Federal Initiatives in Quantum Information Science Growing

IBM 50-qubit quantum computer

The federal government is making a big push in quantum information science or QIS research across all major research agencies.

Quantum technologies could transform key industries and launch future industries, but fundamental research roadblocks remain with most experts predicting it will take 5-10 years at least before the U.S. produces a functional quantum computer. At the moment, QIS technologies are remain experimental and will need substantial advances in hardware and software to unlock their potential. 

New federal QIS research investments were kickstarted by Congress in 2018 with the National Quantum Initiative Act. The legislation established a quantum consortia led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes by the National Science Foundation; National Quantum Information Science Research Centers by the Department of Energy; and greater interagency coordination of federal QIS research and development.

QIS presents major implications for both U.S. national and homeland security. Concerns have been raised about the potential for a quantum computer being able to break public-key cryptography — the bedrock of cybersecurity for critical infrastructure, national security systems and everyday digital devices. President Biden recently issued National Security Memorandum 10 outlining the potential threats and opportunities posed by QIS advancements. The memorandum states: “a quantum computer of sufficient size and sophistication — also known as a cryptanalytically relevant quantum computer (CRQC) — will be capable of breaking much of the public-key cryptography used on digital systems across the United States and around the world,” The memorandum outlines specific actions for agencies to take as the United States begins the multi-year process of migrating vulnerable computer systems to quantum-resistant cryptography, stating: “while the full range of applications of quantum computers is still unknown, it is nevertheless clear that America’s continued technological and scientific leadership will depend, at least in part, on the nation’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage in quantum computing and QIS.” 

Recognizing the potential and the threats stemming from QIS, Congress has also increased investments in QIS for national security. Across the Department of Defense, budget requests for quantum-related programs increased 37 percent between fiscal years 2020 and 2022. Recently the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., was named the Quantum Information Science Research Center for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force. AFRL also received an additional $8 million to conduct research and development in QIS at the adjacent Innovare Advancement Center which allows for research collaborations with academic and industry partners in an unclassified laboratory setting.
 
 

Symposium: Federal Networking and Information Technology R&D Program

Thirty years ago, Congress sought to advance federal investments in high performance computing HPC and communications. The result was the HPC Act of 1991 which has expanded in scope and evolved over the years into the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) Program. Under the NITRD program, overall federal IT R&D investment have grown from less than $5 million in 1991 to nearly $7.8 billion requested for FY2022.

The 1991 legislation established a mechanism to coordinate and plan R&D efforts among federal agencies and sectors. This helped extend and expand the federal investments in networking and information technology (NIT) and maintain America’s world leadership in these areas. Through the NITRD process, Federal agencies exchange information; collaborate on research activities such as testbeds, workshops, strategic planning, and cooperative solicitations; and focus their R&D resources on common goals of making new discoveries and/or developing new technology solutions to address our Nation’s most critical priorities. This includes advanced networking technologies (including wireless), artificial intelligence, big data, cybersecurity, health IT, information integrity, networked physical systems, privacy protection, robotics, and software.

To mark the achievements of NITRD, a symposium will be held on May 25, 2022 beginning at 9:00 a.m. Virtual attendance is available via livestream. Register here

The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2022

National Science Board S&E Indicators

The U.S. National Science Board has released their biennial report on the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. The NSB Science & Engineering Indicators study is a key source of data on the status of U.S. R&D and STEM workforce investments and activities. The report analyzes the overall levels of investment in R&D at all levels (basic/applied/development) by all performers (academic/industry/non-profit/government) and source of funds (government/private/non-profit). It also compares and contrasts the performance of the U.S. with other countries.

Key findings include:

  • Global research and development (R&D) performance is concentrated in a few countries, with the United States performing the most (27% of global R&D in 2019), followed by China (22%), Japan (7%), Germany (6%), and South Korea (4%).
  • The global concentration of R&D performance continues to shift from the United States and Europe to countries in East-Southeast Asia and South Asia.
  • Many middle-income countries, such as China and India, are increasing science and engineering (S&E) publication, patenting activities, and knowledge- and technology-intensive (KTI) output, which has distributed science and technology (S&T) capabilities throughout the globe.
  • The proportion of total U.S. R&D funded by the U.S. government decreased from 31% in 2010 to an estimated 21% in 2019, even as the absolute amount of federally funded R&D increased. This translates into the weakening of the U.S. system of basic research which has long been a pillar of a strong U.S. S&E enterprise.
  • The U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor force represents 23% of the total U.S. labor force, involves workers at all educational levels, and includes higher proportions of men, Whites, Asians, and foreign-born workers than the proportions of these groups in the U.S. population.
  • Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented among students earning S&E degrees and among STEM workers with at least a bachelor’s degree. However, their share of STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree is similar to their share in the U.S. workforce.
  • Disparities in K–12 STEM education and student performance across demographic and socioeconomic categories and geographic regions are challenges to the U.S. STEM education system, as is the affordability of higher education.
  • The United States awards the most S&E doctorates worldwide. Among S&E doctorate students in the United States, a large proportion are international and over half of the doctorate degrees in the fields of economics, computer sciences, engineering, and mathematics and statistics are awarded to international students.

This year the report marked significant changes to how it analyzes the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. It combines two major component into total STEM workforce: (1) S&E and S&E-related workers with a bachelor’s or higher degree and (2) skilled technical workers (STW) without such a degree.