White House makes case for renewed Quantum Initiative Act

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As funding under the National Quantum Initiative Act is set to expire, OSTP official Charles Tahan outlined several priority areas for the U.S. quantum sciences ecosystem.

The next version of the National Quantum Initiative Act should prioritize major federal investments into further advancing quantum information sciences research and development, according to White House leadership. 

Speaking during a House Science, Space and Technology hearing to reauthorize the National Quantum Initiative Act on the eve of its expiration, Charles Tahan, the director of the National Quantum Coordination Office at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, introduced a series of new funding goals for the burgeoning U.S. quantum tech ecosystem.

These goals — which focus heavily on more advanced research initiatives — will span several federal agencies and use funding provided in the NQI, which is set to expire at the end of the 2023 fiscal year without reauthorization from Congress. 

“First and foremost our goal has to be to continue to move fast and power our scientists and entrepreneurs, keep the open scientific community,” Tahan said. “We need to keep our open scientific engine of discovery going, but we need to do it in a smart way.”

Some of the initiatives Tahan suggested for inclusion are deploying a quantum satellite program; continuing supporting ongoing core research initiatives, particularly geared toward creating the first pieces of a viable, operable quantum computer; and authorizing the Department of Energy to start a $200-million per year post-exascale high-performance computing program to incorporate quantum into the architecture of supercomputers.

These investments particularly work toward fortifying the infrastructure for advanced quantum research within the U.S. Funding in the proposed second version of the NQI would help facilitate collaborations between academia, national labs and private sector companies. 

“The key thing is to focus on the hard technical challenges,” he said, specifically referring to successfully building a quantum network that can successfully run on quantum units of information, or qubits. Scaling up to construct larger, operable quantum-powered computers that require extensive hardware is another key fundamental Tahan said demands continued federal investment. 

“Each one of those qubits is like a little, very sensitive animal that you need to touch all the time. You need to use wires or lasers to go down to it,” he said. “So that's the big technical challenge.”

On the application level, Tahan touched on the national security element that is increasingly interwoven with quantum technology applications, particularly at the cybersecurity level, but also described the bioimaging possibilities more advanced QIST systems can have in the medical field.

He also touted expanding partnerships with academia and industry partners, noting that all academic institutions should be able to have access to sophisticated quantum mechanics and computing teaching materials as a means to fortify the domestic workforce. 

“We need to incorporate much more universities, community colleges, other places of learning and training…that means investing in infrastructure equipment, even small labs so people can be trained up,” he said. “We need to get quantum computing testbeds that students can learn in 1,000 schools, not 20 schools.”

Tahan also emphasized the importance of maintaining international partnerships to help delegate certain research aspects across the broad QIST field, but noted that investments from the reauthorization of the NQIA will keep the U.S. competitive among the countries augmenting their state-granted QIST funding significantly.

“It's really critical that the government stay engaged [to] make sure that we're still leaders,” he said.

Federal support for QIST funding and research has gained traction within the last several years, with President Joe Biden factoring the emerging technology into executive orders and lawmakers introducing multiple pieces of legislation on the topic. 

Aides familiar with committee proceedings told Nextgov/FCW that they expect strong support for the bill’s reauthorization after a draft was circulated last week prior to the hearing. 

“We're starting discussions and that discussion was very productive,” a committee aide said. “I think we all want this to be a very strong bipartisan product.”