Beginning in the early 1980s, several federal agencies developed independent programs to advance many of the objectives of what was to become the HPCCI. The Office of Science and Technology Policy assumed coordination of these activities, acting through the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology and two of its subgroups, the Committee on Physical, Mathematical, and Engineering Sciences and its High Performance Computing, Communications, and Information Technology (HPCCIT) subcommittee. The program received added impetus and more formal status when Congress passed the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 (PL 102–194) authorizing a five-year program in high-performance computing and communications. This act affirmed the interagency character of the HPCCI, assigning broad research and development emphases to the 10 federal agencies that were then participating in the program without precluding the future participation of other agencies. Public Law 102– 194 also laid the foundations for some of the eventual broadening of the HPCCI and expanded the concept of the networking component, which became known as the National Research and Education Network program.
The HPCCI fosters collaboration by recognizing common goals, reducing administrative barriers, and providing a forum for communication among agencies. The diverse agencies in the HPCCI program retain their individual missions and invest in computing activities relevant to those separate missions. The HPCCI does not usurp agency authority by imposing central control.
The organizational structure of the HPCCI has evolved steadily, largely in response to external pressures for improved visibility of decision making, requirements for accountability for expenditures, and the flow of information into and out of the initiative. In September 1992, the National Coordination Office (NCO) for High Performance Computing and Communications was established to aid interagency cooperation and to serve as liaison for the initiative to the U.S. Congress, other levels of government, universities, industry, and the public. The NCO assists the mission agencies in coordinating their separate programs, offering a forum through which the separate agencies can learn of each other’s needs, plans, and actions. As part of its coordinating function, the NCO gathers information about the HPCCI activities of different agencies and helps to make this information available to Congress, industry, and the public. Since its formation, the NCO has published the FY 1994 and FY 1995 “blue books” describing the HPCCI, its accomplishments, and future objectives.2
The technical developments and issues outlined below indicate the larger context in which the HPCCI is best understood. During the 1980s, computing in the United States underwent a revolution and spread rapidly beyond its traditional boundaries: individuals increasingly used ever more powerful personal computers in their homes, schools, and businesses.3 Many segments of government, industry, finance, science, medical research, and engineering regularly used the fastest of the high-performance computers, so called supercomputers, to solve complex problems. Computer networks and other forms of reliable, high-speed digital communications moved—in varying degrees—from the computer research community into the nation’s commercial telecommunications network, and thus into general use.