White House Sets Top Research & Development Priorities for 2020

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Expect artificial intelligence, quantum computing and space travel to get budgetary attention in fiscal 2020.

The White House on Tuesday outlined the top research and development areas where it wants agencies to focus funds in fiscal 2020.

In a memo to agency leaders, the Office of Science and Technology Policy highlighted artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 5G broadband and national security technology among the Trump administration’s top R&D priorities as departments begin formulating their 2020 budget requests.

The White House would also like to see agencies investing heavily in space exploration, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, health care and agriculture, according to the memo.

“Americans created an ecosystem of innovation that is the envy of the world, advancing science and technology and making the nation prosperous and strong,” wrote Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios.

“Building on a foundation of federal research and development investments, America will also be the nation that leads in today's emerging technologies, from artificial intelligence and quantum computing, to biotechnology, advanced wireless communications and space commercialization,” they wrote.

The memo largely reiterates the same priorities outlined in the administration’s 2019 budget request, where the White House boosted defense R&D spending by nearly one-third while cutting non-defense funding by 19 percent.

National security once again stands front and center among the administration's primary R&D focuses, with the White House calling for increased investment in the military, border technology and cybersecurity. The administration is also pressing for better weather prediction tools to help curb the damage of natural disasters.

Officials also framed artificial intelligence and quantum computing R&D as critical to national security and economic competitiveness. Kratsios has consistently affirmed the administration’s “unparalleled” commitment to American leadership in artificial intelligence, citing the $1.5 billion the government spends annually on AI research, but that dominance might be threatened as nations like China outspend the U.S.

On top of detailing R&D priorities, the White House highlighted a number of initiatives it would like to see agencies pursue. Officials repeated the call to modernize the public-and private-sector workforce by investing heavily in STEM education, apprenticeships and training programs to reskill workers for the digital economy.