Technology R&D needed to keep edge in innovation, House panel hears

Amid debates about the nation’s declining edge in IT innovation, the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to review the future and the role of a research-and-development program that has spurred progress in areas such as network infrastructure and IT. 

The Sept. 21 hearing focused on ensuring the nation remains a strong leader in innovation, and highlighted the past achievements of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program.


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Innovation's falling fortunes


“Part of this subcommittee’s role is to ensure that federal dollars are being spent on the best research and development,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala), chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening remarks. “At a time when American competitiveness and national security are at risk, it is important that we maintain our lead in the development of these crucial technologies."

The subcommittee is under the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

A multiagency research effort created to ensure continued U.S. leadership in IT, the NITRD program evolved from a federal program established under the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. That act provided the funding that led to the development of Mosaic in 1993, the browser that made the Internet user-friendly and led to its explosion in the 1990s, said Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IIl.).

“I am proud to note that Mosaic was created by a team of programmers at the federally funded National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois,” he said. “Netscape founder Marc Andreeson, who was a leader of the Illinois team before launching his company, was quoted as saying, ‘If it had been left to private industry, it wouldn’t have happened, at least, not until years later.’”

The act also set the stage for a coordinated federal R&D and investment strategy that has strengthened U.S. leadership in networking and IT over the past 20 years, Lipinski said.

“But today we find ourselves in a different world, in which U.S. leadership in  [networking and information technology] can no longer be taken for granted, and we need to think carefully about how we set priorities under difficult budget conditions,” he said.  “I also worry that we could be training students for jobs that end up being outsourced. So I want to ensure that we are focusing our education and training resources within NITRD on job skills that will be in demand here in the U.S.”

Dr. Robert Sproull, retired director of Oracle Labs, stressed the importance of basic R&D and noted how the NITRD program has coordinated federal investments in essential research, starting with high-performance computing and extending to a wide-ranging set of national goals.

It is now important to convince NITRD mission agencies that “long-term investments in fundamental NITRD research lead to large rewards for their missions and for the nation,” Sproull said.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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