Earlier this month the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its latest report, focused on the Network and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program. PCAST is required by law to evaluate the program, which coordinates federal investment across the government in information technology research.
As is regrettably the case with many government programs in technology, the organization of NITRD reflects what was close to cutting edge thinking of the time it was created. A major recommendation of this report is to reorganize the NITRD program to better reflect the state of research in information technology and the current priorities for the government.
The report focuses on the following areas of information technology: cybersecurity, health, Big Data and data-intensive computing, IT and the physical world (any IT connected to something that isn’t a computer or a phone), privacy protection, cyber-human systems, high-capability computing, and foundational computing research. The authors consider each of these areas as critical to success in any national priority related to information technology research. However, there remain gaps in access to large-scale infrastructure and other resources that make it harder to effectively support federal research in these areas.
In order to establish a more nimble NITRD program, the authors recommend establishing new program component areas (PCAs) that are used to organize NITRD funding. Most of these categories have remained unchanged for twenty years. What the report recommends is establishing eight new PCAs for the 2017 budget cycle, and that these PCAs should be updated every five or six years. The PCAs recommended in the report are:
- Large-scale data management and analysis;
- Robotics and intelligent systems;
- Computing-enabled networked physical systems (such as distributed sensor networks);
- Cybersecurity and information assurance;
- Computing-enabled human interaction, communication, and augmentation;
- IT foundational research and innovation;
- Enabling-IT for high-capability IT systems; and
- Large-scale research infrastructure.
The recommendations would need to be implemented by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget. Both agencies have expressed support for such changes. They would also need to develop, with other NITRD stakeholders, the process for judging when and how to modify these PCAs based on changes in the field.