Feds need coordination on high-end computing

High-End Computing Revitalization Task Force

Central coordination of federal high-end computing investments is critical as the supercomputing arena competes with high-profile technology needs for fewer budget dollars, experts said today.

For many years, the federal government comprised most of the high-end computing environment, but today it is only a fraction of the market, which is now focused on commercial products instead of scientific and national security needs. That has raised concerns in the Bush administration, and in Congress.

However, any new policy must be tied to federal needs and missions, because it's easy to get "really cool technology" that's not truly helpful, said Dona Crawford, associate director for computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She was speaking on a panel sponsored by the IBM Corp. Center for the Business of Government.

A new report by the center highlights the need for coordination within the federal government. What is high-end computing today will be mainstream technology tomorrow, said Juan Rogers, a co-author of the report, associate professor of public policy and director of the research value mapping program in the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Public Policy.

Even more important, the United States must have a high-end computing policy driven by sustained results, not emergencies or specific events, Rogers said.

"Rather than studying for an exam in a class, you want to learn the skills to be able to apply them over and over," he said.

The High-End Computing Revitalization Task Force is intended to provide coordination among agencies, and between mission and investment, said John Grosh, a project manager in the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Science and Technology.

The task force — made up of about 60 people from agencies including the Defense Department, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of Management and Budget — has a draft of a five-year road map for advancing the federal high-end computing investment portfolio, Grosh said. The map focuses the government on specific portions of the high-end computing environment, such as clusters and advanced architectures, and provides a process for moving from basic and applied research to advanced development, experimentation, and testing and evaluation.

That report has gone through the Office of Science and Technology Policy and OMB. Administration leaders should be briefed on it in the next few months, Grosh said.

Bush administration officials and Congress are interested in the United States' high-end computing capabilities, and "the timing is right, the window is open to attempt to improve the state of play here," he said.

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