It is time for Congress to reauthorize the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) Act

The reauthorization of NQI is the first, most important step to putting the U.S. back in the lead on quantum. It will bolster U.S. innovation and send the right...

As a former career diplomat with the State Department and a global government affairs executive, I know from decades of first-hand experience how critical it is for the U.S. to work with allies and partners, particularly when it comes to developing emerging technologies. As we face the growing weight of complex problems in need of urgent, cost-effective solutions, we must also confront and defeat grave national security threats from our adversaries, particularly China. Therefore, developing and deploying quantum is an existential national security imperative. As a nation, we must move beyond the “speed of relevance,” as once coined by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and move instead at the speed of necessary superiority – and do so together with our allies.  

Yet, when it comes to quantum, many of our foreign partners are rapidly advancing ahead of us in application development and building the necessary quantum ecosystems that breed commercial success. It is important that we ditch our hubris about how well we think we are doing and get serious about broadening our quantum industrial base. The hard reality is that the global quantum tech community is small, and no single country owns the entire supply chain for any quantum technology. One quantum cryptography executive operating between the U.S. and an allied nation told me, “there are only 30 people in the world who can do what we do. Eight of them work for us, 16 of them are Chinese, and the rest work for a U.S. intelligence agency.”  We must find a way to stay ahead while also creating a deeper and broader “trusted clean quantum” ecosystem with our allies. To do this, the U.S. government must first transition programs out of niche government and academic labs into real-world application development.   

Where to start? First, Congress must move quickly to reauthorize the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) Act, which lapsed in September. New NQI legislation, advancing through the House of Representatives, expands U.S. quantum programs by including the building of quantum applications through testbeds to address both domestic and societal challenges, such as sustainability, electrical grid resilience, infrastructure and supply chain management. Our partners in the European Union and Canada have already done this. The U.S. is playing catch up. Since most algorithms are being developed by start-ups and small businesses, it is absolutely critical that they are included in these testbeds. Not only will their participation help foster the burgeoning quantum industry, but they also have the ability to provide rapid solutions required by a nation that must stay one step ahead of near-peer adversaries. Such a move would also incentivize private capital to get into the quantum game, which would then reduce government taxpayer risk and dependency on federal programs. Win-win.  

To illustrate how quantum supply chains now work, consider that a Canadian-based quantum computing system might rely on quantum chip fabrication in the U.S. and incorporate European cryogenics. Cloud and API access to these hardware systems then enables a U.S. quantum software company to build applications using engineers based in the U.S., Netherlands, and India to solve problems for the European space program, Space Force, or a private U.S. energy company. NATO recently launched the DIANA program to accelerate its integration of quantum startup tech collaboration and co-investment across the thirty-one member states of the alliance; and the Australia-UK-U.S. (AUKUS) initiative specifically calls out quantum collaboration under Pillar 2 of the agreement. In all these scenarios, it is the quantum industry – private companies – that are bringing quantum technologies and applications forward. Therefore, it is imperative that the U.S. and our allies are able to access all parts of the quantum supply chain, including the innovative start-ups that are developing the initial quantum and hybrid applications.  

During the NQI reauthorization process, it is critical that Congress expand U.S. quantum programs beyond the current focus on hardware into the software stack of quantum computing systems and include other agencies that can utilize quantum solutions, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, which are vital for both commercial and government space initiatives. Quantum for space is already providing real value. In 2023, the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) awarded a U.S. quantum software company a prototype prize for its quantum algorithm applications to optimize real-time scheduling for multiple Earth Observation Satellites. The same company is developing quantum software solutions for commercial and government space situational awareness (SSA) to tackle the growing danger of space debris in Low Earth Orbit.   

The reauthorization of NQI is the first, most important step to putting the U.S. back in the lead on quantum. It will bolster U.S. innovation and send the right signals to capital markets and adversaries alike. Congress must position the U.S. to credibly set the global standards around critical quantum technologies, while securing the global quantum supply chain together with other free democracies. We urge the Senate to work with the House to reauthorize NQI as soon as possible. Congressional action is needed now because the U.S. must move at “the speed of necessary superiority,” lest we become irrelevant.  

Dana Linnet is President and CEO of The Summit Group DC and a national security expert with over 25 years in government and the private sector. She is a former career diplomat with the State Department, an aerospace and defense executive, and an international business leader. She is also an advisor to Artificial Brain USA, a quantum software startup. 

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    This Feb. 27, 2018, photo shows electronics for use in a quantum computer in the quantum computing lab at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Describing the inner workings of a quantum computer isn’t easy, even for top scholars. That’s because the machines process information at the scale of elementary particles such as electrons and photons, where different laws of physics apply. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    The quantum battle for the Indo-Pacific theater: Intersections of technology and territory

    Read more