The enactment of the National Quantum Initiative Act on Dec. 21 creates a multiagency program spanning the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy. As part of the initiative, NSF and DOE will each establish between two and five competitively awarded research centers.
On Dec. 21, President Trump signed into law the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) Act. The bipartisan legislation establishes a coordinated multiagency program to support research and training in quantum information science (QIS). The initiative encompasses the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Energy, and National Science Foundation, and will entail the creation of between four and 10 competitively awarded QIS research centers.
House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the legislation in June, and the House passed it by voice vote in September. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill by unanimous consent on Dec. 13 and the House accepted the amended version on Dec. 19 on a vote of 348 to 11.
Legislation provides framework for R&D and education activities
In general, the NQI Act directs DOE, NSF, and NIST to support R&D and education in QIS, set program goals, and facilitate partnerships among federal laboratories, universities, companies, and other entities. It also offers more specific directions for each NQI agency.
NIST is directed to conduct R&D for “measurement and standards infrastructure necessary to advance commercial development of quantum applications.” It is also instructed to “establish or expand collaborative ventures or consortia with other public or private sector entities, including industry, universities, and Federal laboratories.” The agency already operates a Joint Quantum Institute and a Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science with the University of Maryland. It also supports JILA, a joint center at the University of Colorado Boulder that has a major QIS research portfolio.
The act further directs NIST to create a “quantum consortium,” in accord with plans the agency announced in September. The consortium will bring together stakeholders in the incipient QIS-based industry to identify research needs relating to measurement, standards, cybersecurity, and other matters.
NIST is instructed to spend up to $80 million annually on NQI-related activities from fiscal year 2019 through fiscal year 2023. It is the only agency for which the legislation specifies an overarching funding level.
NSF is directed to support not only QIS research but also“human resources development in all aspects of quantum information science and engineering,” including through graduate traineeships. NSF already funds QIS research and education through several of its divisions, and it has identified QIS as one of its “Big Idea” focus areas. In September, it announced $31 million in awards through new interdisciplinary QIS grant programs, and it is currently considering proposals for “foundries” for developing quantum materials and devices.
While the act does not set an overarching spending target for NSF’s NQI-related activities, it does direct the agency to establish between two and five competitively awarded “Multidisciplinary Centers for Quantum Research and Education.” Each center will receive up to $10 million annually through fiscal year 2023 and will be eligible for renewal for an additional five years. Applicants can include higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations, as well as multi-institutional collaborations that can include private-sector entities. Among their activities, the centers are expected to help integrate “industry perspectives” into R&D and educational activities in QIS.
DOE is directed to undertake a QIS research program and provide “research experiences and training” for undergraduate and graduate students. The act lists seven areas of specific interest for training: quantum information theory, quantum physics, quantum computational science, applied mathematics and algorithm development, quantum networking, quantum sensing and detection, and materials science and engineering.
The act directs DOE to establish between two and five competitively awarded “National Quantum Information Science Research Centers.” Each is to be allocated up to $25 million annually through fiscal year 2023, which is similar to the funding level for DOE’s existing Nanoscale Science Research Centers. Like the NSF centers, the QIS center awards will be for five years with the possibility of renewal. Applicants can include national laboratories, universities, research centers, multi-institutional collaborations that can include private entities, as well as “any other entity that the Secretary of Energy determines to be appropriate.”
As with NSF, the act does not set an overarching spending target for NQI activities. DOE has already been ramping up its investment in QIS. In September, it announced 85 single-year and multiyear research awards totaling $218 million and plans to spend about $120 million on QIS in fiscal year 2019.
Three bodies will coordinate and administer the initiative
The NQI Act establishes three mechanisms for coordinating and administering the initiative.
First, it enshrines in statute the QIS subcommittee that the interagency National Science and Technology Council established last spring. The legislation specifies it is to comprise representatives from NIST, NSF, DOE, NASA, the Department of Defense, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, White House Office of Management and Budget, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as any other agency or department the president considers appropriate.
Among the subcommittee’s tasks are to coordinate QIS R&D programs and budgets across federal agencies, assess R&D infrastructure requirements and the state of the QIS workforce, and establish goals and priorities. It is directed to publish an NQI supplement to the president’s annual budget request and a five-year strategic plan for the initiative. The subcommittee has already released a “national strategic overview,” and is currently accepting feedback on the document.
Second, the president is to establish a National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee comprising representatives from industry, universities, and federal laboratories who will be selected based on recommendations from “Congress, industry, the scientific community (including the National Academy of Sciences, scientific professional societies, and universities), the defense community, and other appropriate organizations.” The committee will provide external input on the progress and management of the initiative and on trends in QIS-related science and technology more broadly. It is also required to produce a biennial report.
Third, a National Quantum Coordination Office will be established to administer the initiative. Its director is to be appointed by the OSTP director. The office will serve as a point of contact for NQI, promote funding opportunities, and conduct public outreach. It will be funded by the agencies represented on the NSTC QIS subcommittee.
The subcommittee, advisory committee, and coordination office are mandated to continue their activities for 11 years, and may be renewed thereafter at the prerogative of the president.
Scientific societies instrumental in spurring the legislation
The NQI Act’s swift and uncontentious six-month journey through the legislative process was preceded by more than a year of behind-the-scenes work. A key player in pressing for the legislation was the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), an alliance of scientific societies and other collaborators in industry and academia. Among other scientific societies, NPI partners include the Optical Society (OSA) and the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Laser Science. (OSA and APS are AIP Member Societies.)
At the request of the Science Committee, NPI produced a white paper advocating a national quantum initiative in June 2017. The committee held a hearing on QIS-based technology that October, preceding the eventual introduction of the NQI bill.
In remarks on the House floor prior to the final vote on the bill, Smith and Johnson both stressed the bipartisan and bicameral cooperation that enabled the bill to pass during the 115th Congress as well as the contributions from stakeholders in government, industry, and academia.
In a statement following congressional approval of the bill, OSA Executive Director Elizabeth Rogan said,
Congressional approval of the National Quantum Initiative Act demonstrates a recognition of U.S. government leaders of the growing importance of quantum science and technology. As a co-founding partner of the National Photonics Initiative, OSA will work with our government, academia, and industry stakeholders to support the success of this critical investment.
APS Chief Government Affairs Officer Francis Slakey told FYI in a statement,
The strong support for the bipartisan National Quantum Initiative Act by both Congress and the administration shows that policymakers recognize QIS as critical to our economy and national security. The authorization of new funding for coordinated, early stage research programs in QIS at DOE, NIST, and NSF is a clear commitment to maintaining U.S. leadership in this potentially transformative field.