WASHINGTON - Officials from U.S. President George Bush's administration on Thursday defended IT research spending at government agencies during the past four years as critics charged Bush with putting a low priority on computer and cybersecurity research and development.
During a hearing before the U.S. House Science Committee, the directors of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said computer science R&D spending has grown during the Bush administration. But Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, like Bush a Republican, criticized current computer science R&D spending as lacking a focus on long-range research and on cybersecurity.
While there's "broad consensus" that the U.S. government should fund long-term IT and cybersecurity research at universities, current budgets don't reflect those needs, said Boehlert, from New York. "The question is whether current federal funding is in line with the theoretical consensus," he said. "And despite some rather defensive testimony we'll hear today, one has to conclude that the answer is 'no.'"
John Marburger, OSTP director, defended Bush's IT research budgets as "adequate" as other priorities, such as domestic security and the Iraq war, have demanded budget dollars. Bush's 2006 budget request for the multi-agency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program [NITRD], the U.S. government's primary program for long-term IT-related research, is $2.16 billion, which "basically holds steady" from fiscal year 2005, Marburger said.
Bush's 2006 NITRD budget includes $803 million for the National Science Foundation, up from $795 million in the 2005 budget, according to OSTP documents. But the total cross-agency NITRD budget declined about $100 million from 2005 to the 2006 request, and DARPA NITRD funding has declined from $263 million to $176 million from fiscal year 2002 to the 2006 request.
NITRD funding has risen since Bush took office in 2001, according to OSTP. Fiscal year 2001 NITRD spending was $1.77 billion, and National Science Foundation funding for NITRD rose 25 percent between 2002 and the 2006 request, Marburger said.
But two technology representatives questioned a hold-steady IT research budget while developing nations are challenging U.S. leadership in the technology industry. U.S. computing networks -- and the communications, utility and transportation systems they control -- remain vulnerable to cyber attacks because of a lack of cybersecurity research funding, said Thomson Leighton, cofounder and chief scientist at Akamai Technologies, which operates 15,000 Web servers in 70 nations.
"All elements of the nation's infrastructure are insecure if IT is insecure, and today our IT is insecure," Leighton said. "Our national defense systems are also at risk, because the military increasingly relies on many of the same vulnerable IT systems as the civilian sector."
Leighton and William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, focused much of their complaints on the DARPA budget available to fund university-based IT research, saying the agency responsible for the early development of the Internet has shifted its focus away from long-term IT research in favor of short-term projects more geared toward incremental improvements to existing technology.