Whither research?

R&D's next direction is hard to divine in times of projected deficits and tight budgets

What is the direction of future government research? With the deficit looming overhead, Congress and the White House will have to make some tough choices over which new technologies to fund in the 2006 budget.

One possible way of getting the most from the taxpayer dollar is coordinating research efforts across agencies. This is the role of the White House's National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development. Overseen by David Nelson, the office identifies common agency research needs and coordinates funding efforts. It coordinates programs from 12 agencies with a total of $2 billion.

For the 2006 budget, NITRD suggested consolidating funds for a number of focus areas, including optical networking, high-end computing, information sharing and, especially, security.

The increased emphasis on security arises 'not only from the new national security climate but also from the rapid emergence of embedded sensor applications in industry; the growing need for secure, reliable IT systems in health care informatics and medical devices; and the increasing complexity of large-scale systems of systems such as the U.S. financial system,' NITRD's supplement to the 2006 budget report read.

Despite the best efforts on the part of agencies and Congress to keep program alive, some efforts face elimination in the 2006 budget. Commerce's ATP program has been zeroed out, for instance. Implemented in 1990, ATP has funded over $2 billion in long-term R&D efforts, some that have led to commercial products.

Another program facing de- mise is the Energy Department's National Collaboratories program, which the agency itself has recommended eliminating. In even these economically lean times, researchers sees grave consequences in such actions.

'It has been a hugely successful program, for which there are a lot of opportunities for continued success in future developments,' said Carl Kesselman, who is director of grid technologies for the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, one the organizations supported by Collaboratories.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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