The U.S. Approach to Quantum Policy
In the nearly 25 years since the first quantum technologies workshops, quantum information science has advanced and its potential to drive major advances has become more apparent. The U.S. government has rightly recognized that it needs to play an active role in ensuring the nation remains competitive in this critical field.
Quantum information science (QIS) is an umbrella term encompassing several different technologies. In this report, “QIS” or “quantum” encompasses the following five technologies:
- Quantum sensing and metrology, which refers to the use of quantum mechanics to enhance sensors and measurement science.
- Quantum computing, which refers to the development of computers that use quantum mechanics to perform calculations exponentially faster than classical computers.
- Quantum networking, which refers to the development of secure communication protocols that use the principles of quantum mechanics to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of transmitted information.
- QIS for advancing fundamental science, which refers to using quantum devices and QIS theory to expand fundamental knowledge in other disciplines; for example, to improve understanding of biology, chemistry, and energy science.
- Quantum technology, which catalogs several topics including using quantum technologies to create practical applications; creating the necessary infrastructure and manufacturing techniques for electronics, photonics, and cryogenics; and minimizing the risks associated with quantum technologies, such as developing post-quantum cryptography to protect sensitive information.
There has been important action from both the executive branch and the legislative branch in recent years to shape QIS policy.
On the executive side, the White House has issued two seminal reports articulating a national strategic approach to QIS through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which is the principal body through which the executive branch coordinates quantum policy across the diverse entities that make up the federal research and development (R&D) enterprise. NSTC published its first report titled Advancing Quantum Information Science: National Challenges and Opportunities in July 2016 under President Obama. This report outlined three principles to help guide an “all-of-government approach to QIS,” which were to maintain stable and sustained core programs that could be enhanced as new opportunities appear and restructured as impediments evolve; invest strategically in targeted, time-limited programs to achieve concrete, measurable objectives; and closely monitor the QIS field to evaluate the outcome of federal QIS investments and quickly adapt programs to take advantage of technical breakthroughs as they are made.
NSTC released its second report, National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science, in September 2018 under President Trump, and this report identified six policy opportunities and priorities for federal quantum investments:
- Choosing a science-first approach to QIS
- Creating a quantum-smart workforce for tomorrow
- Deepening engagement with quantum industry
- Providing critical infrastructure
- Maintaining national security and economic growth
- Advancing international cooperation
On the legislative side, the most significant piece of legislation related to quantum to date has been the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA), a bill signed into federal law in December 2018 that was designed to accelerate and advance quantum science and technology in the United States. Essentially, the NQIA created a framework for quantum R&D and authorized just over $1.2 billion in funding over five years (fiscal years 2019 to 2023) for a variety of initiatives, allocated primarily across the three agencies that have historically been heavily involved in QIS R&D: NIST, NSF, and the Department of Energy (DOE). Some of the NQIA’s key components include authorizing these agencies to strengthen QIS programs and research centers; establishing a new federal agency called the National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO), housed under the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and tasking it with coordinating QIS activities across the federal government, industry, and academia; and establishing a new federal advisory committee called the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee (NQIAC), composed of experts from academia, industry, and government and tasking it with providing independent assessment of and recommendations for the NQIA program. The programs the NQIA authorize expired on September 30, 2023, and the bill needs to be reauthorized in order to continue U.S. leadership in this critical field.
The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 amended the NQIA to authorize R&D in quantum networking infrastructure; instruct NIST to develop standards for quantum networking and communication; establish a DOE program to facilitate a competitive, merit-reviewed base process for access to U.S.-based quantum computing resources for research purposes; and require NSF to support the integration of QIS into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculum at all education levels.7 It also explicitly includes QIS in the new NSF directorate focused on emerging technologies, the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP).
This rest of this report explores four broad policy areas the U.S. government uses to promote competitiveness in quantum. These are policies that support quantum R&D, strengthen the quantum workforce, build a quantum ecosystem, and collaborate with international partners.