First Monday

Remarks of Chairman David Wu 
to the Conference on Designing Cyberinfrastructure for Collaboration and Innovation

Thank you for inviting me to meet with you this morning. I’m especially pleased to be here as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation of the House Science and Technology Committee. As you know, for the past 12 years the Committee has been known as the Committee on Science because of the former majority believed that the federal government should, at most, support basic research and certainly not technology development. Both our new Chairman, Bart Gordon of Tennessee, and I believe that the government has always had a major role in the development of new technologies and want to emphasize that important role in the Committee’s activities. That belief is reflected in a return to the Committee’s original name: the Committee on Science and Technology.

In addition to serving on the Science and Technology Committee, I am also a member of the Education and Labor Committee, which oversees the Department of Education and important jobs programs. My work on these committees, the dynamics of my district and my private sector experience as a technology and trade attorney have made me keenly aware of the growing problem of maintaining America’s economic competitiveness.

What I thought I would do this morning is provide a brief overview of the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction and some of the issues we intend to address during the coming year. Then we will finish with your questions. I hope this will be the beginning of a dialogue, and that you will tell me issues you think the Subcommittee should address.

First, let me start with the legislative picture of what the biggest issue will be for the Full Committee and Congress as a whole in science and technology.

Since 2004, there has been a surge of reports on competitiveness followed quickly by legislative proposals. These reports include the Council on Competitiveness’ Innovate America, the National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm and many, many others. The National Academies’ recommendations have captured the most support and are the basis of comprehensive legislation that was introduced by Chairman Gordon. These two bills, H.R. 363 and 364, focusing on improving K–12 science and math education and increasing funding for R&D will be the early priority of the Science and Technology Committee. I believe that the full House will focus on an Innovation Agenda early in this session.

The Academies’ report also highlights the important role that energy independence plays in maintaining our country’s edge, and includes recommendations for long term basic research programs to meet our nation’s energy challenges. In the 110th Congress, Chairman Gordon will act on those recommendations and introduce legislation creating a DARPA–like office at the Department of Energy called ARPA–E that will support transformational research. Similarly, the Committee will place a high priority on examining research findings on climate change. Specifically, we will look at updating existing programs at the EPA and DOE to address specific regional and economic vulnerabilities to climate change.

To jumpstart efforts in the new 110th Congress, Chairman Gordon has introduced focused proposals to enable quick action by Congress. The first two bills address improving science and technology education by establishing a teacher education program at NSF, and increasing funding for basic research in the physical and mathematical sciences and engineering, and grant support for outstanding researchers.

The House Committee on Science and Technology has been described by Chairman Gordon as the “Committee of Good Ideas.” I fully intend for the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation to live up to its name and act as a leader in innovative policy that will strengthen our economy, enhance our national competitiveness, and improve our quality of life. I ask for your help and guidance in crafting policies and making decisions that best exploit our Nation’s great technological base.

The Technology and Innovation subcommittee has the responsibility to oversee some of our Nation’s most important federal research and development programs.

The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the $US745 million budget of the National Institute for Standards and Technology. What few people realize is that NIST is the only agency which has a constitutional mandate — to maintain the nation’s system of weights and measures. From the beginning of the IT industry, NIST supported its development from the characterization and measurements of semiconductor materials to the development of the latest encryption algorithms. Established in 1907, NIST’s focus has always been to support industry through development of standard reference materials, supporting standards development, and inventing new measurement tools. With three Nobel prizes over the past three years, NIST has been an unqualified success. As part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, the NIST lab budget will double over the next ten years. I want to ensure that a NIST with a billion dollar budget is appropriately structured to meet our economy’s and the cyberinfrastructure industry’s needs for the next 100 years and I welcome your thoughts.

In addition, our Subcommittee oversees the $US1.5 billion budget for R&D activities at the Department of Homeland Security, the $US560 million budget for surface transportation R&D at the Department of Transportation, the $US1.9 billion Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer programs, international technology issues, voting technologies, and other technology–based programs. A common thread through all of these programs and agencies is the creation of and research into cyberinfrastructure, including security and encryption, trusted systems, and standards development.

I intend for the Subcommittee to be vigorous in its oversight of existing programs, but also to explore all aspects of what’s required to be innovative and competitive in the next 25, 50, and 100 years. During the past ten years, the Internet has revolutionized ways of doing business and communications infrastructure has improved dramatically. Our country as a whole is a formidable competitor in the global economy. However, we do not lead in all that we should — or must.

Just looking at competitiveness policies from the past is not adequate. Past performance is not an indication of future returns. We need to understand the unique challenges of today and tomorrow and then develop appropriate policy responses. That is what I intend to do. Cyberinfrastructure has changed the global marketplace and we need to react accordingly.

You’ve probably been reading the many news reports lamenting the state of the federal science budget. I was disappointed that the previous Congress was not able to complete the budget process and put us in the unfortunate position of almost flat funding for FY 2007. The Science and Technology Committee and Speaker Pelosi stand firmly in favor of increasing funding for science and education, and we have been working with our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to get these programs and agencies the money they need. We will invest in seed corn. However, we depend on people like you to draw our attention to specific projects or problems that affect our Nation’s R&D enterprise. I encourage you to take an active role by telling me what issues you have with our science and technology enterprise.

