One Year Later, the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium Should be America’s Model for How Science Responds to Emergencies

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This week marks the first anniversary of the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium (HPC), a first-of-its-kind partnership that brought together our nation’s collective computing power to rapidly execute COVID-19 research in the early days of the pandemic. The HPC, now a 43-member consortium, includes representatives from government, industry and academia and has made critical contributions to studying the virus and finding treatments.

The biggest lesson learned from this unique collaboration is the importance of working together to meet the challenge of the moment – but we shouldn’t have to wait for the next crisis to be prepared to marshal our resources for good.

President Biden recently said that our nation must “refresh and reinvigorate” our national science and technology strategy to set us on the right course for the future. IBM applauds this commitment to infuse science into the foundation of our country and we look forward to working with the Administration to help make that vision a reality. We also applaud the president’s nomination of Dr. Eric Lander, a scientist with impeccable credentials, to be the cabinet-level director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

If Dr. Lander is confirmed, IBM has identified three critical priorities for elevating the role of science in our nation’s response to future calamities, and we look forward to discussing them with OSTP and officials across the Biden Administration.

Create the Science Readiness Reserves to Tackle COVID-19 and Future Crises

In the early days of the pandemic, the private sector and federal government moved swiftly to create the High Performance Computing Consortium, accelerating research for fighting COVID-19 by providing access to the world’s most powerful high-performance computing resources. IBM is proud to have helped create the Consortium – but we strongly believe our nation shouldn’t have to improvise the next time a crisis strikes. We should learn from this pandemic and create a new institution better positioning us to face the challenges of the future.

IBM proposes leveraging the learnings from the Consortium to create the Science Readiness Reserves – a National Guard-like corps of volunteer scientists that can swiftly be mobilized to apply critical technologies in times of crisis. These scientists and resources would stand ready for the next major societal challenge, including events that the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently identified in its annual report – such as another pandemic, climate change, or extreme weather. IBM is already supporting the first iteration of the Reserve, the National Strategic Computing Reserve, which would specifically offer computing power and expertise in the next crisis.

IBM advocated that Congress study how to create the Science Readiness Reserves, and recommended launching a Task Force to assess next steps. We urge the Office of Science and Technology Policy to support the creation of such a Task Force, and we offer our expertise to make this much-needed body a reality.

Launch a National Strategy to Pool Public and Private Investments to Drive STEM for All

We share the Administration’s goal of guaranteeing that the fruits of science and technology are fully shared across America and among all Americans. The U.S. faces a severe shortage of diverse scientists in emerging fields. We must dramatically increase the number of women, Black, and Hispanic Latinos working in STEM fields for the U.S. to remain globally competitive, as noted by the National Science Board’s Vision 2030 report. While a significant amount of money from the private sector funds advancing STEM education, there is no central, coordinated effort that addresses urgent areas of need, shares resources, and brings the combined weight of the government and industry together to ensure increased diversity in STEM.

IBM urges the federal government to develop a coordinated national strategy to address these issues bringing together diverse communities, universities, and industry to identify gaps and ensure resources are maximizing impact. We applaud the Administration’s focus on equity and are committed to ensuring that we work together to support diverse scientists and build an inclusive pipeline for future scientists.

We look forward to working with the Administration and partners who serve underrepresented communities to address the critical need for equity in science. At IBM, we pioneered a new approach to skills and education called P-TECH, a public education model that provides high school students from underserved backgrounds with the academic, technical, and professional skills and credentials they need for competitive STEM jobs. IBM is also working with nearly two dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities on a quantum education and research initiative, aimed at driving a diverse and inclusive quantum workforce.

Dramatically Accelerate Federal Investment in U.S. Science and Technology Research

The Administration is rightly focused on ensuring the long-term health of science and technology in our nation and U.S. leadership in technologies and industries of the future. To achieve these critical goals, the U.S. must at least double the federal R&D and STEM education budget. The country’s underinvestment in R&D — 0.7 percent of GDP today versus 1.9 percent in 1964 — means the U.S. now ranks 14th among competitor nations in public investment in science and technology. We need to act now to reverse that trend, starting with supporting legislation like the CHIPS Act and the Endless Frontier Act.

The Endless Frontier Act, bipartisan legislation that would invest $100 billion over five years in American science and technology research, offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen America’s commitment to STEM. Provisions in the legislation reinvigorate the nation’s economic future by supporting scientific research in energy and biotechnology, and in key technologies like semiconductors, quantum computing, and AI. These technologies can help the world solve current problems and others beyond the reach of today’s scientific and technical capabilities.

The past year has been unlike any other, and thanks to unprecedented breakthroughs in science, we have a light at the end of the tunnel. Should Dr. Lander be confirmed, IBM stands ready to work with OSTP to advance these new ideas and build the strong foundation of science that will help us better understand the world around us in order to combat pressing global challenges.

– Dr. Dario Gil, Director of IBM Research

 

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