OMB seeks R&D on supercomputing, cybersecurity

Fiscal 2007 Administration Research and Development Budget Priorities

The Bush administration’s memo on fiscal 2007 federal research and development priorities tags high-end computing and cybersecurity R&D but hints at continued penny-pinching, policy analysts said this week.

“Agencies may propose new, high-priority activities, but these requests should identify potential offsets by elimination or reductions in less effective or lower priority programs or programs where federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate," officials from the administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget jointly state in the July 8 memo.

“It's disappointing to see that the memo implies another year of flat budgets, or worse, for R&D,” said Peter Harsha, director of government affairs at the Computing Research Association.

The guidance this year – and last year -- states that supercomputing should receive special attention in agency budget requests.

“While the importance of each of the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) program areas continues, investments in high-end computing and cyber infrastructure R&D should be given higher relative priority due to their potential for broad impact,” the memo states.

The memo also mentions cybersecurity funding, a weakness recently highlighted by the President’s IT Advisory Committee (PITAC).

“Reflecting the importance of cybersecurity, agencies should continue to work through the [National Science and Technology Council] to generate a detailed gap analysis of R&D funding in this area,” OMB and OSTP officials wrote.

PITAC, an advisory committee that President Bush let expire in June, released a February 2005 report on cybersecurity that states that the federal budget for civilian cybersecurity research is inadequate. The committee recommended that lawmakers increase the National Science Foundation's budget for cybersecurity by $90 million annually.

Former PITAC co-chairman Ed Lazowska said he hopes that the R&D memo and recent activity within the Homeland Security Department will make cybersecurity a bigger focus.

New DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced an overhaul of DHS and the creation of a cybersecurity chief, this week.

“The fact that the new director is willing to consider wholesale reorganization is an exceedingly positive sign,” he said. “Today, nail clippers. Tomorrow, cybersecurity.”

Harsha is more skeptical of the administration’s cybersecurity funding intentions.

“It indicates to me that the administration is willing to believe there might be a problem with a gap in the portfolio, as PITAC concluded,” he said. “But whether they'll take the PITAC-recommended step to address the gap -- increasing the investment in civilian cybersecurity research -- is less clear.”

According to the memo, other R&D priorities include homeland security, nanotechnology, physical sciences, complex biological systems and energy and environments.

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