GOP takeover in Congress could bode ill for supercomputing and science

Climate change could be a pivotal issue when it comes to funding

U.S. Congress Washington DC

WASHINGTON - You can count on Republicans in the next Congress to champion less regulation on issues that matter to tech -- particularly, overreaching privacy and cybersecurity rules.

But the GOP-controlled Congress of 2015 may be less likely to boost spending in areas like basic research, and supercomputing or high performance computing development.

In some ways, the Republican win is good for tech, "if you think about the risk of overregulation," said Robert Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

But Republican control will raise questions about support for the tech economy through funding of science and research, education and training. "Those are going to be a lot weaker," said Atkinson. "I think they (the Senate) will put budget cutting ahead of investment."

The U.S. is already in a technology race it has yet to acknowledge. Europe, China and Japan are now increasing investments in high performance computing (HPC).

"The U.S. needs to boost HPC funding in order to maintain competitiveness in global markets, and not just for science, but for industry as well," said Steve Conway, an HPC analyst. "I'm not sure, in general, either party in Congress is seeing that clearly."

Until Republicans sort out their leadership positions, it's hard to know how receptive key committees will be to appeals for more funding in some research areas. "There are still Republican champions for science in the Senate, and plenty who have been supportive of the Federal investment in fundamental research," said Peter Harsha, director of government affairs for the Computing Research Association.

House leaders are getting more involved in peer review research funding, something illustrated by their campaign against the "Truthy" research project examining the spread of memes, or ideas that spread virally in Twitter.

In the Senate, some Republican lawmakers want to see less government research on climate change, and that could hurt HPC funding.

Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), may take over the Subcommittee on Science and Space. He is now its ranking member and doesn't want NASA to study climate change; he wants it to focus instead on space.

In 1988, it was James Hansen, a NASA scientist, who, in what is now regarded as landmark testimony, told lawmakers that the earth "is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements." His testimony, widely reported on, did a lot to focus interest on this subject.

Hansen, indirectly, also drew attention to the relationship between HPC and climate change, by pointing to computer climate simulations in the 1980s that helped him to reach his conclusions about the warming planet.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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