Gore Offers $366 Million for Computing

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA--The field of computing is chock-full of acronyms, from RAM to Y2K. Yesterday the Clinton Administration coined another one: IT2, to describe its plan to boost basic research in information technology. Speaking here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes ScienceNOW, Vice President Al Gore unveiled details of an initiative to add $366 million to the $1.5 billion already in the federal budget this year for information sciences, a 28% increase. Next week the Administration will submit the proposal--dubbed Information Technology for the Twenty-First Century, or IT2--to Congress as part of its fiscal year 2000 budget proposal.

The widely anticipated plan (Science, 15 January, p. 302) follows up on an August 1998 report from a presidential task force urging a greater investment in the kind of basic computing that produced the Internet and other digital breakthroughs. To make up for the shortfall, it recommended an increase of $1 billion over 5 years. Gore's announcement "did a remarkable job of responding to our report--I'm optimistic we can convince Congress it's the right thing to do," says Ken Kennedy, a computer scientist at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and a co-chair of the panel.

The majority of IT2 funds are slated for peer-reviewed university research aiming to create machines that could run at speeds exceeding 40 teraflops--or 40 trillion calculations per second--by 2003. It would also support the creation of software to exploit these machines for research on everything from heartbeat modeling to tornado prediction. "We're talking about completely new ways of computing," says Jane Alexander, acting deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense (DOD). The new money will be divvied up among six agencies, led by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and DOD.

Although White House officials are touting the funds as "new money" that won't require cuts in other science programs, they have yet to explain how they will pay for the increases under increasingly tight budget caps. They are also fuzzy on which agency will direct the program. It's unclear whether Congress will climb aboard the IT train--or whether it will prefer to construct its own version. "There's a good chance" that IT2 will gain bipartisan support, says Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). "But we need to learn about the details first and find out how they plan to pay for it."