Congress is gearing up to expand a bipartisan quantum research and development effort aimed at boosting U.S. national security – and beating China in the quantum tech race.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing last week to evaluate the first five years of the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) – which will sunset on Sept. 30 – and what policies should be considered for its reauthorization.

President Trump signed the NQIA in December of 2018, creating a Federal program to speed quantum research and development “for the economic and national security” of the United States. The legislation established goals and priorities for a ten-year plan to accelerate quantum information science and technology applications development.

The NQIA established a National Quantum Coordination Office within the White House Office of Science and Technology to serve as a central point of contact for stakeholders and promote commercialization of Federal research and support basic quantum science research and standards development at the National Institute for Standards and Technology.

The act also called on the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to each establish five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers. The bill allowed the Secretary of Energy to allocate up to $25 million annually per center through 2023, and for the director of NSF to allocate up to $10 million annually.

“The first five years of the National Quantum Initiative has succeeded in strengthening the quantum ecosystem in the U.S.,” Charles Tahan, the director at the White House’s National Quantum Coordination Office, testified during the June 7 hearing. “It has solidified our all-of-nation response, recruited new researchers and Federal departments and agencies to the field, and helped spur significant industry investment.”

“It is critical that the U.S. reaffirms and strengthens its commitment to quantum information science by reauthorizing the National Quantum Initiative Act,” Tahan continued, adding, “By doing so, the U.S. will signal to the world that it will continue to lead in this critical, yet emerging, field.”

The White House leader reminded the lawmakers that the NQIA turbocharged R&D efforts currently underway at several Federal agencies. He made five recommendations to the committee as they continue to consider the reauthorization of the bill:

  • Reauthorize the NSF and DOE quantum information science research and education centers and remove the limit on the number of centers authorized for these agencies;
  • Support NSF programs to expand and broaden participation in quantum information science;
  • Strengthen the whole-of-government approach of the original NQIA by expanding the authorized core agencies to include the State Department, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Department of Homeland Security;
  • Begin translating discoveries in quantum information science to commercial utility and agency missions through lab-to-market engineering and systems integration programs and public-private partnerships; and
  • Prioritize funding to upgrade the aging infrastructure of laboratory facilities and create and equip new laboratories with the tooling necessary to engage in cutting edge quantum information science research.

Former Energy Department Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar, who helped implement the NQIA in 2018, agreed with the White House on its recommendations for the next iteration of the legislation.

Also of note, Dabbar called on lawmakers to give DOE $200 million for a “post-Exascale” computing program that incorporates quantum as well as consider allowing funding for programs between the U.S. and its allies.

“China is right on our heels of quantum computer and networking efforts,” Dabbar said. “America has the lead in this crucial future technology that will impact the economy and security. Now is the time to accelerate research and deployment of quantum computers and networks. We should build on the lead you have already enabled.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.