House Passes Exascale Computing Bill

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Publication date: 
16 September 2014

“The Secretary [of Energy] shall conduct a coordinated research program to develop exascale computing systems to advance the missions of the Department” states H.R. 2495, the American Super Computing Leadership Act.   The House passed this legislation last week by voice vote and sent it onto the Senate. 

“Mr. Speaker, H.R. 2495, the American Super Computing Leadership Act, is an important update to a current statute which will ensure that America stays at the forefront of supercomputing technology for the benefits it brings to our national security, the economy, and, more broadly, our research capabilitiesas a Nation,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) describing this legislation which he introduced in June 2013. Hultgren was joined by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) in sponsoring the bill, as well as 21 other representatives from both parties. 

Congress has long taken a deep interest in high performance computing.  H.R. 2495 amends the Department of Energy High-End Computing Revitalization Act that was passed in 2004.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has held hearings on the subject; a May 2013 hearing focused on a discussion draft of the bill.

The bill is seven pages long.  It defines exascale as “computing system performance at or near 10 to the 18th power floating point operations per second.”  In a section on the execution of the DOE exascale computing program the bill states:

“The Secretary shall, through competitive merit review, establish two or more National Laboratory-industry-university partnerships to conduct integrated research, development, and engineering of multiple exascale architectures, and—
(A) conduct mission-related co-design activities in developing such exascale platforms;
(B) develop those advancements in hardware and software technology required to fully realize the potential of an exascale production system in addressing Department target applications and solving scientific problems involving predictive modeling and simulation and large-scale data analytics and management; and
(C) explore the use of exascale computing technologies to advance a broad range of science and engineering.”

The legislation requires DOE to provide access to U.S. researchers in industry, academic institutions, DOE national laboratories, and other federal agencies to exascale systems “on a competitive, merit-reviewed basis.”  DOE must also “conduct outreach programs to increase the readiness for the use of such platforms by domestic industries, including manufacturers.”  A provision also calls for an “integrated strategy and program management plan” to be submitted within 90 days of the bill’s enactment, status reports when the annual DOE budget is sent to Congress, and a report to be submitted to Congress at least 18 months before “the initiation of construction or installation of any exascale-class computing facility” describing its projected cost, technical risks and challenges, and an independent assessment of expected scientific and technological advances. 

No Member spoke against the bill when it came before the House on September 8.   Several Members spoke in support of the legislation, with House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) explaining “The country with the strongest computing capability will host the world’s next scientific breakthroughs.”  Hultgren noted that China’s National University of Defense Technology now has the world’s fastest supercomputer.  In her remarks, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) spoke of the importance of computing systems that could perform a million trillion operations per second for research in Alzheimer’s disease, climate change, high-temperature superconductivity, aerodynamic modeling, pharmaceutical development and the modeling of fusion plasma.  Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) described supercomputing as “an economic security issue.”

After twelve minutes of discussion the House passed H.R. 2495 by voice vote by a legislative mechanism used for noncontroversial legislation. 

This bill does not set authorization levels for the funding of this program, instead setting program direction for DOE.  There has been significant growth in appropriations bills for high-performance computing.  The FY 2013 budget for DOE’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program within the Office of Science was $405.0 million.  The current FY 2014 budget is $478.1 million.  In March the Administration submitted an FY 2015 request of $541.0 million, an increase of $62.9 million or 13.2 percent over this year.  The House-passed FY 2015 appropriations bill provides the full request; Senate appropriators recommended an increase of 16.5 percent to $557.0 million. 

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