Gov Reform Committee Plans, then Postpones IT R&D Hearing
The House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census planned to hold a hearing this Wednesday on “Defining Federal Information Technology Research and Development: Who? Where? What? Why? and How Much?” However, the events surrounding former President Ronald Reagan’s memorial here in DC have resulted in the hearing’s postponement. No news on a new date.
The committee had planned to hear testimony from two panels including NSF CISE Assistant Director Peter Freeman, DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach, NCO/IT R&D Director Dave Nelson, and CRA Government Affairs co-Chair and PITAC co-Chair Ed Lazowska.
In the process of putting together his testimony, Lazowska developed a really nice set of bullet points making the case for federal support of IT R&D. So despite the hearing postponement, I’ve decided to post them here. In the next day or so I’ll add them to the Government Affairs site proper, but for now, here they are:
Advances in information technology (IT) are changing our lives, driving our economy, and transforming the conduct of science. America is the world leader in IT innovation because of a complex interplay of universities, industry, and the federal government. Essentially every aspect of IT upon which we rely today – every billion-dollar sub-category of the IT industry – bears the clear stamp of federally-supported university-based research. These relatively modest investments have played an essential role in the past, and will play an essential role in the future. [see figure 1] Don’t confuse the IT industry’s research and development (R&D) expenditures with fundamental research that’s guiding our way to the future. The vast majority of corporate R&D in IT – far more than 95% – involves the engineering of the next version of the product. This development is essential. But the transforming ideas – and our nation’s long-term leadership – come from research. IT companies do very little of that. It is a natural and essential role of government to support fundamental research – R&D that looks out 5, 10, or 15 years, rather than just one product cycle. An important aspect of federally-supported university-based research is that it produces people, as well as ideas. There is a huge projected shortfall in IT workers over the next 10 years – the vast majority of the entire projected workforce shortfall in all of science and engineering is in information technology. And these are jobs that require a Bachelors-level education or greater. [see figure 2 (pdf 48kb)] While the overall federal investment in research has been increasing over the past 30 years, the vast majority of this increase has been in the biomedical fields. Compared to that, all other fields have been flat-lined. [see figure 3] Recent increases in federal support for IT research, while important, have fallen far short of the level recommended by PITAC in 1999. The overall level of support continues to be dangerously inadequate in the context of the importance of the field and the opportunity for further advances. [see figure 4] While many federal agencies are engaged in supporting IT R&D, two of these agencies have played by far the dominant role in driving IT innovation over the past 50 years: NSF and DARPA. No other agencies come close. The research community has significant concerns about the continued low level of funding for the CISE Directorate at NSF. Additionally, the research community has significant concerns about several aspects of DARPA’s programs that discourage university participation in defense-related IT research. There are additional concerns about the Department of Homeland Security’s failure to invest in cybersecurity R&D. Of DHS’s new R&D budget of nearly $1 billion, less than 2% is being invested in cybersecurity R&D. And even this shockingly low level of investment was the result of a Congressional outcry – DHS initially proposed less than 1%. IT systems constitute the control loop of most other elements of our nation’s critical infrastructure (e.g., the electric power grid, the air traffic control grid, the financial grid, the telecommunications grid), and constitute a significant vulnerability. The track record is clear: the relatively modest federal IT R&D investment pays enormous dividends: changing our lives, driving our economy, and transforming the conduct of science.