Senate Subcommittee Sees Results of Federal Computing Program

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Publication date: 
9 May 1995

Come fiscal year 1997, the Administration's High Performance
Computing and Communications (HPCC) program will need
reauthorizing.  On May 4, Conrad Burns (R-MT), chairman of the
Senate Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee, held a hearing
to "evaluate the program,...and to revisit the question of the
appropriate role for the government in this kind of project." 

The witnesses experienced some heart-stopping moments as the
hardware on which they planned to demonstrate the program's utility
refused to cooperate.  Burns commented, "Son-of-a-gun!  There's
your billion dollars!"  But eventually the glitches were worked
out, and the witnesses were able to provide compelling examples of
various information technologies, and their relevance to the
rural-state subcommittee members in attendance [Burns, Larry
Pressler (R-SD), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Ted Stevens (R-AK)].

John Toole, head of the HPCC's National Coordination Office, called
the 12-agency program a "model `virtual' agency."  Toole quoted a
recent National Research Council study which concluded that "the
government's investments in information technology have made a
significant impact over the long term."  He added that while
"enormous progress was visible" for the $4 billion spent over the
first four years of the program, "much remains to be done....  The
real information revolution is still in the future."

Toole reported that the FY 1996 request of $1.143 billion would be
used to fund competitively selected projects.  (In a recent round
of awards, about 55 percent went to academia, 20 percent to
industry, and 25 percent to government labs.)  For the future,
Toole cited an NSTC strategic implementation plan, which highlights
the following focus areas:  global-scale information infrastructure
technologies; high performance scalable systems; high confidence
systems; virtual environments; user-centered interfaces; and human
resources and education.

Bill Burrall, a junior high school teacher from West Virginia,
described how the Internet "allows students and teachers to
overcome the boundaries of time and distance."  There are
"unlimited, untapped resources out there available to us," he said;
"It's critical that we receive continued funding."  Steven Running,
of the University of Montana School of Forestry, demonstrated uses
of remote sensing to monitor land management issues such as
droughts, fire danger, snow cover, and water quality.  "The single
biggest factor in making [remote sensing] truly useful," he stated,
is networks to get timely information to land owners and managers
at a low cost, so they can use it for planning purposes.

Sen. Stevens questioned how small businesses with little time or
staff could utilize the vast resources of the Internet.  Richard
Gowan, president of the South Dakota School of Mines and
Technology, explained a networking service his school is developing
to help small companies find information on suppliers, services,
and federal assistance.  Gowan testified that "the federal services
available are truly impressive," but small companies needed
assistance "to know which one to go to."  Stevens repeated concerns
about not leaving behind "people who can't afford computers," but
acknowledged the potential importance of information technologies
to small states and rural regions.  "I think [HPCC] should have a
very high level of priority," he concluded.

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