President's Council seeks to accelerate government network advances

The PCAST report highlights areas of national priorities in IT R&D, such as health, education, transportation and energy, and the research frontiers the nation should tackle next.

Editors' note: This story was modified after its original publication to clarify information.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has made several recommendations in a report about the state of the government’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program.

The report, released Dec. 16, was put together by some of the top technology figures in the public and private sectors and explains the importance of NITRD as both a societal and economic driving force. Advances in networking and IT accelerate the pace of discovery in nearly all other fields, are essential to achieving the goals of open government and are key drivers of economic competitiveness, the report states.

“Our report focuses on innovations in NITRD to drive these national priorities forward,” said Ed Lazowska, co-chairman of PCAST’s Working Group and director of the eScience Institute at Washington University. “We find that most federal agencies do not fully grasp this. They may have a narrow view of the role of NITRD in their field. They may feel that they can get by solely on the deployment of today's NITRD rather than making advances.”

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said his office has been tasked to close the gap between the public and private sectors and that the government has not made the type of inroads that the public should expect.


Related story:

Federal IT funds for R&D misused, group says


“There is a huge gap between the public sector and the private sector,” Kundra said. “Every day, we can go online and make a reservation at our favorite restaurant through OpenTable, yet when you are dealing with government, you either have to hold onto the phone, turn in a paper form or wait in a long line.”

Phil Weiser, senior adviser to the director for technology and innovation at the National Economic Council, said certain industries have not yet been transformed by networking and IT. PCAST says those areas are national priorities that could greatly benefit from R&D.

“Today there are certain industry sectors that have not changed that much,” Weiser said. “Energy, education, transportation and health care have largely remained immune from what has happened over the last 20 years to other sectors so that people who engage with them can hardly recognize them.”

The report makes recommendations for improving each of those four sectors through research, development and implementation. In the area of health care in particular, a move to electronic medical records would only be the first step.

“The PCAST health IT report [released earlier this month] focused on the potential of health information technology — electronic health records and the role that government can play in advocating for standards for electronic medical records,” Lazowska said.

“At the same time, there areas of health care that require further advances in networking and information technology,” he added. “A natural question is, why is your body less instrumented than your car? [And] how do you provide cognitive assistance to Alzheimer’s patients?”

Although high-performance computing is an important aspect of IT research, it is also expensive and it might not be in the nation’s best interest to make it a priority, the report states. PCAST calls for changing the current quantification standard for high-performance computing — floating point operations per second — to multiple quantification methods that will enable research to focus on other areas so that it does not get bogged down in procurement strategies that could, in turn, hamper other research. The idea is to refocus the research in high-performance computing to high-risk, high-reward strategies that could enable the nation to leapfrog the global competition.

A commitment to maintaining, at all times and at any cost, a ranking significantly ahead of all nations, measured in terms of floating-point operations per second "may be an arms race that is very expensive and, since it addresses only some of the national priorities, may not be a good use of funds,” said David Shaw, the other co-chairman of PCAST’s Working Group and senior research fellow at the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at Columbia University. “One that may be controversial is that we recommend that it no longer be a major national strategic objective to be significantly ahead of other nations on measuring FLOPS on standard numerical benchmarks.”

PCAST also recommended research into the fields of large-scale data management and analysis, trustworthy systems and cybersecurity, scalable systems and networking, and software creation and evolution. Robotics and social systems, such as Wikipedia and Facebook, are other research priorities.

A portion of the report emphasizes the importance of federal funding for research in networking and IT. Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said many of the most successful industries to emerge since 1995 have roots in federally funded R&D projects. The PCAST report cites the example of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin serving as research assistants on the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library project while at Stanford University. The project had a natural search element to it, and from those seeds, the PageRank algorithm that powers Google was developed.

Another example is Akamai Technologies, co-founded by Tom Leighton with seed funding he received during his time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Akamai’s technology now powers much of the Internet and is a widely used standard in digital production.

“Information and communications technology is having a huge impact on economies,” Kalil said. “You look at the period after 1995 when productivity started accelerating, productivity is the most important driver of our standard of living. I think if you look at the track record, it is very impressive. You look at many of the billion-dollar markets in the information technology sector, whether it is in the Internet or search engines or advanced microprocessors...there are a lot of seeds that come from federal funding.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.