Obama seeks big boost in cybersecurity spending

Besides push for IT security spending in the wake of WikiLeaks, requests in budget for increased outlay on robotics, manufacturing tech

WASHINGTON -- The White House is proposing a big increase in cybersecurity research and development in next year's budget to improve, in part, its ability to reduce the risk of insider threats and ensure the safety of control systems such as those used at power plants.

In detailing their 2012 budget proposal on Monday, White House officials didn't mention WikiLeaks and its release of tens of thousands of diplomatic cables and military documents, or the ability of the Stuxnet worm to damage Iran's nuclear control systems. But the fingerprints of both those incidents on this budget proposal seemed clear enough.

Philip Coyle, associate director for national security, said at the budget briefing on Monday that the administration is proposing "considerable growth" in cybersecurity research. When all the cybersecurity spending plans across the board are added together, cybersecurity research and development spending will increase 35% to $548 million next year, he said.

Stuxnet illustrated how a cyberattack could corrupt a specifically targeted critical control system -- in this case, Iran's nuclear centrifuges. But attacks on critical facilities in the U.S. have been a longstanding concern.

The Department of Homeland Security formed teams last year to test power plants for cybersecurity weaknesses.

Other cybersecurity initiatives that are funded in this spending plan include new research programs at the National Science Foundation, as well as research on a trusted identity system. Day-to-day spending on cybersecurity by federal agencies is not part of this research budget.

The cybersecurity research spending is part of an overall R&D budget proposal for next year that includes across-the-board increases for a range of research efforts, including robotics and climate change, and funding to expand the supply and capabilities of science, technology, engineering and math teachers.

Overall, the budget seeks $66.1 billion for basic and applied research across all areas, an 11.6% increase. "The aim of that is to develop the solutions -- the innovative solutions to the many challenges we face," John Holdren, Obama's top science adviser, said at the budget briefing.

Peter Harsha, director of government affairs at the Computing Research Association, wrote in a blog post that the White House proposal "is essentially 'dead on arrival' as far as the House is concerned."

"But it's still important to have a good request from the President and the agencies on record when we go advocating for the science agencies," he wrote. CRA members include many universities, such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and Harvard, as well as Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and many other companies.

President Barack Obama has made science and research funding a high priority and has repeatedly said that the U.S. is facing a new "Sputnik moment."

But the White House budget faces Republican lawmakers in the House who have already proposed more than $2 billion in cuts to science in this year's budget.

Holdren said at the budget briefing that if the Republicans' proposed cuts were to happen, "they would cripple our ability to advance innovation."

The White House research proposal will provide, among other things, $7.8 billion to the National Science Foundation, 13% more than was approved this year. The Department of Energy's Office of Science would see $5.4 billion, a 10.7% increase.

The federal budget proposal specifically seeks new research in advanced manufacturing technologies, including nano-manufacturing and robotics.

The White House believes that robotics is "nearing a tipping point in terms of its usefulness and versatility" and initiated a grant proposal last fall to seek robotics proposals.

The government is seeking development of "co-robots," systems "that can safely coexist in close proximity to or in physical contact with humans in the pursuit of mundane, dangerous, precise or expensive tasks," according to the grant announcement.

Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. government's CTO, told Computerworld that a number of agencies are interested in the role robotics might play in manufacturing, and in productivity gains they may bring.

"We believe there is an opportunity to take a fresh look, and a more energizing look at robotics," Chopra said. "We want to run the spectrum on robotics -- that which can deliver breakthroughs on current technologies that are applied in new and novel ways, as well as building blocks of future capabilities that are just still nascent."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Editors' Picks
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies