Administration supports supercomputing; early-stage energy tech, not so much
- By Mark Rockwell
- Mar 28, 2019
Despite the White House's plan to eliminate the Department of Energy's advanced research agency, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told a House Appropriations subcommittee DOE remains committed to ensuring the U.S. plays a "pre-eminent role" in supercomputing.
The Trump administration's $31.7 billion budget for DOE in fiscal year 2020 calls for an 11 percent cut in overall funding, including elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy office, which advances early-stage high-potential, high-impact energy technologies.
ARPA-E was launched during the Bush administration and first funded in 2009. It has been under the budget gun before when the Government Accountability Office found that DOE itself had withheld funds from the office. The White House targeted it for elimination in its proposed 2019 budget.
The fiscal 2020 budget proposal also cuts the department's science office, which does research on advanced computing, chemistry and other sciences, by $1 billion.
Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) complained that DOE's budget documents "were riddled with backward-looking proposals" that emphasized older, dirtier energy technologies at the expense of newer and more-efficient ones. Other Democrats on the appropriations panel voiced similar concerns.
Perry said "cross-cutting" R&D spread among the agency's 17 national laboratories and private industry is keeping the U.S. on track with many emerging energy technologies, including quantum and exascale computing. That partnership of national labs, universities and industry offers a more cost-effective, efficient research and development path, he said.
"We have the two fastest supercomputers in the world in Oak Ridge and Argonne" national labs, Perry noted. In early March, Argonne National Lab signed a $500 million contract with Intel and Cray to deliver Aurora, the first U.S. computer capable of 1 exaflop performance -- 1 quintillion calculations per second -- by 2021. Oak Ridge is home to the Summit supercomputer, which has a peak performance of 200 petaflops -- about 200 trillion calculations per second.
Cutting-edge supercomputing and quantum computing remain critical to the agency, Perry assured the panel, and he vowed to ensure they remain that way.
"There may not be a more important role enterprisewide" than exascale computing, he said, as it will open up a multitude of other technological capabilities. "We understand it. We will work with you to make sure the result is America is pre-eminent in supercomputing."
This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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