NSF pitches Congress on the potential of quantum technology

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The National Science Foundation made a case for robust congressional funding in emerging tech research following budget cuts to the agency this year.

The National Science Foundation showcased several of its quantum information technology research projects from across the nation to Congress on Tuesday as the agency continues to work with lawmakers to secure sufficient federal funding amid recent budget cuts. 

Scientists and researchers met House lawmakers, notably Science and Technology Committee leaders Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Frank Lucas, R-Okla., along with Research and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Haley Stevens, D-Mich., who spoke alongside NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan on the importance of steady federal funding to support innovation in emerging technology amid global competition.

Panchanathan told Nextgov/FCW that this is the second technological showcase the NSF has organized for Congress, with the first such event centered on AI. 

“The reason it's important for having the showcases here, is this is…where policy gets made, investments in the future get made, and so it's very important that we engage with our policy leaders and investors and ensure that we are demonstrating to them that the taxpayer dollars that we are investing in is producing the outcomes that they still desire,” he said. 

Panchanathan said that showcasing the physical technologies and systems developed with NSF support helps bridge several gaps between lawmakers and scientific fields, including both the application potential and human impact.

“It shapes their [lawmakers’] thinking,” he said. “It makes them feel like the stuff that you're doing is not only important, but has actually a touch and feel.”

Robert Moller, the deputy head of the NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, added that the showcase’s presence in the halls of Congress with lawmaker attendance helps make the case for continued strong investment in the agency.

“At the end of the day, educating members [and] staff, showing them what becomes of the investment in NSF, it's really what's most important,” Moller told Nextgov/FCW.

The NSF event follows budget cuts to the agency for fiscal 2024, with Congress supplying $9.06 billion to the agency, $479 million below the 2023 fiscal year funding levels and $2.29 billion below President Joe Biden’s budget request.  

Lucas, Lofgren, and Stevens all vocalized support for increased NSF funding during the showcase, along with bringing the National Quantum Reauthorization Act to a vote on the House floor following a unanimous vote out of committee. Current provisions in the bill greatly impact the NSF’s operational activities surrounding quantum sciences and technology research, supporting the establishment of traineeships and scholarships in quantum information science and technology fields, extended international collaboration, partnerships with private sector entities and federal agencies for workforce development, and continued quantum testbed research and applications. 

“It is important that we reach out in an inclusive way to make sure that our infrastructure is modified so students and researchers have access to the state of the art tools to accelerate scientific progress,” Lofgren said in remarks at the event.

Panchanathan said that his hopes for federal funding will support research in both QIST and other emerging tech arenas, such as the National AI Research Resource –– an initiative mandated by President Biden’s 2023 executive order on AI. 

He told Nextgov/FCW that these systems are highly symbiotic and stand to impact each other. 

“We are investing in ideas that [do] not even have labels, like we invested in quantum several decades ago,” he said. “So we want that to flourish. At the same time, you want AI, quantum, biotech, advanced manufacturing, advanced wireless, all of these technologies to prosper…train people for the future industries. We want that to happen at the same time. These are not one versus the other.”