The R&D Funding Conundrum - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
06:42 PM
Rick Whiting
Rick Whiting

The R&D Funding Conundrum

The United States is in danger of losing its IT leadership role because of reduced government support for research and development. Or, government R&D funding is the highest in the world and the state of U.S. science and technology remains strong.

Those divergent views were presented in testimony last week before the House Science Committee in a hearing on the future of computer-science research in the United States. John Marburger, the president's science adviser and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, was decidedly upbeat, while IT-industry executives and organizations weren't.

"Overall funding for federal R&D increases to a record $132 billion in the president's FY 2006 budget--the highest level of government support for R&D in the world and a 45% increase over FY 2001's total of $91 billion," Marburger said at the hearing. "Let me note here my belief that the overall health of U.S. science and technology today is strong. We are spending three times as much as Japan on R&D and half again as much as all the European nations combined. Our FY 2006 R&D budget is three-quarters of a billion dollars higher than our FY 2005 request."

Others disagreed. "There is much research that urgently needs to be done, little of which will be funded by industry," said Tom Leighton, co-founder and chief scientist at Akamai Technologies Inc., focusing his testimony on cybersecurity. "And the current underinvestment in fundamental research by the government could lead to dire consequences for the nation. Although many agencies are concerned with cybersecurity, the National Science Foundation has the only substantial program for funding fundamental research on cybersecurity, and it is seriously underfunded."

Much tech innovation since the 1960s has come from government entities--the NSF, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Department of Energy, the Computing Research Association said in a statement. The national commitment to fundamental IT research is waning, the association argued, even as economists are starting to recognize the role of IT in economic growth.

with Thomas Claburn

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