Information technology is central to our economy and to our society. It drives many of today's innovations and it offers enormous potential for further innovation in the coming decades. It also is the basis for an extremely successful $500 billion industry that is critical to our nation's international competitiveness.
America holds a commanding lead in this arena. This lead is the result of an extraordinary 50-year partnership among government, industry, and academia, in which federally-sponsored university research has played a critical role. The contributions of the Department of Defense Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and of the National Science Foundation are particularly notable for the way in which they have nourished the ideas and people that have let industry flourish.
But federal support for research in computing, information, and communications is in jeopardy -- we are in danger of killing the golden goose. Some of the contributing factors are not specific to the field: the need to reduce deficit spending, an active debate concerning the appropriate role of federal funding in a wide range of areas, and concerns about the efficiency of university research. However, several misunderstandings specific to the information technology field also are playing a role:
There can be no doubt that it is necessary to reduce deficit spending sharply. There can be no doubt that it is appropriate to debate the role of the federal government in a broad spectrum of activities. And there can be no doubt that America's university system, for all of its remarkable accomplishments, is not above reproach or improvement. But there must also be no doubt about the role that federally-sponsored research in information technology has played, is playing, and must continue to play in our economy and in our society.
The purpose of this presentation is to document the importance of these issues, and to provide a factual foundation for their discussion. We do this in two ways. First, we attach five brief essays. These essays are written by leading figures in the information industry -- people with decades of experience and perspective. They describe in an accessible way the history, impact, and promise of information technology research in five major areas (please click to view these attachments):
Information technology and the information industry are driven forward in large part by the ideas and people that flow from federal programs of fundamental research in support of strategic directions. For the past five years, the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative was the multi-agency cooperative effort under which this work moved forward. Agencies such as NASA and the Department of Energy joined DARPA and NSF in investing in fundamental research in information technology, led by the National Coordination Office for Computing, Information, and Communications (an arm of the Committee on Computing, Information and Communications of the White House National Science and Technology Council.) HPCCI's accomplishments were many-fold (see the FY 1996 "Blue Book" for a summary, and the National Research Council HPCCI study for an analysis).
Remarkably, as we approach the next century the prospects for payoffs from further investments in fundamental research in computing, information, and communications -- payoffs that are directly measurable in economic strength and social benefit -- are greater than at any previous time! We are facing a window of enormous opportunity in these fields. The Committee on Computing, Information, and Communications has responded with a well-conceived strategic plan, America in the Age of Information. With coordinated strategic investments as described in this plan, our nation can expect to reap the benefits of rapid progress in a wide variety of key areas, including global-scale information infrastructure technologies, high performance / scalable systems, high confidence systems, virtual environments, user-centered interfaces and tools, and human resource development and education. (The foundations for these new endeavors are described in the NSTC CCIC FY 1997 "Purple Book".)
Choices must be made. Additional investments in fundamental research in information technology are critical to our nation's leadership and well-being in the 21st century. The track record is crystal clear. These investments deserve -- and have earned -- the support of Congress and of the American people.
Also available in booklet form from the Computing Research Association.