National Quantum Initiative Turns One

Where are we now?
18 December 2019
By Jennifer Douris O'Bryan
artist rendering of a quantum chip

This article was updated on 23 December 2019.

As the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) reached the one-year mark on 21 December 2019, progress is clearly evident, as was excitement and hope that the initiative will be successful in providing the kind of support needed to make the United States a leader in the technology applications to come. US agencies are quickly ramping up their activities related to the NQI, and Congress is providing a surge of funds that will be integral to fulfilling the vision set forth for the initiative.

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

One of the first significant steps in implementation of the NQI was the establishment of the National Quantum Coordination Office within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The office is charged with overseeing interagency quantum programs, including coordination of the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy Quantum Centers. The coordination office also provides support to the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science and the yet-to-be-formed NQI Advisory Committee.

Department of Energy (DOE)

In early 2019 the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science sought input from the public regarding the DOE Quantum Centers and announced their intention to issue a Funding Opportunity Announcement in FY2020 to establish these centers.

DOE also took the lead in assembling the NQI Advisory Committee by requesting nominations. Members of this committee will provide advice to guide US quantum programs, including "assessments of trends and developments in quantum information science and technology (QIST), implementation and management of the NQI, whether NQI activities are helping to maintain United States leadership in QIST, whether program revisions are necessary, what opportunities exist for international collaboration and open standards, and whether national security and economic considerations are adequately addressed by the NQI." Members of the committee will be picked in consultation with OSTP.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is also moving forward in the process of establishing centers through their Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes (QLCI). These centers will include "focus areas of quantum computation, quantum communication, quantum simulation and/or quantum sensing." The solicitation also states that NSF intends for awards to be at $5 million a year for five years per center. Although the deadline for full proposals for round one of QLCI is past, Letters of Intent for round two of the solicitations for centers are due on 3 August 2020, followed by a deadline for preliminary proposals on 1 September. Full proposals are by invitation only and due on 1 February 2021.

National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST)

The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) made quick work of establishing their Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), which began before the authorization was passed into law. According to the announcement from NIST, the QED-C "members will collaborate on precompetitive R&D such as quantum device design and prototyping, increase efficiencies while sharing resources, and leverage their own research investments with those of the federal government and other members." QED-C had 63 corporate and university members as of May 2019 and is growing fast.

US Congress and Appropriations

Though the NQI set forth authorization amounts for quantum activities in the bill, this is not the same as providing appropriations, which is needed for the relevant agencies to see increases in funding. Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill on 19 December that provides a significant funding increase for the NQI. Before Congress was able to come to agreements that allowed the FY20 appropriations bills to move forward, there was great concern that political disagreements could lead to a full year continuing resolution (CR) that would have kept funding at last year's levels. CRs are particularly problematic for new programs, such as the NQI, and would have significantly delayed implementation of the NQI if congress had not been able to pass this year's appropriations bills. Fortunately, this situation did not come to pass.

For the three agencies covered by the NQI, Congress directed significant increases in funding for their quantum research and activities. At the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Congress provided an increase of $10 million over last year's funding. For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the bill recommends a funding amount of at least $106 million toward their quantum activities, including $50 million toward establishing NSF quantum centers. For the Department of Energy (DOE), the bill directs $195 million toward their quantum activities, including $75 million towards establishing the DOE quantum centers.

All in all, this is a great start for the initiative, but it is still the beginning of a multiyear process of both implementing the NQI within the agencies and continuing to fight for funding the initiative in the yearly appropriations bills approved by Congress.

As one of the founding members of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), SPIE has led in the effort to pass the NQI Act and is currently lobbying to fund the initiative. The NPI is co-founded by SPIE and OSA, along with the support of APS, IEEE Photonics, and LIA.

Jennifer Douris O'Bryan is the SPIE Director of Government Affairs.

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