"The computer science community ... has adapted its behavior accordingly," Wulf said. "More time is spent writing proposals rather than doing research, more failed projects are recycled, more incremental and less bold ideas are advanced."
If DARPA had diverted funding from long-term research during the Vietnam and Cold wars, "crazy ideas" like the Internet and parallel computing may not have been invented at the time, Wulf suggested.
But DARPA's director disputed the testimony of Wulf and Leighton. DARPA's Anthony Tether noted that his agency has shifted much of its IT research toward creating cognitive computing systems with artificial intelligence, and he questioned how critics could call cognitive computing research a short-term project.
Tether also suggested that DARPA's NITRD funding numbers don't tell the whole story, because some new IT-related DARPA funding has gone into new projects not covered by NITRD. He didn't have budget numbers for these new projects immediately available to the committee.
As the Iraq war and anti-terrorism efforts have become Defense Department priorities, DARPA has focused some of its attention on projects that can support troops, Tether added. "Yes, we are doing things in Iraq that are saving people's lives," he said.
But Tether also told the committee that in recent weeks, DARPA conducted an exercise that stopped an altered version of the so-called Slammer worm from spreading across a computer network. The Slammer worm first appeared in January 2003, and Tether said the details of how DARPA modified the worm and how it halted it are currently classified, to avoid giving information to worm-writers.
Wulf and Leighton criticized Tether for not sharing DARPA's potentially effective worm-stopping methods with broader industry, but questioned if those methods were truly effective when DARPA had focused on stopping a 2-year-old worm.
While Wulf and Leighton questioned DARPA's commitment to long-term IT research, one Republican representative said the Bush administration's focus on short-term, results-oriented research was the correct approach.
"The question is whether we should channel the amount of money being spent on research into esoteric projects at the universities that may or may not ever come to fruition and help anybody," said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican. "Or should we be channeling more of that money into research necessary to develop some of these ideas that have been discovered through research in the past and can actually change the life of someone?"
But without long-term research, more results-oriented research will eventually dry up as well, Wulf said. Most technologies have a 15-year life-cycle, or "pipeline," to move from the research laboratory to commercial products, he said.
"Only a few of these ideas will, in fact, become commercial, and we have no good way to predict which of them will be the most important," Wulf said. "Thus, if one stops filling the pipeline, the effect on industry will not be immediately visible as it drains the pipeline ... but that there will be an impact is an inescapable lesson of history."