Perry promises continued support for supercomputing

Budget cuts and the proposed elimination of ARPA-E do not alter the administration's commitment to advanced computing, Energy Secretary Perry told a congressional panel.

Royalty-free stock photo ID: 641963182 By 4kclips Department of Energy in Washington - WASHINGTON DC / COLUMBIA - APRIL 7, 2017

Despite the proposed elimination of one of its advanced research agencies, the Department of Energy remains committed to ensuring the U.S. plays a "pre-eminent role" in supercomputing, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told a House Appropriations subcommittee.

Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) questioned the proposed elimination of the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which she said is involved in critical energy technology research.

The White House's $31.7 billion budget for DOE in fiscal year 2020 calls for an 11 percent cut in overall funding, including elimination of ARPA-E.

ARPA-E was launched during the Bush administration to foster innovative early-stage research and development and has been under the budget gun before. The Trump White House targeted it for elimination in its 2019 budget, and in 2017, the Government Accountability Office found that DOE itself had withheld funds from the office.

The proposed 2020 budget, said Kaptur, also cuts the department's science office, which does research on advanced computing, chemistry and other sciences, by $1 billion.

Kaptur and other Democrats on the panel complained that DOE's budget documents had not yet been fully released and "were riddled with backward-looking proposals" that emphasized older, dirtier energy technologies at the expense of newer and more-efficient ones.

Perry argued that the budget should be measured in "results achieved," not necessarily dollars spent. He said "cross-cutting" R&D spread among the agency's 17 national laboratories and private industry is keeping the U.S. on track with many emerging energy technologies, including quantum and exascale computing. That partnership of national labs, universities and industry offers a more cost-effective, efficient research and development path, he said.

"We have the two fastest supercomputers in the world in Oak Ridge and Argonne" national labs, Perry noted. In early March, Argonne National Lab signed a $500 million contract with Intel and Cray to deliver Aurora, the first U.S. computer capable of 1 exaflop performance -- 1 quintillion calculations per second -- by 2021. Oak Ridge is home to the Summit supercomputer, which has a peak performance of 200 petaflops -- about 200 trillion calculations per second.

Cutting-edge supercomputing and quantum computing remain critical to the agency, Perry assured the panel, and he vowed to ensure they remain that way.

"There may not be a more important role enterprisewide" than exascale computing, he said, as it will open up a multitude of other technological capabilities. "We understand it. We will work with you to make sure the result is America is pre-eminent in supercomputing."

Perry also said his agency would devote $70 million to its newly minted Cybersecurity Institute in Energy Efficient Manufacturing under its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. DOE issued a funding announcement for the institute in mid-February.

The institute will consider evolving cybersecurity threats that may surface as more energy-efficient technologies are pushed out to manufacturing industries. It would develop new cybersecurity technologies and methods and share that information and expertise with U.S. manufacturers.