The House Science Committee marked up a series of bills today including H.R. 28, the High Performance Computing Revitalization Act, a bill we covered in depth last year when it was introduced as H.R. 4218. CRA endorsed that bill, and has endorsed H.R. 28. Here’s a summary of today’s activities from the House Science Committee press release.
The bill, which was introduced by Energy Subcommittee Chairman Judy Biggert (R-IL), Representative Lincoln Davis (D-TN), and Chairman Boehlert, would strengthen U.S. supercomputing capabilities by requiring NSF and DOE to ensure U.S. researchers access to high-performance computers, and by prescribing a comprehensive, balanced approach to the nation’s computing strategy. It would also place responsibility with the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to ensure a coordinated, on-going effort among the federal agencies that have a role in high-performance computing. An earlier version of the bill was endorsed by the Bush Administration at a May 13, 2004 Full Committee hearing.
By voice vote, the Committee agreed to an amendment offered by Chairman Biggert that added a finding that emphasizes the importance of commercial application of the results of federal investment in computer science. By a vote of 19 to 17, the Committee rejected an amendment offered by Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) that would have added a requirement that the National Science Foundation support research into the implications of computers that would be capable of mimicking human abilities to learn, reason, and make decisions.
The Sherman amendment was agreed to by the Committee in the 108th, Congress. Explaining the Majority’s opposition today, Chairman Boehlert said, “We’ve learned that it is adamantly opposed by the bill’s sponsor who happens to be one of our subcommittee chairs. We’ve learned that it is adamantly opposed by both industry and the Administration. We’ve learned that it is an obstacle to dealing with the Senate. And we learned all that the hard way while keeping to our agreement by trying to get this language through on another bill – Mrs. Biggert’s Energy Department computing bill that we got signed into law last year. Now I might be willing to continue to support this amendment despite all that if I thought that it dealt with a crucial and pressing problem. But it doesn’t. All the experts tell us we are nowhere near creating the dystopia that Mr. Sherman fears.”
From here, the bill will advance to the House floor where it’s expected to pass without difficulty, as H.R. 4218 did last year. Unfortunately, the hurdle for reauthorizations of NITRD programs lately has been the U.S. Senate. As Boehlert noted, H.R. 4218 failed to receive consideration by the Senate in the 108th Congress, though that seemed related to time constraints rather than any substantive objection to the bill. Previous efforts in the 107th and 106th Congresses also met a similar fate. However, this time Science Committee staff are optimistic that the earlier start they’ve gotten introducing and marking up the bill combined with its uncontroversial nature (there are, for example, no dollar amounts included in the bill that might earn the wrath of budget hawks — or prove helpful to the computing community in making the case for funding to appropriators…) means that the bill has a serious shot gaining Senate approval.
We’ll keep an eye on all the developments here….