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If one thinks of high-performance computing and communications as a tent, the thrust of the HPCCI so far has been to raise the center pole higher. It has given the nation more capable computers and faster communications, beginning the process of making many of these enhanced capabilities widely available. The objective of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) as a government initiative is to broaden further the base of the tent: the NII contemplates a network complex linking large numbers of users in schools, hospitals, businesses, homes, and government. Such a broad internetwork will inevitably raise technical challenges of a new and different kind, for example, economical interconnection of thousands of active users. Of course, the existing successes of the HPCCI can help with such problems. Beyond these, it will be necessary to provide a significant research and development component as part of the NII initiative.
Cooperative Efforts on Broad Research Topics
The HPCCI remains an interagency, cooperative effort among diverse federal agencies. While this aspect of the initiative may be the source of some confusion if one is looking for a single point of responsibility and program management, it also means that each federal agency has been able to pursue overall HPCCI goals within the structure of its own assigned mission. Centralized control would not only discourage agencies from supporting the initiative, but would also decrease the diversity of approaches being evaluated and thus reduce the scope of the HPCCI program. Thus, as a group, the HPCCI agencies have undertaken and supported valuable research across a wide spectrum of computer and communications topics.
The National Coordination Office helps the mission agencies by channeling information from industry and the public to the agencies involved in the HPCCI. It has held meetings between representatives of industry and the HPCCI agencies to help assess both progress and future needs. However, the NCO’s information-gathering role is less well developed than its other functions. This is due partly to the absence of the anticipated Advisory Committee to the HPCCI and partly to the limitations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act on participation by people other than federal employees at government-sponsored meetings.
NCO Support of Mission Agencies
The National Coordination Office supports the mission agencies rather than directing them. By avoiding actual direction the NCO leaves mission judgments in the hands of responsible agency officials who are accountable for the allocation of their resources. By avoiding the appearance of direction the NCO encourages an appropriate diversity of research projects as each agency capitalizes on its best ideas. Mission agencies cooperate effectively with each other and with the NCO precisely because it does not threaten their autonomy. This cooperation could easily vanish were the NCO seen as functioning with too heavy a hand. The committee believes that the value of interagency cooperation outweighs the potential benefits that might be gained through more centralized management of the HPCCI.