stone.)

Of the $346,580,000 Office of Science ECI Request, $196,580,000 is slotted for the ECP project “to accelerate research and the preparation of applications, develop a software stack for both exascale platforms, and support additional co-design centers in preparation for exascale system deployment in 2021.” The remaining $150,000,000 would fund Leadership Computing Facilities, “to begin planning, non-recurring engineering, and site preparations for the intended deployment of at least one exascale system in 2021.”

Besides signalling a commitment to a strong, and globally competitive U.S. exascale program, what stands out here is the shift in total exascale funding toward NNSA. The agency’s share of the pie has gone from 25 percent in FY16 to 32 percent in FY17 and (proposed) FY18. (Plugging in the $183 million NNSA exascale funding figure would push that to nearly 36 percent.)

While we’ve just scratched the surface of the budget’s implications for science and advanced computing, in the big picture, there is little chance the final FY18 version will bear a close resemblance to the Trump plan (which is essentially a fleshed out version of the “skinny budget” that was modeled after the Heritage Foundation blueprint). The budget has not been well-received by either side of the political aisle and has been widely criticized for too-steep cuts and unrealistic accounting practices.

“There’s this rosy optimism that somehow growth will magically occur, and yet it cuts the principal source of that growth,” said Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, cited in a Washington Post article. Yet “[the proposal] savages research. Economists are clear: That’s where we ultimately get our economic growth.”

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a prominent U.S. science and technology think tank, released a statement that read in part:

The United States has suffered for more than a decade from chronic underinvestment in basic science, research and development, and technology commercialization, and from insufficient support for small manufacturers. Further reducing federal investment in these kinds of foundational goods will set back the country even further—undermining economic growth, causing standards of living to stagnate, and putting prosperity at risk for future generations of Americans. Yet the administration’s budget calls for a nearly 10 percent cut for non-defense R&D. The administration needs to recognize there is a big difference between wasteful spending and critical investments that ensure the U.S. economy, citizens, and businesses thrive. Targeted federal government programs of the sort the administration is suggesting Congress cut are widely used by even the most conservative Republican governors to help businesses in their states compete.

Further reading:






–John Russell contributed to this report.

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