also creates the appearance of a self-sustaining process. If businesses are growing and new products are proliferating, why should national leaders be concerned about IT research? This question remains central to contemporary political debate about federal budgets for IT research, despite recent increases in funding. The difficulty of explaining and justifying federal IT research spending influenced the evolution and eventual transformation of the first large federal IT research initiative, the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative (HPCCI);1 it enlarged the scope of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) and the associated federal proposals for new and larger research programs, notably the 1999 Information Technology for the Twenty-First Century (IT2) initiative, and shaped the reports that came out of them;2 and it continues to color the annual budget debates about the level and distribution of IT research funds.

An enduring lack of understanding of the nature of both IT research and industrial innovation in IT makes debates about federal programs in this area unusually contentious. Experts from industry and academia, individually and as participants in groups such as Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) committees, PITAC, and professional organizations, have asserted publicly that both government and industry are underinvesting in IT research—especially fundamental research. Calls for increased funding have met with skepticism from those who are critical of the rationale for increased funding, uncertain about the nature of IT research (which is apparently less comprehensible than, for example, classical scientific research) and who question why it should be expensive (a concern that reflects a limited understanding of software research). Unless these criticisms and questions can be answered, technological progress may be stymied by a lack of needed research funding.

The nation's increasing reliance on IT demands a reexamination of the IT research base. Both the substance of the research and how it is carried out are at issue. As for substance, the potential is mounting for problems to arise and for opportunities to be lost as a result of deficiencies in the technologies already being distributed quickly and widely into the economy. Society is becoming dependent on information systems that are fragile, and companies striving to be competitive in the short term sacrifice opportunities for IT innovations that depend on sustained or less-constrained exploration, raising questions about long-term prospects. Research is needed to address a host of new problems—many arising as a consequence of interactions among a large and growing number of individual components—as well as long-standing problems that are becoming more prominent and, once a technology is in use, more difficult to manage.

Procedurally, the situation challenges the confederation of govern-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement