ACM Washington Update, Vol. 11.10/11.11 (December 5, 2007)

By David Bruggeman
December 6, 2007


[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] USACM Comments on Senate Electronic Voting Legislation
[3] National Science Board Releases STEM Education Report
[4] Online Comment Tool Released For Voting Guidelines; USACM Begins Review
of Standards
[5] Appropriations Bills Still Pending for FY 08
[6] Congress Contemplates Cracking Down on University File Sharing
[7] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at]


This newsletter combines top stories from October and November. In a repeat
of 2006, the main Congressional topic of interest heading into December is
the FY 2008 appropriations bills, which cover the year that started October
1, and just like 2006, the bills remained stalled.

There is more detail on each item below, as well as on our weblog at

* USACM commented on Senate e-voting legislation, noting that it mirrored
many of the USACM recommendations for e-voting reform, but pointed out
several potential issues with the bill

* The National Science Board released a report with recommendations to
strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)
education that reflected comments submitted by ACM’s newly-formed Education
Policy Committee

* The Elections Assistance Commission released an online comment tool for
the next version of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), while
USACM began a detailed review of the standards

* Heading into the second month of Fiscal Year 2008, Congress has yet to
pass most of the annual appropriations bills, and the Administration is not
cooperating, having vetoed the Labor-HHS-Education bill

* Legislation being considered by Congress would force universities to
constrain copyright infringement on their campuses


Earlier this fall, USACM sent a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
with detailed comments on S. 1487, the Ballot Reform Act of 2007. Senator
Feinstein’s legislation is largely similar to what Representative Rush Holt
(D-NJ) proposed in the House, requiring voter-verified paper records that
are secret, durable, and accessible. Her legislation also makes the paper
record the official record for the election, and it reforms the testing and
certification processes. Finally, it requires software review by outside
experts, with some differences in the details that are significant.

USACM recommended several changes to the legislation, including:

— Require the audits be random, mandatory, and manual or software
independent (not reliant on the machine that produced the vote for the
— Ensure that best practices for auditing elections are followed by state
and local officials
— Expand the scope of the software review provisions to include all
elements of the system and clarify reviewers’ responsibilities
— Add more transparency to the emergency certification provisions
— Charge the National Science Foundation with e-voting research
— Provide further voter privacy protections

Both the House and Senate efforts have stalled with no clear resolution in
sight. Clearly nothing will happen before the end of this year, and even
action next year is in doubt.

The full text of the legislation is available (via THOMAS) at:

The full text of our letter (and the detailed comments) is available at:


On October 1 the National Science Board – the advisory board for the
National Science Foundation – released a report recommending several actions
to strengthen STEM education. ACM, through its newly established Education
Policy Committee, commented on a early draft of the plan. ACM’s two main
points were that NSB should include computing societies in their proposed
STEM Education Council and computer science should an integral part of the
plan. We were pleased that the NSB responded to our comments and included
ACM along with The Computer Science Teachers Association as potential
participants in their effort.

The plan’s central premise is clear: America’s education system isn’t
adequate for the global challenges in the 21st Century. The report takes on
all the big issues in STEM education — reforming curriculum, coordinating
and making sense of existing federal and state programs, and ensuring
highly-qualified teachers. No one really disputes the challenges, but there
are differences over how to address those challenges. During a Congressional
hearing reviewing the plan STEM education groups generally agreed with the
findings of the report, but those with state and local control over
education broke with national groups on exactly how to address the issues.

You can review witness testimony and an archived webcast at:

The NSB report is available at:

Congress would have to pass legislation to implement parts of the plan
dealing with coordinating curriculum reform. It isn’t clear that such an
effort would gain the support of state and local groups. As Congressman
Ehlers (R-MI) stated during the hearing, coordination of STEM education is
really a “grand challenge” and one that is difficult to solve. You can’t
give power over local issues to groups that aren’t accountable to local
voters, and you can’t expect thousands of different groups with competing
interests to drive toward a national consensus. The question may be: Is STEM
different, and does it require a national plan that moves beyond traditional
political boundaries? The Business Roundtable captured this issue quite well
when they stated the appropriate comparison for education performance is not
between states, but between states and our international competitors.

Even if this part of NSB’s proposal fails, there are other positive elements
likely to have impact on STEM education — including calling on NSF to
develop a STEM education roadmap for strategic positioning of its programs.


On October 31, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released an online
comment tool for the next version of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines
(VVSG). A large document of approximately 568 pages, the VVSG is the most
complete rewrite of the voting system guidelines (which many states adopt
for their voting system standards) in some time.

USACM began an effort to review and comment on the standards through its
voting subcommittee. Alec Yasinsac, Florida State University and Barbara
Simons, Chair of USACM’s Voting Subcommittee, are co-leading a group of
volunteers from the computing community in this effort.

The clock appears to have started on the first of two 120 comment periods
the EAC established for review of the VVSG. It will end at 4 p.m. Eastern
time on March 5, 2008. Following review of the comments by EAC staff and
the Commissions Advisory Boards, the comments will be incorporated into the
document, and sent out for another 120 day public comment period. Final
approval of these guidelines is not likely before the last months of 2008.

You can access the comment tool at:

The version without comment tool is accessible at:


Entering the first week of December, 11 of the 12 annual appropriations
bills for fiscal year 2008 have yet to be signed into law. As with the FY
2007 appropriations bills (11 of the 12 were handled through a year long
continuing resolution that set appropriations at the same level as FY 2006),
very little progress has taken place two months into FY 2008. This means
proposed funding increases in key science agencies funding computer science
research — the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of
Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy Office of Science —
remain stalled.

The defense appropriations bill has been approved, but it is the only one
signed into law. One other appropriations bill, covering the Departments of
Labor, Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of
Health) and Education, was vetoed by President Bush for spending $9.8
billion more in discretionary spending than he requested. An attempt to
override the veto failed. The President has threatened to veto any bill
that exceeds his spending request.

The current negotiations are seeking some sort of compromise in the various
spending bills. They may be gathered into an omnibus bill combining all of
the outstanding appropriations legislation. Appropriators are attempting to
craft a bill of $484.2 billion, $10.6 billion less than Democrats initially
wanted, but roughly splitting the difference between the Democratic
leadership and the administration. The current continuing resolution
funding the government expires on December 14th, so the current goal is to
forward any omnibus to the President by that date.


In November the House Education and Workforce Committee considered and
reported favorably the College Opportunity and Affordability Act. The bill
is written to provide additional scholarship opportunities and make efforts
to control the cost of higher education. As part of the bill, participation
in federal financial aid programs is made dependent on universities
providing alternatives to unlawful downloading, such as subscription
services or technology-based deterrents. That is at least the
interpretation of some who have read the bill. Staff members of the
Education and Workforce committee indicated that no student or college would
be at risk for losing any financial aid. Schools are required to report to
students and staff not to infringe copyright and to list the measures taken
by the school to prevent such infringement. Staff indicated any
consequences for failing to follow the rules are up to the Department of

A similar plan in the Senate was a bit more restrictive, with an amendment
from Senator Reid requiring the Department of Education to keep an annual
list of the top 25 schools that have received the highest number of written
complaints from copyright owners. The amendment was subsequently withdrawn,
and the provisions were changed to closely reflect those of the House bill.

The Senate legislation was passed unanimously, and the House bill is
awaiting consideration by the full House.


USACM is the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing
Machinery (ACM). ACM is an educational and scientific society uniting the
world’s computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire
dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM
strengthens the profession’s collective voice through strong leadership,
promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence.
ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing
opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional

For more information about USACM and ACM, see:


For earlier editions of the ACM Washington Update, see


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