I have focused particular attention on the interoperability of health care information technology systems, an issue which fits hand–in–hand with this conference. There is an enormous amount of inefficiency in the way the health care system operates which wastes billions of dollars and, more importantly, can be deadly dangerous for patients. Using information technology to make the full health care system — from emergency responders to home health providers, to third–party payers, whether private or federal government — fully interoperable could revolutionize our quality of life by reducing health care costs and improving health care services for all Americans.

So what are the barriers? Currently, only ten percent of hospitals and five percent of doctors use IT effectively. Health care workers are not trained in the ways to use technology to make their jobs easier and more efficient. Clearly, this needs to change. With a highly mobile population being served by a highly fragmented health care system, it is not good enough that a single office be able to track a patient’s records internally. A hospital in my home state of Oregon should be able to download and use records of a patient’s visit to the emergency room during a trip to D.C. A pharmacy should be able to view the medications that were administered or prescribed by a doctor’s office. Interoperable health IT will cut down on errors and reduce replication of tests and paperwork, and it will save lives.

We also need to address the security and privacy concerns of patients. If we do not, we will have both underutilization of healthcare IT and disastrous loss of privacy by those who do use IT. Currently, NIST is working with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that systems under development meet certain security standards, and future IT development must continue to ensure that patient privacy is paramount.

Last year, I introduced the 10,000 Trained by 2011 Act, which would have provided funding to the National Science Foundation for research grants that would have funded projects exploring how to improve the use of information across industries. In the 110th Congress, the House will pass my bill. I intend to further look at how we can facilitate the use of information technology specifically in the health care industry. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is already playing a leadership role in the development of standards for health information technology, a key part of interoperability. I intend to encourage a natural partnership between NIST and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services; one with expertise in standards development and the other a prime driver for health care.

There are a number of other priorities that will shape the Committee’s agenda for the next two years. The reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program is approaching, and the Subcommittee will take a careful look at that program and how it is meeting its goals of stimulating innovation. We will also rebuild the science and technology efforts at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes research into building a cyberinfrastructure that supports interoperable communications for first responders.

The Subcommittee will also take another look at computer security. We’ve heard about poor computer security since the beginning, and it seems that the goal recedes, even with our achievements. With disturbing regularity we hear about identity theft, credit information stolen from computer databases, and bad practices leading to the loss of personal and valuable information on a massive scale. I want to use the Subcommittee to understand why and how such events happen and what the federal government can do to improve computer security broadly by sponsoring research, developing standards, and smart procurement. In all these areas, the federal government should set the gold standard for good computer security.

I want to review whether our current system of IP protection is appropriate for the way technologies are developed and used — especially for cyberinfrastructure. I would like the Subcommittee to review IT standards development and the proliferation of consortia–based standards development as opposed to traditional standards development organizations. I would like to understand the trend and impact of Intellectual Property being incorporated into standards. And finally, I want to better understand the split between open source and proprietary standards and what that means for competitiveness and innovation in the cyber industry.

Finally, like everything else we deal with on a daily basis, electronics have a finite socio–economic life cycle. With the exponential growth in use, there is also a growing problem of what to do with computers, cell phones and other electronic gadgets when folks are ready to move on to the next model. State laws governing the disposal of electronic waste vary, and the Administration has taken no action to set a federal standard for dealing with the sometimes toxic remnants of electronic equipment. To exacerbate the situation, the mandate to broadcast in HD can create a massive waste stream of existing analog televisions. It’s not enough to have just a regulatory approach saying you can’t dump these things in the trash. We need to learn how to dispose of them safely and efficiently, and not have them poison a local dump or some poor kid in a developing country. The Technology and Innovation Subcommittee will take the lead in establishing a research and development program to determine best practices for the disposal and recycling of e–waste. Hopefully in the future we can rest assured that our cyberinfrastructure will be far friendlier to the environment, that we will consider costs and products of creation, use and disposal of our dear electronic friends.

Let me close by saying that if you wonder whether we can do all or even part of this ambitious agenda, let me point something out. The Science and Technology Committee was at the forefront of supporting ARPANET, which morphed into NSFnet and that we know today as the Internet. This committee was active in the development and support of supercomputers and advanced computing initiatives. No, I did not invent the Internet, but the Committee was there from conception to birth to adolescence. And although past performance is not an indication of future returns, we shall be at the policy forefront of cyberinfrastructure issues. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you on these issues. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today, and let’s move on to your questions and comments. End of article


About the author

Congressman David Wu (D–OR) represents Oregon’s First Congressional District, which stretches from Portland to the Oregon Coast, encompassing all of Washington, Yamhill, Columbia, and Clatsop counties, and part of Multnomah County. In the House of Representatives, Congressman Wu serves on the Education and Labor Committee, which has sole jurisdiction over education policy. He serves on the Science Committee, which has jurisdiction over research and technology policy and NASA. He is Chair of the Science and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. Given Congressman Wu’s knowledge and interest in international policy, he was asked to serve on a third committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee.



Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, David Wu

Remarks of Chairman David Wu to the Conference on Designing Cyberinfrastructure for Collaboration and Innovation
First Monday, volume 12, number 6 (June 2007),