Now US National Quantum Initiative Act (QIA) signed into law in December 2018 with a statutory fund of $1.275 billion to be allocated to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Energy (DOE), and National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance research into Quantum Information Science and provide funding for workforce development. In August 2022, the QIA was amended to include an additional $500 million for DOEs to establish Quantum Network Infrastructure Research and Development Program as well as an additional $165 million for DOE to establish a
Quantum User Expansion for Science and Technology (QUEST) program of concern in 2018 as it currently is is the United States retaining leadership in this technology, a concern that both sides of the political aisle share.
Funding that was included in the original 2018 law only continues through the end of Fiscal Year 2023 on September 30, 2023 and the US Congress is now considering renewing this law for 5 years or more. However it was clear to us that there would likely be changes to budget allocations as well as areas of focus. In 2018, the focus is on First Science which places first priority on fundamental research. That was appropriate at the time but now five years later the technology and the market have changed so we hope to see some changes. In this article, we will point out some of the changes to the Law that may occur in the next revision based on reports from the Advisory Committee on the National Quantum Initiative as well as recent testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of five quantum experts. The expected changes will reflect the fact that the entire quantum ecosystem and the level of international competition is now different from what it was five years ago.
One concept for many of the potential changes listed below is a heavier focus on application and commercialization than on pure research. So here’s a list of some of the potential changes we’ve heard proposed when the law is updated. This is only a partial list as there will likely be other suggestions we haven’t seen yet.
- Expanding the participation of government agencies, especially for agencies that can become technology users.
The original QIA provided funding for NSF, NIST, and DOE. Additional agencies with an increasing interest in quantum technology could include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Department of Defense (DOD). While some of these institutions receive quantum research funding from other programs outside of the QIA, there may be some merit in including a dedicated fund for them in a QIA update.
- Encourage public/private partnerships to help accelerate quantum research results to bring these innovations to market.
One such example, is the new directorate of the NSF named Directorate of Technology, Innovation and Partnership (TIP). Another example is to fund an enhanced QUEST program to expand user access to quantum resources for training and application development purposes. Such a program could benefit end users and the developing quantum workforce by enabling them to access quantum computing resources that would otherwise be unattainable without this support. It also benefits providers by helping them gain enhanced revenue streams to support their quantum operations.
- Expanding support for additional types of workforce development programs.
Although QIA 2018 did include funds to develop a quantum workforce. Much of the focus at that time was on supporting graduate level students seeking scholarships or postdoctorals to undertake quantum research. Since then, a number of additional ideas for expanding the quantum workforce have emerged including programs to support mid-career engineers and programmers wishing to transition to quantum, early education to start teaching quantum concepts to high school and middle school students, additional support to teach undergraduate students quantum material, and a bridge program for students who graduate with bachelor’s degrees to prepare them for graduate programs in quantum technology.
- Provide funds to improve the supply chain of quantum materials and components
In 2018, the availability of robust quantum supply chains is not a big concern. Most of the activity is low-volume R&D and there are more underlying issues that need to be resolved by then. Now, there is much greater concern due to the need for larger volumes of raw materials and components, potential sourcing which may depend on unfriendly countries, limited capacity and choice of suppliers to meet demand. There has been little to no funding in QIA 2018 action to address this issue, but it is an issue organizations face every day. For example, materials such as Helium-3 are important ingredients for use in refrigerator diluents where sources are very limited. Some items such as diluent refrigerators or specialty lasers may have wait times that can last several months or even as long as a year or two. Other components may come from a single source and this creates a big risk if something happens to that one supplier.
- Increase support for cooperative partnerships with US allies and leverage resources in other countries
Quantum technology is a difficult technology and to succeed, the US needs to work with friendly allies to help innovate, advance technology and tap talent available in other countries. To that end, the United States has signed several Statements of Cooperation in quantum technology in recent years with countries including the Netherlands, France, Denmark, United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Japan, and others. While this is a good position statement, we haven’t seen any specific funding to support it. QIA 2018 did not include funds to support this type of program. In recent years, many of these countries have budgeted significant sums to fund their own internal programs and are far more advanced in quantum technology than they were five years ago. In addition, US organizations want to capitalize on foreign talent by increasing exchange programs, making it easier to get visas and speeding up immigration applications.
As the US Congress considers how to update the bill, they have a prime concern. They are eager to maintain US leadership while ensuring that US quantum technology does not fall into the wrong hands of unfriendly actors. This would be a balancing act as tight export controls could hurt technological progress, but controls that are too loose would also hurt US interests.
In the testimony we’ve seen so far, we haven’t heard of anyone disclosing specific figures regarding funding levels. Whether the $1.275 billion in QIA 2018 will increase, decrease, or stay the same is not yet known. Under the debt ceiling bill that was just passed, US non-defense spending will remain essentially flat for FY 2024 and 2025 and possibly beyond. So any increase in the quantum level of funding may need to be taken at the expense of some other line in the government budget. So at this time we cannot make any predictions on absolute funding levels, but we do believe that there will be differences both in focus and in how funds are allocated to different programs and departments. However, the good news is that for all the problems the US government is facing, support for advancing US quantum technology is overwhelmingly supported by both political parties, so we firmly believe that a reform of the Quantum Initiative Act of some form is bound to happen.
To see in more detail what has been recommended so far, you can read the report from the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee which can be accessed Here as good view 3 hours video and related documents session held on 7 June 2023 by the DPR Science, Space and Technology Committee.
June 9, 2023