Legislative Evolution of the NITRD Program

The NITRD Program has its beginnings in the High Performance Computing (HPC) Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-194). That Act led to creation of the High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program in early 1992, which Congress renamed the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2017 (P.L. 114-32).

Congress passed the HPC Act of 1991 prior to commercialization and popularization of the Internet but following decades of American leadership in computing and communications R&D. Many studies and discussions in the 1980s asserted the paramount importance to the Nation of continuing to conduct cutting-edge R&D in information technologies to support the national economy, national security, and individual well-being – especially in the face of increasing global competition.

During the ten years following the HPC Act of 1991, the building of the Internet and World Wide Web relied on U.S. Government-funded and ‑led agency and private-sector research coordinated in large part by the HPCC/NITRD Program. As information technologies and applications evolved dramatically worldwide, four amending pieces of Congressional legislation between 1998 and 2017 refreshed, revised, and extended, the Program’s mandate to sustain U.S. leadership in fundamental and applied R&D in computing, networking, and information technologies.

Taken as a whole, Congressional legislation has for 30 years continually reaffirmed the Federal Government’s commitment to funding and guiding Federal agency and community collaboration in performance of nonduplicative cutting-edge IT R&D for long-term continuation of U.S. strategic advantage in networking and IT. It has also reaffirmed the HPCC/NITRD Program’s key role in coordinating this work.

Legislative Chronology of the NITRD Program, 1991-2017

The High Performance Computing Act of 1991, Public Law 102-194, laid out the Nation’s first comprehensive plan for coordination of Federal R&D in high-performance computing and networking.

The main Program requirements of the HPC Act are to:

  • Set goals and priorities for Federal high-performance computing research, development, and networking;
  • Provide for interagency coordination;
  • Provide for oversight of the operation and evolution of the National Research and Education Network (NREN) and promote the development of information services that could be provided over the Network;
  • Improve software;
  • Accelerate high-performance computer system development;
  • Provide technical support and research and development of software and hardware needed to address fundamental problems in science and engineering (Grand Challenges);
  • Educate undergraduate and graduate students;
  • Provide for security; and
  • Establish an advisory committee on high-performance computing.

The Act also requires the key participating agencies (NSF, NASA, DOE, NIST, NOAA, EPA, and DoED) to:

  • Identify Program elements in their annual budget requests;
  • Support the establishment of the NREN to link research and educational institutions, government, and industry in every State;
  • Foster Federal and private-sector investment in high-speed data networking, along with developing standards and security measures; and
  • Report to Congress on Network funding.

(From https://www.congress.gov/bill/102nd-congress/senate-bill/272/, Summary)

The Next Generation Internet Research Act of 1998, Public Law 105-305, recognized the preeminence of the Internet over the National Research and Education Network and thus a need to effectively focus Federal R&D on interrelated Internet technologies.

The Next Generation Internet Research Act amends the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 to include among its purposes:

  • Promoting the more rapid development and wider distribution of networking management and development tools; and
  • Promoting the rapid adoption of open network standards.

Other main purposes of this Act are to:

  • Authorize research programs related to high-end computing and computation, human-centered systems, high confidence systems, and education, training, and human resources; and
  • Provide for development and coordination of a comprehensive and integrated U.S. research program focused on a computer network infrastructure that promotes interoperability among advanced Federal computer networks, high-speed and economical data access that does not impose geographic or other penalties on individual and institutional users, and flexible and extensible networking technologies.

It directs the HPCC Program and several key participating member agencies (NSF, DOE, NIH, NASA, and NIST) to:

  • Develop technologies to advance Internet capacity, capabilities, and performance;
  • Support high-performance testbed networks to enable the research, development, and demonstration of advanced networking technologies;
  • Develop and demonstrate advanced Internet applications that meet national goals and agency mission needs; and
  • Promote technology transfer to and from the private sector.

It also directs the HPC Advisory Committee to report to the President and Congress annually (starting 6 months after enactment of the Act) on progress in key provisions of the Act. And it authorizes a study by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences of the diverse needs of domestic and Internet users.

(From https://www.congress.gov/bill/105th-congress/house-bill/3332/, Summary)

America COMPETES Act of 2007, Public Law 110-69 (the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act), refocused the Government’s S&T R&D agenda on innovation and competitiveness and on refurbishment of the U.S. S&T research infrastructure, including facilities and instrumentation.

The American COMPETES Act expresses the sense of Congress that:

  • Each Federal research agency should strive to support and promote innovation in the United States through high-risk, high-reward basic research projects; and
  • Each executive agency funding research in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics should set a goal of allocating an appropriate percentage of its annual basic research budget to funding such projects, and report its funding goals annually.

Specifically, Sec. 7024 amended the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 to revise program requirements for the National High-Performance Computing Program with new requirements for the OSTP Director to

  • Establish goals and priorities for Federal high-performance computing research, development, networking, and other activities;
  • Establish Program Component Areas that implement such goals and identify the Grand Challenges (i.e., fundamental problems in science or engineering, with broad economic and scientific impact, whose solutions will require the application of high-performance computing resources and multidisciplinary teams of researchers) that the Program should address; and
  • Develop and maintain a research, development, and deployment roadmap covering all states and regions for the provision of high-performance computing and networking systems.

