Administration Proposes At Least Half a Billion in Quantum Investments

Max Kolmeto/

Most agencies saw cuts in general federal research and development funding in the 2021 budget request, but several saw an uptick in quantum-focused dollars.

The Trump administration’s latest budget requests at least a half-billion dollars across three federal agencies to advance America’s quantum information science landscape in 2021—and includes millions to develop what U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios called “the first quantum internet in the world.” 

The Energy Department, National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology each saw cuts in overall research and development funding for the next fiscal year, but together they could gain a combined $500 million in quantum-focused investments, Kratsios and another official from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told Nextgov Monday. 

The office does not yet have a “rolled up total” for proposed quantum spending across all agencies—and according to the official, likely won’t for several months—but on a call with reporters and other officials Monday, Kratsios indicated that the White House aims for quantum research and development to see “a more than 50% increase” across all federal agencies for fiscal ‘21, which includes $500 million across the three named agencies alone. That’s up from the $430 million in quantum funds the administration requested for fiscal 2020. Kratsios noted the latest budget request supports the National Quantum Initiative Act, which authorized more than a billion dollars in quantum research and development funding over five years. The law includes specific requirements for Energy, NSF, and NIST to lead. 

“Quantum computing, networking and quantum sensing technologies are developing areas with incredible potential, although an enormous amount of [research and development] is still needed to be done,” Energy’s Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar also said on the call. 

Energy’s Office of Science operates some national laboratories where quantum and high performance supercomputing are a top priority. The office itself saw a reduction of about 17%, falling from about $6.92 billion estimated in 2020 to $5.76 billion proposed in 2021. But within that $5.76 billion, $237 million is requested specifically for quantum information science, and according to Energy’s fact sheet, it’ll be used “for understanding quantum systems behavior, to address scientific challenges beyond the capabilities of current computer technology and exploratory research towards quantum internet.” The fact sheet also confirms that Energy’s total quantum funding proposed in the 2021 request pans out to an estimated $248 million. 

The department’s budget request also aims to invest $710 million for the agency’s Exascale Computing Initiative, which encompasses $475 million toward the Science Office and $235 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration—the agency that houses the El Capitan exascale supercomputer Energy aims to launch by 2022. 

Dabbar added that the department explicitly requested $25 million to support the “construction of the national quantum internet.” Last week, Energy hosted a workshop in New York City uniting more than 40 stakeholders including NSF, the Commerce Department, universities, industry and national labs, he said, to “produce a blueprint for the scaffolding of an entangled quantum internet that connects our labs identifying short, medium and long term goals, as well as the challenges that will need to be faced and the technologies that will need to be developed along the way to build the quantum internet stack.”

The undersecretary added that the vision for a quantum internet “is akin to the beginning of ARPANET and the internet in 1969—and if the capabilities develop, we can foresee applications in almost any field you can imagine, from basic science, to financial services, to medical applications.”

General research and development at NSF was also reduced by 6%—from about $6.75 billion estimated in fiscal 2020, to $6.33 billion in 2021. However, according to the agency’s budget request to Congress, NSF intends to see support for quantum information science “more than double” to an allocated $226 million, which the document indicates is an additional $120 million from its reported quantum-focused funds in 2019. With those added millions, the agency will work to “expand the U.S.’ world-leading position in fundamental quantum research and deliver proof-of-concept devices, applications, tools, or systems with a demonstrable quantum advantage over their classical counterparts,” the request said. And on the call with reporters Monday, the agency’s Director France Córdova said the funds will also be used to “expand foundational knowledge” in the nascent research area and “spur innovation applications and uses to enhance economic success.”

According to the president’s budget, the administration aims to provide NIST with $718 million “to advance U.S. innovation and technological development, as part of an all-of-Government approach to ensure that the United States leads the world in the areas of [artificial intelligence], quantum information science, advanced manufacturing, and next generation communications technologies such as 5G.” In fiscal 2020, the agency’s overall research and development funding amounted to about $807 million. The agency’s total quantum-focused funds in fiscal 2021 weren't spelled out in the president’s budget, but according to NIST’s and the National Technical Information Service’s budget submission to Congress, in fiscal 2021, NIST will invest $40.3 million “on the portfolio of foundational quantum research impacting quantum computing, communications, and cryptography.” The submission added that, combined with the its newly created Quantum Economic Development Consortium and other quantum-driven initiatives, the agency aims to be “a true hub of quantum innovation.”

Other agencies would likely see a boost in quantum research, as well. According to a break down of the budget’s research and development proposals, initial funding is also “included to allow NASA to explore the potential for a space-based quantum entanglement experiment.” And in the official budget, the president also expresses aims to invest $14 billion in science and technology programs at the Defense Department “that support key investments in industries of the future, such as artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and biotechnology.”