May 23, 2022
Quantum Tech Initiative Funding— A First Cut
On May 4, the Biden administration released two documents on quantum information science (QIS) — National Security Memorandum 10 and Executive Order 14073. QIS is a broad field of science and engineering and quantum computers are a “fundamentally different kind of computer, with the ability to analyze information in ways that traditional computers cannot.” The non-technical but real challenge for those interested in the topic is tracking QIS funding in the federal budget.
The President’s FY23 budget includes funding to support QIS with elements buried within larger buckets of spending. Biden’s budget highlights QIS investments at three agencies—the Department of Energy (DOE), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is noteworthy that the Pentagon isn’t referenced.
This memorandum outlines my Administration’s policies and initiatives related to quantum computing. It identifies key steps needed to maintain the Nation’s competitive advantage in quantum information science (QIS), while mitigating the risks of quantum computers to the Nation’s cyber, economic, and national security. It directs specific actions for agencies to take as the United States begins the multi-year process of migrating vulnerable computer systems to quantum-resistant cryptography.
President Biden, NSM-10
Agency budget justifications for DOE, NIST, and NSF contain varying levels of detail about current and planned QIS investments. NSF for example has most of its QIS funding in a single bucket. Biden’s FY23 budget requests $261 million, an increase from $220 million enacted in the FY22 omnibus. NSF says it will invest in “foundational quantum science advances, helping mature a relatively new field; in quantum computing, supporting investigators as they explore alternate quantum computing architectures.”
By contrast, NIST QIS funding is scattered throughout several categories that include unrelated research. NIST’s budget structure and the absence of programmatic detail in NIST’s appropriation also makes tracking the FY22 enacted levels difficult. Of eight categories that include some reference to QIS, only one is entirely dedicated to this subject — Scientific and Technical Research and Services, Quantum Information Science. For that, Biden’s FY23 budget recommends $62 million, a $13 million increase from the enacted FY22 level. NIST requests FY23 QIS funding to:
- Continue building the foundation for quantum technologies and the nascent field of quantum engineering
- Development of new quantum measurements and enabling technologies
- Development of quantum engineering to support creating the quantum engineering ecosystem These, and other efforts, are needed to define robust quantum supply chains.
Most of the Department of Energy’s QIS funding appears to be a single category. Biden’s FY23 budget recommends $293 million, a $48 million increase from the FY22 enacted level.
In addition to NIST, NSF and DOE, it is safe to assume that the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) supercomputing research will leverage QIS research for climate forecasting. Similarly, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration wants to improve climate models creating demand for QIS.
Tracking QIS research at the Department of Defense is challenging. First, the funding is scattered in multiple line items that include unrelated programs. Second, we expect a significant portion of that research to be classified with no published budget numbers. Third, the budgets are distributed across the components — Army, Navy, Air Force, and defense agencies. QIS R&D is included in line items such as Defense Research Sciences and University Initiatives for the uniformed services, and some focused programs such as Navy ISR & Info Operations, Common Picture Applied Research, and, electromagnetic research. For early stage signals about DOD QIS plans, analysis of R&D budget justifications (such as Army RDT&E budget activity 1, Navy RDT&E Budget Activity 1-3, and Air Force RDT&E volume 1) is instructive.
Examples of QIS research in the Navy’s Common Picture Applied Research program include:
- Continue research into the application of on-chip optical processing with distributed quantum states of light for suppressing noise for measurement and communication devices
- Continue research into efficient protocols to implement quantum information processing with atoms and photons
- Continue research into quantum approaches to solve hard decision problems with naval relevance that may outperform classical techniques
- Initiate research on robust devices compatible with long distance distribution of entanglement
Recent technological breakthroughs have demonstrated great possibilities for applications across multiple sectors including energy, medicine, and national security. Those breakthroughs also signal emerging national security threats — if the U.S. can exploit QIS, so can potential adversaries. Those risks including cyber-attacks and breaking U.S. top-secret codes.
EO 14073 is intended to enhance National Quantum Initiative (NQI) advisory committee (which includes individuals from industry, universities, federal labs, and federal agencies) efforts to accelerate quantum research and development across the federal government. The 2018 law authorizing NQI directs DOE and the Commerce Department plus NIST to accelerate QIS R&D. It also created the advisory committee and other coordinating bodies. The EO directs the committee to report directly to the White House.
The memorandum outlines plans to address cybersecurity risks posed by quantum computers and requires NIST to develop quantum-resistant cryptographic standards. Once published, it will take time for upgrading the most vulnerable IT systems to meet them.
The goals set out in the memo include:
- Pursuit of a whole-of-government approach to take advantage of QIS across all economic and scientific sectors and enhance cryptography
- Initiation of a public-private collaboration on cryptography at the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence
- Standards and timelines for federal agencies to transition to quantum-resistant cryptographic standards
- Directing agency development of plans to safeguard critical intellectual property, R&D, and sensitive technology
It will be interesting to see how Congress responds to the White House initiative, particularly in FY23 appropriations bills and reports but the expectation, based on the FY22 explanatory statements is that Congress will support increased QIS spending. In addition, reviewing QIS programs at Army Futures Command-Combat Capabilities Development Command, Office of Naval Research-Quantum Information Science team, Naval Research Lab-Quantum Research, Air Force Research Labs, and DARPA QIS research efforts, provide important signals for current and future QIS spending patterns and priorities.