The first 5-year authorization of the U.S. National Quantum Initiative Act ended last month, and while no one expects the NQIA to be abandoned, it’s unclear when it will be re-authorized or what new elements, if any, will be added. Reauthorization is among many undone tasks in Congress that can’t move forward until a new Speaker of the House is chosen.
At the moment, most observers are wary of saying too much. One ventured, “Like everything else on the Hill…nothing is moving. But I am pretty sure that the NQI, as it is not strictly a standalone funded project, but one that merely directs various agencies to coordinate work to create a whole of government perspective, is in force. That is, the independent agencies are likely dealing with their NQI projects under the current CR (continuing resolution) as an extension of their last year’s budget, until the Hill gets its act together. One data point, the people at the QED-C are still working….so there’s that.”
Currently, it seems like business as usual.
The five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers QIS centers, run by DoE, were established in 2020 for a mandated 5-year period, which would indicate they have two more operations under the law. It also turns out the previous law included a provision for “reapplication” that would extend the centers another 5 years. It’s not clear if other NQI programs had these mandated lifetimes, but that could be a factor for them. Looking in from the outside, there seems to have been no disruptions at the QIS centers.
As part of the reauthorization effort, the House Science Committee held a hearing back in June where it heard testimony and received a report from National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee (NQIAC) on proposed NQI plans. Here’s are the “overarching recommendations” excerpted from the report:
- “To ensure U.S. leadership in QIST, the NQI Act should be reauthorized and expanded. All authorized QIST programs in the NQI Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and other relevant legislation should be funded at the authorized levels.
- “To ensure that the United States leads in QIST discovery, innovation, and impact, efforts should be increased to attract, educate, and develop U.S. scientists and engineers in QIST-related fields, improve and accelerate pathways for foreign QIST talent to live and work in the United States, and increase support for research collaboration with partner nations.
- “To safeguard the security and competitiveness of U.S. advances in QIST, the United States should develop policies that thoughtfully promote and protect U.S. leadership in QIST; expand domestic center-scale and single principal investigator QIST research activities and infrastructure; and evaluate and improve the reliability of global supply chains for QIST.
- “To realize the potential of QIST for society, the NQI must accelerate the development of valuable technologies. This goal will require new programs in engineering research and systems integration that will enable a virtuous cycle of maturing and scaling of quantum systems to useful applications through multi-sector partnerships and engagement with end-users.”
As HPCwire reported earlier, the devil is in the details. “This new phase will necessitate a ramp up of investments in fundamental research across engineering, systems integration, software, and applications discovery in order to mature and scale quantum systems into relevant technologies,” reads the report. “The NQIAC has developed nine detailed recommendations for achieving these objectives, described in the following sections. To summarize, they are: 1. Reauthorize and appropriate the NQI Act; 2. Expand research; 3. Fund industry-led partnerships; 4. Invest in equipment and infrastructure; 5. Promote international cooperation; 6. Promote and protect U.S. QIST R&D; 7. Strengthen supply chains; 8. Develop domestic talent; and 9. Attract and retain foreign talent.”
You may recall NQIA, passed in 2018 and initially called for roughly $1.25 billion in spending; that number has grown as relevant portions of other government activities have also target quantum development. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, for example, included provisions for a Department of Defense coordinated Microelectronic Commons (MEC) program to establish hubs to provide prototyping capabilities for a range of critical technologies, including quantum information science. Eight MEC hubs were actually selected in September with a proposed ~$2 billion budget over 5 years.
There are lots of ideas around what a reauthorized NQIA should include. Just last week, the Center for Data Innovation issued a report that explores four broad policy areas the U.S. government uses to promote competitiveness in quantum. The report makes 10 recommendations across the four policy areas to Congress:
- Reauthorize the NQIA and appropriate at least $525 million per year (in addition to the CHIPS funding) for FY 2024 to FY 2028.
- Fully fund the quantum user expansion for science and technology (QUEST) program authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act to improve researcher accessibility to U.S. quantum computing resources.
- Establish a quantum infrastructure program within DOE to help meet the equipment needs of researchers as part of the reauthorization of the NQIA.
- Fully fund the NSF Quantum Education Pilot Program authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act, which would allocate $32 million over the next five years to support the education of K-12 students and the training of teachers in the fundamental principles of QIS.
- Direct NSF to collaborate with NIST to conduct a systematic study of quantum workforce needs, trends, and education capacity.
- Authorize and fund a DOE-led training program that partners students studying toward bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degrees with DOE national labs for hands-on QIS experience.
- Direct the Department of Commerce to work with the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) to review the quantum supply chain and identify risks.
- Direct and fund the recently established Directorate for TIP within NSF to establish quantum testbeds for use-inspired research.
- Direct DOE to establish and lead a program that invites allied nations to co-invest in quantum moonshots.
- Direct NIST to prioritize promoting U.S. participation, particularly from U.S. industry stakeholders, in international standards fora in the reauthorization of the NQIA.