Agencies lack funds for IT research, exec says

Stagnant
federal investment in R&D threatens progress, 3Com chairman Eric Benhamou says.


Federal research in information technology focuses myopically on near-term problems,
said Eric Benhamou, 3Com Corp. chairman and chief executive officer.


Speaking this month at the Upside Summit ’98 conference in Washington, the CEO of
the Santa Clara, Calif., company and a member of the President’s IT Advisory
Committee said privately funded research “is not picking up the slack” left by
the stagnation of federal research this decade.


He said his company spends about 10 percent of its revenues on R&D, or about $700
million per year, and the same is true at Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp. and other
technology giants. But larger, more fundamental federal investments have not kept pace, he
said.


Government “is mortgaging the future,” Benhamou said, by failing to support
breakthrough research in software reliability, scalable infrastructures and high-end
computing.


“The Internet is far bigger than it was intended to become,” he said.
“We don’t understand access, robustness or security” on such a scale.


High-end computing has atrophied as vendors have worked instead on cheaper symmetric
multiprocessing systems, he said, although classical supercomputing remains essential for
fundamental scientific problems and national security.


“Market forces won’t take care of it, there are no incentives,” Benhamou
said.


“But the software code that gets delivered is very buggy and disappointing across
the board,” he said. “We’re not good at building reliable software
components. We need software libraries and reliability measurements.”


Furthermore, Benhamou said, the management of federal IT research is extremely
fragmented, without formal coordination of tasks and tools.


“The government needs a structure across units,” he said. “Make the
National Science Foundation review how federal R&D money is spent across
agencies,” as NSF now oversees such spending across universities and research
contractors.


The President’s IT Advisory Committee, formed last year, has recommended doubling
federal IT research budgets over the next five years, up from about $1 billion per year,
and making the national communications infrastructure, Next Generation Internet, large
data repositories and other emerging systems more reliable, secure and scalable for
massive numbers of new users and applications.  

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