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A $1.2 billion US quantum plan hangs in the balance, thanks to the midterms

November 8, 2018

US politicians are racing to try to create a 10-year initiative for supporting quantum science before mid-December. If they fail, changes in Congress in January could hamper America’s progress in emerging quantum technologies.
 
The background: America leads the world in areas like quantum computing, which could deliver advances in everything from AI to drug discovery. But China, which is spending billions of dollars on quantum research, is advancing rapidly, and the European Union is also forging ahead, inspired by a €1 billion ($1.1 billion) flagship plan for quantum R&D.
 
Why the midterms matter: Republicans and Democrats have been working on legislation this year to create a National Quantum Initiative that would pump $1.25 billion into R&D and workforce development. The House of Representatives passed a draft bill in September, and politicians from the House and the Senate are trying to hammer out details of a joint one.
 
If they can’t reach a deal soon, though, changes in the leadership of key committees in a new Congress in January could mean many more months of haggling. Given the speed at which the technologies are moving, that would be really unfortunate.
 
Will they, won’t they? Speaking at the Chicago Quantum Summit today, Dan Lipinski, a Democratic congressman from Illinois who’s been leading efforts to create a plan, said that “it’s hard to say” whether a deal can be struck in time. “I’m hopeful we’ll get an agreement, but no-one ever knows what happens in a lame duck [session],” he added. In a telephone interview, an aide to Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman who has also been leading the push for a national plan, struck a more upbeat note, saying both sides “are getting really close” to an agreement.
 
Money matters: Even without a national plan, funding for quantum research in the US will continue in some form from bodies like the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation. But several speakers at the Chicago summit stressed that a longer-term commitment is crucial if America is to maintain its leadership in quantum technologies. “The stability of funding in these areas [over time] is really, really important,” said Steve Binkley, the DOE’s deputy director of science.

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