The current U.S. National Quantum Initiative Act (QIA) was signed into law in December 2018 with authorized funding of $1.275 billion to be allocated to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance research into Quantum Information Science as well is provide funding for workforce development. In August 2022, the QIA was amended to include an additional $500 million for the DOE to establish a Quantum Network Infrastructure Research and Development Program and also an additional $165 million for the DOE to establish a
Quantum User Expansion for Science and Technology (QUEST) program The concern in 2018 as it is today is for the United States to retain leadership in this technology, a concern which is equally shared on both sides of the political aisle.
The funding included in the original 2018 act only continues to the end of the 2023 Fiscal Year on September 30, 2023 and the U.S. Congress is now looking at renewing this act for 5 years or more. But it is clear to us that there will likely be changes in the budget allocations as well as the areas of focus. In 2018, the focus was on Science First which placed first priority on fundamental research. That was appropriate at the time, but now five years later the technology and the market has changed so we expect to see some changes. In this article, we will point out some of the changes in the Act that might occur in the next revision based upon the report from the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee as well as recent testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology from five quantum experts. The expected changes will reflect the fact that the overall quantum ecosystem and level of international competition is different now than it was five years ago.
One concept for many of the potential changes listed below is a heavier focus on applications and commercialization rather than pure research. So here is our listing of a few potential changes we have heard proposed for when the act is renewed. This is only a partial list as it is likely there will be other suggestions that we haven’t seen yet.
- Broaden government agency participation, particularly for those agencies that could be users of the technology.
The original QIA provided funding to the NSF, NIST, and DOE. Additional agencies that have increase interest in quantum technology could include the National Institute of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense (DOD). While some of these agencies received quantum research funding from other programs outside of the QIA, there may be some merit to include specific funding for them in the QIA renewal.
- Encourage public/private partnerships to help accelerate the fruits of quantum research to bring these innovations to market.
One example, is a new directorate from the NSF called the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP). Another example would be for funding an enhanced QUEST program to broaden user access to quantum resources for training and application development purposes. Such program can benefit end users and quantum workforce development by allowing them access quantum computing resources that might not be affordable without this support. It also benefits providers by helping them obtain an enhanced revenue stream for supporting their quantum operations.
- Expand support for the additional types of workforce development programs.
Although the 2018 QIA did include funding for developing a quantum workforce. Much of the focus at that time was to support graduate level students seeking fellowships or postdocs to perform quantum research. Since then, a number of additional ideas for developing the quantum workforce have sprung up including programs for supporting mid-career engineers and programmers who want to move into quantum, early education to start teaching quantum concepts to high school and junior high school students, additional support for teaching quantum material undergraduate students, and bridge programs for students graduating with bachelors degrees to prepare them for graduate programs in quantum technology.
- Provide funding for improving the supply chain for quantum materials and components
In 2018, the availability of a robust quantum supply chain was not a great concern. Most of the activity was low volume R&D and there were more fundamental problems that needed to be solved then. Now, there are much greater concerns due to the larger volume requirements of basic raw materials and components, potential sourcing that may rely on unfriendly countries, a limited capacity and supplier choice to meet the demand. There was little or no funding in the 2018 QIA act to work on this issue, but it is an issue that organizations are now facing on a daily basis. For example, a material such as Helium-3 is a critical material for use in dilution refrigerators that has very limited sources. Some items such as dilution refrigerators or specialty lasers may have lead times that can last multiple months or even as long as a year or two. Other components may be single sourced and this poses a large risk if something happens to that one supplier.
- Increase support for cooperative partnerships with U.S. allies and leverage resources in other countries
Quantum technology is a difficult technology and to succeed the U.S. will need to work with friendly allies to help innovate, advance the technology, and to leverage the talent available in other countries. To that end, the United States has signed within the past few years several Statements of Cooperation in quantum technologies with countries including The Netherlands, France, Denmark, United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Japan, and others. Although these statements are nice as position statements we haven’t seen any specific funding to back them up. The 2018 QIA did not include funding for supporting these types of programs. In recent years, many of these countries have budgeted significant amounts to fund their own internal programs and are much more advanced in quantum technology than they were five years ago. In addition, U.S. organizations would like to leverage foreign talent by increase various exchange programs, making it easier to get visa’s and expediting immigration applications.
As the U.S. Congress considers how to renew the bill, they have a key concern. They very much want to maintain U.S. leadership while ensuring that U.S. quantum technology does not fall into the wrong hands of unfriendly actors. It will be a balancing act as to stringent export controls may impair the advancement of the technology, but controls that are too loose would be harmful to the U.S. interest too.
In the testimony we have seen so far, we have not yet heard anyone express a specific number with regards to the funding level. Whether the $1.275 billion funding in the 2018 QIA will be increased, decreased, or stay the same is not yet known. Under the recently passed debt ceiling bill, the U.S. non-defense spending will remain essentially flat for Fiscal 2024 and 2025 and possibly beyond. So any increases in the quantum funding levels may need to be taken at the expense of some other line item in the government’s budget. So we can’t make any predictions at this point about the absolute funding level, but we are certain that there will be differences in both the focus and how the funds are allocated towards the different programs and departments. However, the good news is that of all the issues facing the U.S. government, support for advancing U.S. quantum technology is heavily supported by both political parties, so we are very certain that a renewal of the Quantum Initiative Act in some form will surely occur.
To see more detail about what has been recommended so far, you can read the report from the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee which can be access here as well as view a 3 hour video and associated document of the hearing held on June 7, 2023 by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
June 9, 2023