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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program: Background, Funding, 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.

Current concerns are the role of the federal government in supporting IT R&D and the level of funding to allot to it. Proponents of federal support of information technology (IT) R&D assert that it 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. 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 FY2012 budget request for the NITRD Program is $3.866 billion. The estimated FY2011 spending level of $3.652 billion reflects the annualized amounts provided by the continuing resolution that extended through April 8, 2011. Actual NITRD spending in FY2010 totaled $3.793 billion.

Two pieces of legislation have been introduced in the 112th Congress that would have an effect on the NITRD member agencies. H.R. 2096, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2011, was introduced by Representative Michael McCaul on June 2, 2011. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and it was marked up, amended, and ordered to be reported as amended by voice vote on July 21, 2011. Companion legislation, S. 1152, also called the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2011, was introduced by Senator Robert Menendez on June 7, 2011. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and no further action has been taken. These bills are identical.

One hearing, “Protecting Information in the Digital Age: Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Efforts,” was held on May 25, 2011, on issues relating the NITRD Program.

Date of Report: January 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL33586
Price: $29.95

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