The SIGACT committee has been holding biweekly conference calls. The following are the main problems it sees with TCS funding.
- Low grant sizes in TCS, and too few of them. Grant sizes are now $70K/year. A more viable grant size (paying for say summer salary+one student + computer/travel) will truly raise the effectiveness of researchers, allow grad training to continue, and lower various overheads for both researchers and NSF/CISE. Researchers would write fewer proposals.
In recent years there has also been a severe problem with very low numbers of funded proposals. In 2005 this was ameliorated a bit since CISE made a special effort to raise the funding rate in TCS this year (both by increasing the TCS program budget and by reducing grant sizes). But the underlying fact is that the total budget of the TCS program is essentially unchanged since 1989 (which means it has greatly decreased in real dollars).
- TCS’s position in the CISE hierarchy is too low which causes CISE leadership to miss its importance. CISE’s view of TCS (a sibling of numerical and symbolic computation, information theory, geometric computation, etc. in the TF cluster) seems out of accord with the view in most research departments (viz., TCS as a major subdiscipline of CS on a par with AI, systems, software systems, etc.). Note that both AI and Networking and Systems are two levels higher than TCS in the CISE hierarchy.One recent statistic to support this: this spring six of the top 10 CS depts —Stanford, CMU, Cornell, UW, U. Wisc (Madison), UIUC– made offers to six different junior TCS people (five of which were accepted). This may greatly exceed the tally for any other leaf of the CISE tree, or the combined tally for the rest of the Theoretical Foundations Cluster.
- Apart from the dedicated TCS program, few NSF programs support long-term, basic research. There is a pressing need for new NSF initiatives that support long-term, basic research and which welcome TCS proposals. The TCS community also needs to be proactive too. Whenever NSF proposes new crosscutting initiatives –e.g., the new networking initiative– the TCS community needs to help delineate ways in which it can contribute.