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CRA Testimony on the FY 1996 NSF Budget Request

given by Edward D. Lazowska, Chair, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington,
and Chair, Board of Directors, Computing Research Association

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

April 5, 1995

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the subject of the Fiscal Year 1996 National Science Foundation appropriation.

My name is Ed Lazowska. I head the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, in Seattle. In addition, I serve on the Board of Directors of the Computing Research Association. The members of the Computing Research Association are nearly 200 industrial research laboratories and academic departments in computer science and computer engineering, where most of the nation's cutting-edge research and graduate education in the critical fields of computer science and computer engineering takes place. It's these 200 members of the Computing Research Association who I represent today.

I'm here to strongly support the National Science Foundation's appropriation request, particularly the request of $275.57 million for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate. This Directorate is responsible for virtually all of the research in computing, information and communications that's sponsored by the Foundation, which in turn represents a high proportion of all federally-sponsored fundamental research in these areas.

In support of the NSF request, there are a half dozen points that I'd like to touch upon quickly.

1. Information technology is vital to our society - economically and socially.

Information technology, considered alone, is a $500 billion industry.

In addition, information technology has a huge impact on other segments of the economy, such as manufacturing, finance, education, science, and engineering.

And "embedded computer systems" are ubiquitous -- compact disc players, cellular phones, medical diagnostic equipment such as CAT- scanners, and so on.

2. The best is potentially yet to come!

The development of the nation's information infrastructure holds the promise of greatly amplifying the already enormous impacts of information technology. It will extend to rural America a number of benefits that urban dwellers take for granted in areas such as health care, libraries, government information, cultural resources, and entertainment. It will revolutionize commerce and education.

My teenage sons already use Internet resources almost daily in their education. Here's an example: within a few weeks of the discovery of Paleolithic cave paintings in France this past December, wonderful images and text (unfortunately for me, in French, but this suited my sons and their French teachers just fine!) were available on the World Wide Web. K-12 students across the nation and around the world are consumers of electronic information, and they are publishers of it too.

The real computer revolution is "the computer as an information access device." This revolution is far bigger than "the computer as a word processor" or "the computer as a spreadsheet engine," and we're poised for it.

3. America's leadership in information technology didn't just happen -- it's the result of a highly-effective long-term partnership among government, industry, and academia.

Progress in information technology has been rapid in a way never seen before. For several decades now, the amount of computation, storage, and communication you could buy for a dollar has doubled every eighteen to twenty-four months. This successive doubling -- this exponential growth -- is the stuff revolutions are made of. Here's a wonderful analogy: If, over the past 30 years, transportation technology had made the same progress as computing technology in size, cost, speed, and energy consumption, then an automobile would be the size of a toaster, cost $200, travel 100,000 miles per hour, and go 150,000 miles on a gallon of fuel. And in another 18 to 24 months, we'd realize another factor of two improvement!

Progress in information technology has been so rapid and so consistent that it's easy to take it for granted. But this would be a huge mistake. It's not as if we're all just sitting around while the speed of electrons doubles every 18 months!

I just spent a year on a Congressionally-requested 12-person National Research Council committee studying the Federal High Performance Computing and Communications initiative. Our committee devoted lots of effort to reviewing the extraordinary partnership among government, industry, and academia that has driven this progress in information technology, and that has made America the world leader in this critical field. I'd like to strongly encourage your Subcommittee to request a staff briefing from the NRC committee co-chairs, Fred Brooks from the University of North Carolina and Ivan Sutherland from Sun Microsystems.

We found that Federally-supported university research played a critical role in essentially every aspect of information technology: timesharing, computer networking, workstations, computer graphics, the "windows and mouse" user interface, database technology, Very Large Scale Integrated circuit design, Reduced Instruction Set Computer architectures, I/O subsystems based upon Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks, parallel computing, and others.

Ideas and people move back and forth between academia and industry. New companies are formed, and old companies evolve. Federal support early in the life cycle of ideas advances them from novelties, to convincing demonstrations that attract private investment, to products and services that add to the quality of U.S. life.

4. The industrial sector has not, will not, and cannot blaze this trail alone.

I've just addressed the "has not." Let me speak to the "will not" and "cannot".

If you were to watch the television advertisements in Seattle, you'd likely conclude that the technology underlying the nation's information infrastructure sprung forth from the minds of Microsoft and GTE. Well, it ain't true. While these companies and others will play critical roles in evolving this technology and bringing it to consumers, the foundations of the technology clearly lie in federally- funded research programs which have been transferring ideas and people to the private sector for decades.

I serve on the 6-person Technical Advisory Board for Microsoft. I respect the company enormously. Over the past five years, Microsoft discovered that in order to create new markets it needed data compression technology, encryption technology, networking technology, 3D computer graphics technology, modern operating systems technology, statistical decision theory technology, and so forth. It has obtained these technologies from America's research universities.

Even in a rapidly evolving field such as information technology, research takes 15 years to pay off. Companies like Sun and Microsoft didn't even exist 15 years ago! The vitality of the information technology industry depends heavily on new companies, but new companies can't easily afford to do research. Furthermore, industry in general is doing less research now than in the recent past. But because today's sales are based on yesterday's research, investment in innovation must go forward so that the nation's information industry can continue to thrive.

The government-supported research program is critical because it supports the exploratory work that's difficult for industry to afford, allows the pursuit of ideas that may lead to success in unexpected ways, and nourishes the industry of the future, creating jobs and benefits not only for ourselves, but for our children.

5. Fundamental research in support of strategic directions is not the same as industrial policy.

The purpose of publicly funded research in high technology fields is to advance knowledge and create new opportunities that industry can exploit in the medium and long term -- not to determine how the market should develop.

That's what I call "fundamental research in support of strategic directions." It's exactly what the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate at NSF does. And it's exactly the right model.

6. A plan for the future exists.

It's nearly impossible to predict where and when the next major breakthrough will occur. However, one can examine objectives and derive ideas of where research investments could be strategically made.

The National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Information and Communications, chaired by Anita Jones, Defense Director of Research and Engineering, and co-chaired by Paul Young, NSF's Assistant Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, recently produced a Strategic Implementation Plan. The plan identified six Strategic Focus Areas: global-scale information infrastructure technologies, high performance / scalable systems, high confidence systems, virtual environments, user-centered interfaces and tools, and human resources and education.

This multi-agency collaborative planning effort seems precisely on target to me. As in the case of the National Research Council HPCC report, I'd like to strongly encourage your Subcommittee to request a staff briefing from Dr. Jones and the co-chairs of the CIC Strategic Plan Development Group, John Toole and Paul Young.


Mr. Chairman, the Computing Research Association urges the Subcommittee to give its strongest support to the NSF request.

I understand the extraordinary constraints under which this Subcommittee is working.

It's critical, though, to carefully weigh the effect on our future economy of disrupting the investments in research that have proven to provide a critically important foundation for the growth and competitiveness of our $500 billion information technology industry (and of the many other industries to which this leadership contributes). We also must carefully weigh the broad benefits to society that will continue to result from the federal research investments that power fundamental advances in information technology.

The Federal investment in information technology research through the National Science Foundation has been incredibly small compared to the payoff.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

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