THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of Science and Technology Policy
For Immediate Release
August 10, 1998
Interim Report on Information Technology Questions and Answers
Q: What is the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee?
A: The PITAC was established by the President in February 1997 to provide valuable guidance and expert advice on the Administration's efforts to accelerate development and adoption of information technologies that will be vital for American prosperity in the 21st century, with emphasis on evaluating and strengthening R&D programs of Federal agencies involved in Computing, Information, and Communications R&D.
The 26 members of the Committee include corporate leaders from the computing and communications industry, two recipients of the National Medal of Technology, and experts from the research, education, and library communities. The Committee is co-chaired by Ken Kennedy, Director of the Center for Research on Parallel Computation and the Ann and John Doerr Professor of Computational Engineering at Rice University, and Bill Joy, co-founder and Vice President for Research at Sun Microsystems.
Q: What is the significance of the report and its findings?
A: According to the report, the Federal government currently under-invests in information technology (IT) research and development (R&D), and the research agenda is too heavily focused on near-term problems. Long-term, fundamental research is vital to provide the technological advances needed to sustain future economic competitiveness, provide tools for lifelong learning all Americans, and solve critical problems affecting the environment, health care, and national security. PITAC members from industry have indicated that industry cannot or will not focus on this type of research, as they cannot adequately capture the returns of such investments. Major corporations are focusing their research dollars on applied work tied closely to commercial products and processes, which have short-term payoffs. Committee members emphasize the importance of Federal investments in fundamental research to ensure the technical advances needed to underpin future IT innovations.
Q: What has been the return on past Federal investments in IT?
A: The technical advances that led to today's information technology tools, such as electronic computers and the Internet, began with Federal government support of research in partnership with industry and universities during the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations. These modest investments have yielded massive economic benefits to the Nation: businesses that produce computers, semiconductors, software and communications equipment have accounted for one-third of the total growth in U.S. production since 1992, creating millions of high paying new jobs.
Q: Why does the Committee believe that additional Federal support for research is necessary?
A: The Committee notes that Federal research investment in information technology has not kept pace with IT's growing economic, strategic, and societal importance to the Nation. Non-inflationary growth in information technology and information-intensive industries is a key driver of the economy. Advances in information technology are stimulating development of whole new industries, creating high-paying jobs, and enhancing our global competitiveness. Beyond the economy, IT has proven fundamental to solving many problems of national importance. Yet, the amount of Federal R&D investment has been, at best, steady, and compromised by imbalances between basic and applied research.
The Committee identified the following trends due to lack of sufficient Federal support for IT R&D:
The end result is that critical problems are going unsolved and we are endangering the flow of ideas that have fueled the information economy.
- Research programs intended to maintain the flow of new ideas in IT are turning away large numbers of excellent proposals.
- Current support is taking a short-term focus, looking for immediate returns, rather than investigating high-risk long-term technologies
- Computers and computing facilities on university campuses and other civilian research facilities are falling rapidly behind the state of the art.
Q: Why is a renewed commitment to Federal funding for fundamental IT R&D important?
A: Increased Federal investments in fundamental research for IT will fund significant new research on computers and communication systems to serve our needs, while protecting us from catastrophic failures of the complex systems that now underpin our transportation, defense, business, finance and health care infrastructure. By neglecting research, we do more than deplete the stock of fundamental knowledge. We endanger the long-term effectiveness of the R&D systems and threaten U.S. leadership in the emerging 21st century information based-economy.
Q: How much growth does the Committee propose for the FY2000 budget?
A: The Committee is recommending that Federal IT investments be increased by $1 billion over the next five years - roughly a doubling of today's investment. They indicate that the FY2000 budget should reflect IT's importance to the economy. The Committee expects to assist the President's Assistant for Science and Technology, Dr. Neal Lane, and the CIC R&D agencies in developing an FY2000 budget proposal consistent with these recommendations.
Q: What type of new research is being recommended?
A: The Interim Report identifies four IT research priorities to help the U.S. meet critical national economic and defense needs and maintain its global leadership position in IT:
- Research on software, with special emphasis on design and production techniques and enhancing software reliability.
- Expanded Federal programs for scalable information infrastructures, like the NGI, for advanced communications combining networks, wireless, and satellite systems.
- Continued research for high-end computing to sustain America's lead in advanced supercomputing.
- Research on socio-economic and workforce issues to ensure that we realize the full promise of information technology to the benefit of all Americans.