Public-Private Partnerships will be Key in National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization

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The 2018 National Quantum Initiative Act needs a second authorization to continue the federal investment into critical quantum information technologies.

Ongoing federal funding will be crucial to continued research efforts in the critical and burgeoning quantum information technologies field, as funding established by foundational legislation mandating government investment—2018 National Quantum Initiative Act—is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year.

Speaking during an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, federal officials working closely within the government’s quantum information sciences programs discussed what the QIST field will need from a reauthorized bill. 

Catherine Johnson, the staff director of the Research and Technology Subcommittee within the House Science, Space and Technology Committee—which initially introduced the bill that former President Donald Trump signed five years ago—said reauthorization was a “top priority” for this Congress to accomplish.

“We really want to continue in the tradition of the Science Committee and have this be a very strong bipartisan product that we're pushing out as a coordinated committee,” she said.

Fundamentally, proponents of the bill aim to keep federal funding available for quantum information sciences research efforts. Johnson specified these priorities include allocating more resources to startups and test beds that are investigating novel applications of QIST systems. 

Supporting growth in the private sector is also a key goal in reauthorizing the bill. Fellow panelist Celia Merzbacher, the executive director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium—an entity whose creation was mandated by the 2018 legislation—added that investing in the baseline infrastructure in more scalable and commercial quantum information technologies will be key to shifting from conceptual technologies to more manufacturable devices. 

“I think it's important to ask ourselves what might be needed that would extend the research towards more applied and development activities, and still be bridging the gap to real commercial production, which would be a more private sector, responsibility and role,” Merzbacher said.

She also echoed Johnson’s support of continued funding for existing test beds and laboratory operations. Facilities housing these experimental spaces support research into constructing, testing and scaling QIST systems, such as for quantum sensing and computing.

“It will be important to make sure that we've covered all of the different types of systems that might need to be evaluated and tested and validated along the way,” she said. 

Expanding partnerships for these federal test beds and labs with private sector and industry counterparts, a mainstay in the Biden administration playbook, is also a priority with NQIA renewal.

“I think we should be looking for expanding these partnerships and expanding more partnerships with industry,” said panelist Alan McQuinn, a staff member for the House’s Research and Technology Subcommittee. McQuinn also said lawmakers are interested in collaborating with other federal agencies that are working in the QIST space, but that have yet to be included in the QIST research ecosystem.

Merzbacher added that one change in the bill’s reauthorization is to add more direction for funding intended for QIST research work done between government labs and industry or academic partners. 

“That would incentivize more actual cooperative research back and forth,” she said. 

Johnson reiterated this point, noting that reauthorizing the provisions within the NQIA warrants an examination of the federal government’s role in supporting early-stage companies in quantum science research. 

“We will be fighting to ensure that it does get proper authorization levels and the support that it's needed,” Johnson said.