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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program: Funding Issues and Activities

Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

In the early 1990s, Congress recognized that several federal agencies had ongoing highperformance computing programs, but no central coordinating body existed to ensure long-term coordination and planning. To provide such a framework, Congress passed the High-Performance Computing and Communications Program Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-194) to enhance the effectiveness of the various programs. In conjunction with the passage of the act, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released Grand Challenges: High- Performance Computing and Communications. That document outlined a research and development (R&D) strategy for high-performance computing and a framework for a multiagency program, the High-Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program. The HPCC Program has evolved over time and is now called the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program, to better reflect its expanded mission.

Proponents assert that federal support of information technology (IT) R&D has produced positive outcomes for the country and played a crucial role in supporting long-term research into fundamental aspects of computing. Such fundamentals provide broad practical benefits, but generally take years to realize. Additionally, the unanticipated results of research are often as important as the anticipated results. Another aspect of government-funded IT research is that it often leads to open standards, something that many perceive as beneficial, encouraging deployment and further investment. Industry, on the other hand, is more inclined to invest in proprietary products and will diverge from a common standard when there is a potential competitive or financial advantage to do so. Finally, proponents of government support believe that the outcomes achieved through the various funding programs create a synergistic environment in which both fundamental and application-driven research are conducted, benefitting government, industry, academia, and the public. Supporters also believe that such outcomes justify government's role in funding IT R&D, as well as the growing budget for the NITRD Program. Critics assert that the government, through its funding mechanisms, may be picking "winners and losers" in technological development, a role more properly residing with the private sector. For example, the size of the NITRD Program may encourage industry to follow the government's lead on research directions rather than selecting those directions itself.

The President's FY2011 budget request calls for $4.261 billion for the NITRD Program, an increase over the FY2010 request of $3.926 billion (the estimated actual expenditure is $4.305 billion).

On February 8, 2010, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4061, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2009, to improve the security of cyberspace by ensuring federal investments in cybersecurity are better focused, more effective, and that research into innovative, transformative technologies is supported. The bill addresses recommendations from the Administration's Cyberspace Policy Review and includes input from four hearings held on cybersecurity during the first session. H.R. 4061 would reauthorize and expand the Cyber Security Research and Development Act (P.L. 107-305). In addition to promoting cybersecurity R&D by the member agencies of the NITRD, the legislation addresses cybersecurity workforce concerns and advances the development of technical standards. H.R. 4061 is a combination of two Committee discussion drafts: the Cybersecurity Research and Development Amendments Act of 2009 and the Cybersecurity Coordination and Awareness Act of 2009. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Date of Report: July 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL33586
Price: $29.95

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