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CRA Testimony on FY 2001 Appropriations
for the National Science Foundation

given by Daniel Reed, Chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Director of the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA), and Member of the Board of Directors of the Computing Research Association

before the Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies,
Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives

April 12, 2000

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you very much for granting me this opportunity to comment on FY 2001 appropriations for the National Science Foundation. I am Daniel Reed, Director of the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA), one of two NSF Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI), Chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and member of the Board of Directors of the Computing Research Association on whose behalf I am testifying today. CRA is an alliance of about 180 academic, industrial, and other organizations involved in computing research.

I'd like to start by thanking you and the members of the subcommittee for your strong support of the National Science Foundation over the years, especially for the high level of appropriations provided last year in the FY 2000 spending bill. We urge you to again fully support the NSF's budget request in FY 2001. We believe it is critically important to fully fund this budget because it includes significant new funding for core disciplinary research throughout the Foundation in addition to support for focused research initiatives.

We were especially pleased that the subcommittee agreed to fund the NSF's Information Technology Research (ITR) Initiative, providing "a significant down-payment towards what it expects will be a long-term, comprehensive research program in this important field of computing and information technologies," to quote from the subcommittee report accompanying the FY 2000 spending bill. As you know, the NSF is requesting $327 million in second-year funding for the ITR initiative, with much of the new funding to be focused on research into IT applications, to complement the ongoing focus on fundamental computing and networking research, information infrastructure for university-based research, and IT education. Moreover, $45 million of the ITR request is for continued acquisition and development of terascale computing systems, which provide the advanced computational infrastructure needed by the academic research community to attack complex science and engineering problems.

Let me provide a brief status report on the ITR initiative to illustrate the enormous potential of the program for contributing to significant advances in the field. In its first year, the $90 million to be spent by ITR supported two competitions, one for individual investigator grants and one for larger team research grants. In the competition for the smaller grants, the NSF received about 2,400 pre-proposals, of which about 1,300 were developed into full proposals and are competing for about 130 awards. In the large grants category, the NSF received more than 900 pre-proposals totaling about $2.5 billion, but will only make about 35 awards totaling $63 million. Clearly, the response of the information technology research community to this initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.

Let me now discuss four reasons why we believe it is critical that the ITR initiative be fully funded in its second year.

1. Advances in IT have broad impact throughout many fields of national importance.

No sector of the economy and few aspects of daily life have been left untouched by the revolutionary advances in information technology of the late 20th century, advances made possible by sustained federal investment in long-term, broad-based, fundamental research in computing, communications, and related fields.

Yet the information revolution is still in its infancy. The pace of progress will be driven by better understanding of information technology at a fundamental level and the new ideas and capabilities that emerge from a vigorous, publicly supported basic research program. Investing in information technology research at a level commensurate with its potential impact will enable the United States to meet the challenges of the 21st century in many areas of national importance, for instance:

2. Information technology is critically important to the U.S. economy.

The burgeoning use of information technologies throughout society is changing the way Americans live, learn, work, and play. Yet the information revolution did not emerge by accident the extraordinary pace of progress in IT and the strength of U.S. IT industries are built on a foundation of federal investments in long-term, fundamental information technology R&D made over the course of the last several decades.

Public support for computing and communications research has yielded spectacular returns: desktop computing, imaging technologies, local and global digital communications networks, electronic commerce, and high-end scientific computing all have origins deeply rooted in the federal research program. Carefully planned, long-range investments by federal research agencies continue to stimulate revolutionary advances, leading to new information technology products and services, even whole new industries, and enriching the lives of Americans as individuals, workers, citizens, and consumers.

Advances in information technology are fueling unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. The performance of the U.S. economy in recent years demonstrates the importance of IT to the Nation:

The strength of the IT sector, however, cannot be taken for granted; nor can it be considered a sign that federal research agencies can safely retreat from their support for IT research. As the dynamic pace, short product lifecycles, and intense competitive pressures on prices and profit margins in the IT marketplace require IT firms to devote the bulk of their R&D resources to shorter-term applied research and product development, the appropriate government role in sponsoring long-term, broad-based, fundamental research becomes even more important.

After thoughtful examination, a congressionally chartered panel has concluded that the Nation is underinvesting in information technology research. In its February 1999 report, the President's Information Technologies Advisory Committee (PITAC) demonstrates that critical problems are going unsolved and the rate of flow of new ideas is dangerously low. The PITAC recommends that the federal investment in information technology R&D be increased by $1 billion over 5 years and that support be refocused on high-risk, high-payoff research the primary source of new information technologies and the success of U.S. firms in the global IT marketplace.

Given the proven track record of federal investments in IT R&D, the critical role of information technologies in the economy and quality of life in the United States, and the current inadequacies of public support for fundamental IT research, the implications for federal policy are clear and were succinctly expressed by the PITAC:

"Today's investment choices about IT research will determine how well America is able to achieve its 21st century aspirations."

3. The research challenges in IT are formidable.

History has shown that advances in computing, networking, and related technologies have an impact throughout society and the economy. Broad-based federal support has been and will continue to be crucial for generating the fundamental breakthroughs and new capabilities that unlock the incredible potential of information technologies and stimulate progress in many fields. These challenges are incorporated into the federal IT research agenda:

4. Cutting-edge IT infrastructure enables breakthrough advances in science and engineering.

The National Science Foundation also plays a critical role in providing networking and computational infrastructure for the broad university-based science and engineering community. Through the NSF Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program, computing and disciplinary researchers collaborate to develop new computing infrastructure and computational science techniques that enable high-end computers to solve computationally intensive problems of great scientific and national importance. As one example, via the PACI program, the NSF is working to establish distributed computational grids where researchers can combine networked scientific instruments (e.g., radio telescopes), high-performance computers, and real-time visualization for collaborative experiments, computational simulation, and scientific data analysis. Just as the electric power grid transformed commerce, this computational grid is transforming scientific computing.

Although large-scale computational simulation has assumed a role equal to experiment and theory in the scientific community, within that community there is currently a large unmet demand for computing capacity to support basic scientific and engineering research. Full FY 2001 funding of $45 million for the NSF Terascale Computing Systems program would enable continued acquisition of terascale computer systems to provide leading-edge capabilities for advancements in science and engineering. Such new, more powerful terascale computing capability will enable new scientific and engineering insights, for example:

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, let me thank you for this subcommittee's longstanding support for the National Science Foundation and again urge you to fully fund the budget request that NSF has put forward, in particular the requested $327 million in second year funding for the Information Technology Initiative. Thank you very much for your time and attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.

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Document last modified on Wednesday, 04-Apr-2012 06:51:14 PDT.