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White House Urges $1B In Fed IT R&D

Spending on health IT, cybersecurity, social computing, and supercomputing is key to future U.S. success says Presidential advisory panel.




Slideshow: Government's 10 Most Powerful Supercomputers
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The President's advisory panel on science and technology is recommending $1 billion in new federal spending on IT research, a member of the group said today as the panel released a 104-page report calling for shifts in spending from building the fastest supercomputer to more forward-looking supercomputing research, cybersecurity and health IT, among other areas.

Overall, 14 federal agencies participate in the formal inter-agency National Information Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD), which is the government's primary means of conducting unclassified IT research. Collectively, they spend about $4.3 billion annually on their research efforts.

"It's a common fallacy I think to over-estimate the importance of technology development and to underestimate the role that fundamental research plays" in the nation's economic success, study co-chair and PCAST member and University of Washington professor Ed Lazowska said. "The federal invest in IT research and development plays a cornerstone role."

Supercomputing takes up a good chunk of the report, which urges that the United States stop the "arms race" with foreign countries to see who can build the fastest computer, and instead focus on novel system architectures, high-bandwidth and low-latency interconnections, reliability in massively parallel systems, and other innovations. "What we think is more important at this stage is to try and leapfrog some of the competition, if you choose to view it that way, from other countries, by doing research in future generation high performance computing," said David Shaw, the other PCAST-chair.

Other research areas called out in the report include health IT, cybersecurity, energy- and transportation-related IT, large database data analytics coupled with privacy protections, social computing, and computer-enhanced interaction with the physical world.

At the same time the advisory panel is urging an increase in spending, the report also shows that the government needs to get a better grip on federal IT spending. The advisory panel recommends in the report that the Office of Management and Budget and the national coordination office for NITRD work to redefine budget reporting categories to make sure actual research and development on IT is separated from spending on IT infrastructure spending that's part of the federal government's $80 billion operational IT budget.

"The NITRD cross-cut budget significantly overstates the investment in research and development, which may contribute to a systematic tendency to underinvest," Shaw said, adding that the National Institutes of Health is a bright spot of transparency in this area. In later remarks, federal CTO Aneesh Chopra reaffirmed plans he announced earlier this year to release a federal research and development dashboard Website by next February.

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