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Congress OKs Funding U.S. Supercomputers

Congress gave its final approval Wednesday to a high-performance computing bill that dedicates $165 million over the next three years to support U.S. development of the world's fastest supercomputers.

The Department of Energy (DOE) High-End Computing Revitalization Act of 2004 (H.R. 4516) establishes a research and development (R&D) program within the DOE to develop new, supercomputing capabilities. The bill also authorizes DOE to establish supercomputer user facilities accessible to U.S. researchers on a competitive, peer-reviewed basis.

"Supercomputing capability is increasingly becoming a vital component of the efforts of industry and academia to remain global leaders," House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said in a statement. "By supporting the development of the world's fastest computers, and ensuring U.S. researchers and engineers have access to them, H.R. 4516 will strengthen overall U.S. competitiveness and help ensure a healthy, robust economy."

The House originally passed H.R. 4516 in July and sent the legislation to the Senate, where it was amended to establish at least one R&D center devoted to software development for supercomputing applications. Wednesday's House action incorporates the Senate changes. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

A spokesperson for the House Science Committee said the bill allocates $50 million for supercomputing efforts in 2005, $55 million in 2006 and $60 million in 2007.

House Energy Subcommittee Chairman Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) originally introduced the legislation. Upon passage, she said, "High performance computers are central to maintaining U.S. leadership in many scientific fields. With House passage of this bill, American researchers are one step closer to gaining the tools they need to remain the world leader in the development and use of supercomputers."

Two U.S. companies, IBM and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), made headlines last week when computers they built were officially certified as the fastest in the world. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Blue Gene, which was built by IBM, was certified as the world's fastest computer, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Columbia, built by SGI, was certified as the world's second-fastest.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's VP for technology and strategy, in a joint statement with SGI Chairman and CEO Bob Bishop, said, "The most important aspect of HPC (high performance computing) is that through government, university, industry partnerships, we can build fast, useable, reasonably priced systems in order to advance science and solve problems of importance to our society, from the most sophisticated scientific simulations to cancer diagnosis."

Bishop added, "Supercomputing drives a long food chain. It begins with research and discovery, ripples through invention and innovation, and finally extends into the economy, public safety and national security at large. H.R. 4516 is clear recognition that to out-compete in the 21st Century, the U.S. will have to out-compute."