Subcommittee Discusses the NITRD Program

Feb 14, 2013
Subcommittee Discusses the NITRD Program

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research held a hearing to discuss the practical applications and benefits of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program.  Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. Kelly Gaither, Director of the Visualization Lab at the Texas Advanced Computing Center; Dr. Kathryn McKinley, Principal Researcher at Microsoft; and Dr. Ed Lazowska, Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.

The NITRD program is a multi-agency research initiative designed to ensure continued U.S. leadership in computing systems, advanced networking, software, and other information technologies.  The program has developed the computing and networking infrastructure needed to support leading edge research and to drive technology forward for a range of commercial applications that have the potential to benefit society across all aspects of our lives.  NIT influences a multitude of sectors such as national security, healthcare, manufacturing, and communications among others.  Early in 2012 Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) joined former Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) in introducing H.R. 3834, the Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2012, to bring the current law governing the NITRD program in line with where the program is today and needs to be in the next few years.  H.R. 3834 passed the House, but was never acted on by the Senate. 

The hearing discussion was broad with topics ranging from cybersecurity to Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  Members and witnesses stressed the importance of continued investments in NITRD.

Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) said in his opening statement, “As with many other areas of R&D, we can no longer take for granted U.S. leadership in NIT.  As noted by Dr. McKinley in her testimony, China, Japan, Germany, and several other countries are increasing their investments in NIT R&D, and in their capacity to convert R&D into new commercial technologies…The most problematic issues threatening the NITRD program right now are the cuts and uncertainty in top-line R&D budgets. While reauthorizing NITRD wouldn’t solve these problems, it would signal the government’s continuing interest in investing in these critical research areas, and in partnering with industry to help set R&D and workforce training priorities that prepare our nation for the future.”  

“Computational science has made significant progress in the last two decades, but has only been able to do so because of federal investments, interdisciplinary teamwork, and leveraging the successes of researchers before us…Building on the work of others fundamentally depends on us having access to new capabilities that prior researchers did not have.  The NITRD program gives us those resources and funding for resources at a scale that individual institutions would not be able to afford otherwise, said Dr. Gaither.”

While discussing Microsoft research (MSR) activities, Dr. McKinley touched on the public-private partnerships that Microsoft engages in.  She said, “While MSR activities are distinct from the short-term development activities conducted at Microsoft and other companies, distinctions such as “basic” versus “applied” do not really apply to computing research.  In fact, computing research is an evolving blend of invention, discovery, and engineering.  MSR researchers collaborate with leading academic, government, and industry colleagues and often move in and out of universities and Microsoft business groups as their activities shift in focus between research, applications of that research, and technology transfer and implementation.”

NIT education and workforce challenges were also emphasized.

“The workforce needs of the IT fields going forward demand a sustained effort to increase the number of students going into computing fields.  National security needs will require that many of those students be American citizens.  In addition, participants in many other workforce fields will need IT knowledge and skill.  Making progress on this effort will require reversing trends not just in computing, but across the STEM disciplines,” said Dr. Lazowska.

Mr. Lipinski said, “I am concerned about trends in outsourcing of even high-skills jobs.  At the same time, however, we hear anecdotally of thousands of U.S. NIT jobs that go unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. There is no doubt we need to do a better job overall in preparing our students for jobs of today and the future, and in particular we need to graduate more computer science majors.”