Sec. 7024 revised requirements for annual reports by requiring that such reports:

  • Describe Program Component Areas, including any changes in the definition of or activities under such Areas and the reasons for such changes, and describe Grand Challenges supported under the Program;
  • Describe the levels of Federal funding and the levels proposed for each Program Component Area;
  • Describe the levels of Federal funding for each agency and department participating in the Program for each such Area; and
  • Include an analysis of the extent to which the Program incorporates the recommendations of the advisory committee on high-performance computing.

Sec. 7024 also requires the advisory committee on high-performance computing to conduct periodic evaluations of the funding, management, coordination, implementation, and activities of the Program, and to report at least once every two fiscal years to specified Congressional committees.

(From https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/house-bill/2272/, Summary)

Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014, Public Law 113-274, especially Title II, Sec. 201(a), (1) and (2), recognized the need for a more active effort by the Federal Government and the IT community broadly to focus R&D on cybersecurity issues to safeguard critical infrastructure as well as other public, private, and government applications of rapidly expanding Internet capabilities.

The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act directs NIST to be the lead agency of the cybersecurity and privacy R&D and standards efforts of the Federal Government, including in its related domestic and international partnerships. The Act also directs DOC, DOD, DoED, DOE, HHS, Interior, EPA, NASA, NIST, NSF, and/or USDA, and other agencies, as appropriate or specified, working through the National Science and Technology Council and the NITRD Program, to:

  • Develop, update every four years, and submit to Congress a Federal risk-based cybersecurity research and development strategic plan to guide the direction of Federal cybersecurity in information assurance R&D for networking and IT systems;
  • Build on existing programs to meet cybersecurity objectives that include guaranteeing individual privacy; verifying third-party software and hardware; addressing insider threats; determining the origins of messages transmitted over the Internet; protecting information stored using cloud computing or transmitted through wireless services; and measuring and enhancing the overall security, reliability, resilience, and trustworthiness of the digital infrastructure; and
  • Review, determine the adequacy of, and as needed, fund new cybersecurity test beds.

Other provisions require specific agencies to:

  • Evaluate and support education and workforce development needs in cybersecurity through R&D, competitions, scholarships-for-service, internships, etc.;
  • Promote cybersecurity awareness, best practices, and preparedness among the public; and
  • Advance national and international cybersecurity technical standards and best practices, including for cloud computing services.

(from https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/1353/, Summary)

American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2017Public Law 114-329, Sec. 105. This section of the Act specifically addresses NITRD; it was first introduced in the House as the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Modernization Act of 2016. It officially renamed the National High Performance Computing Program as the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program and revised or added Program requirements to increase emphasis on R&D for innovation and competitiveness in previously unspecified areas of “networking and information technology”. This term was meant to include but not focus exclusively on high-end computing:
…’networking and information technology’ means high-end computing, communications, and information technologies, high-capacity and high-speed networks, special purpose and experimental systems, high-end computing systems software and applications software, and the management of large data sets…

The main provisions of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Modernization Act of 2016 (Sec. 105 of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2017) – were to substitute “networking and information technology research and development” (as defined above) for “high performance computing”; broaden “software” to include “software security and reliability”, and cybersystems “security” also include “reliability and resilience”. It added the following new provisions for interagency activities coordinated by the NITRD Program:

  • “Provide for increased understanding of the scientific principles of cyber-physical systems and improve the methods available for the design, development, and operation of cyber-physical systems characterized by high reliability, safety, and security;
  • Provide for research and development on human-computer interactions, visualization, and big data;
  • Provide for research and development on the enhancement of cybersecurity, including the human facets of cyber threats and secure cyber systems;
  • Provide for the understanding of the science, engineering, policy, and privacy protection related to networking and information technology;
  • Provide for the transition of high-end computing hardware, system software, development tools, and applications into development and operations; and
  • Foster public-private collaboration among government, industry research laboratories, academia, and nonprofit organizations to maximize research and development efforts and the benefits of networking and information technology, including high-end computing.”

The Act clarified some requirements for the annual Supplement to the President’s Budget, including that it should describe:

  • The levels of Federal funding for each participating agency, and for each Program Component Area (PCA), for the fiscal year during which such report is submitted, the levels for the previous fiscal year, and the levels proposed for the fiscal year with respect to which the budget submission applies; and
  • How the objectives for each PCA, and the objectives for activities that involve multiple PCAs, relate to the objectives of the Program identified in the strategic plans required under subsection (e).

The Act specified various aspects of the administration of the Program by the National Science and Technology Council and the Program’s participating agencies’ with respect to the PCAs and strategic plans, including stressing the need to coordinate with industry, academia, and in other interested stakeholders to discourage Federal duplication of private sector efforts.

(From https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/3084, Summary)