House seeks more supercomputing funds

Disappointed with President Bush's budget request for high-end computing, House lawmakers are seeking to boost Energy Department efforts to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in the field.

"The committee is disappointed that the efforts of the High-End Computing Revitalization Task Force ... did not translate into increased fiscal year 2005 funding requests for advanced scientific computing," the House Appropriations Committee said in a report on the bill to fund Energy programs in fiscal 2005.

The interagency task force, led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, recently released its findings and recommendations on U.S. supercomputing capabilities.

The House-passed bill, H.R. 4614, would provide $234 million for the Energy's supercomputing activities -- an increase of $30 million over Bush's request. House lawmakers passed the measure June 25 by a vote of 370-16. The Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee could debate its version of the legislation this week.

Lawmakers have been concerned that the United States is losing its competitive edge since Japan introduced the world's fastest computer, known as the Earth Simulator, in March 2002.

"The committee provides these additional funds to support the office of science initiative to develop the hardware, software and applied mathematics necessary for a leadership-class supercomputer to meet scientific computation needs," the report said. It stipulated that not more than $25 million could be used for hardware.

The panel also encouraged the department to make "substantial time available on its new leadership-class supercomputer" to national laboratories, government agencies and universities on a competitive basis.

The language is similar to provisions in separate measures, H.R. 4218 and H.R. 4516, that the House is expected to approve Wednesday. The first bill would require the National Science Foundation and Energy Department to grant U.S. researchers access to high-end computers, and the other would mandate that the department build supercomputing facilities for academic and government researchers.

While the committee sought to bolster U.S. competitiveness in the field, it reduced funding for supercomputing efforts to manage the nation's nuclear-weapons stockpile. The panel proposed $666 million -- $75 million less than Bush sought -- for advanced simulation and computing at the National Nuclear Security Administration because the agency has not worked with committee lawmakers to justify the scope, cost and schedule of the program, according to the bill report.

The panel said the agency should use $10 million for power and fiber-optic upgrades and for developing a technology training center, as well as for hardware and software upgrades for the Ohio Supercomputer Center in Springfield, Ohio. The agency also should use $2.5 million to complete the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's 3-D "chip-scale packaging" activities.

Lawmakers have been frustrated by the program's lack of progress over the nearly 10 years it has been in operation. The government started the initiative to ensure the safety and adequacy of the nuclear-weapons stockpile by conducting computer simulations of nuclear explosions rather than live testing.

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