Feds need to fund more IT research

Government funding for information technology research and development remains vital if the United States is to maintain its place as a global technology leader, according to federal officials, researchers and lawmakers.

However, agency officials must continue to work together and be willing to commit funding to long-term fundamental research by contractors and universities, especially for cybersecurity research programs, industry and government officials said.

Federally funded programs to support long-term research have a proven history of producing influential technological advancements, such as the Internet, e-mail and instant messaging, all of which were byproducts of government-funded research in the 1960s.

"It is essential to meet vital federal needs and sustain U.S. global leadership in science and in the engineering of information technology," said Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee.

At a July 7 hearing of the subcommittee, congressional lawmakers stressed the importance of furthering national IT R&D.

It's important not to confuse the IT industry's R&D expenditures with fundamental research, according to Edward Lazowska, co-chairman of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee.

"The vast majority of corporate R&D in IT — far more than 95 percent — involves the engineering of the next version of a product," Lazowska said. "This development is essential."

But "it is a natural and essential role of government to support fundamental research — R&D that looks out five, 10 or 15 years — rather than just one product cycle," he added.

Lawmakers want to ensure that agency officials are focused on national IT R&D efforts that would meet industry's changing needs. Currently, vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure, including electric power grids, air traffic control systems and financial networks, pose the greatest threat to government and business.

Lazowska cited the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as playing the most dominant roles in driving IT innovation. He also expressed concern that the Homeland Security Department is not investing enough of its nearly $1 billion R&D budget into the critical area of cybersecurity. DHS officials initially proposed to allot less than 1 percent of this budget to cybersecurity. After pressure from Congress, it was raised to 2 percent.

One important government partner for industry and academia in IT research is the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

NIST received fiscal 2004 appropriated funding of $48.6 million, with an additional $17 million from other agencies. Hratch Semerjian, the institute's acting director, said a request for a proposed increase of $7 million "for NIST to address key national needs in cybersecurity and accelerate solutions to critical cybersecurity issues and to address the biometric requirements of the USA Patriot Act" is before Congress now.

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The National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development is responsible for the federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program, which costs $2 billion of the federal government's $90 billion in IT research.

At least 13 agencies participate with NITRD in research, the majority of which is performed at universities and by contractors.

NITRD focuses on six major research areas, each of which is overseen by a separate coordinating group to ensure communication and collaboration among agencies. The six areas are:

High End Computing (HEC), including HEC Infrastructure and Applications and HEC Research and Development.

Human Computer Interaction and Information Management.

Large Scale Networking.

Software Design and Productivity.

High Confidence Software and Systems.

Social, Economic and Workforce Implications of IT and IT Workforce Development.

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