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Homeland Security opens new funding windows for Digital Government research

"Everything changed" is the watchword for life after Sept. 11, and digital government research funding is no exception. After terrorists seized U.S. aircraft and rammed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the National Science Foundation (NSF) moved into "high gear" on rapid cooperation with national security agencies, says Gary Strong, Acting Executive Officer and Program Manager of the NSF's Computer & Information Science & Engineering directorate.

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Three levels of effort are under discussion: one, the immediate application of new technologies, which probably would not affect NSF researchers; two, identifying ongoing research with a one-to-three-year payoff, and three, plotting new research with a five-to-seven-year payoff, Strong says.

"There may be new money for these last two," adds Strong, and as soon as this fiscal year, which began in October. Security agencies are talking about reallocating parts of their budgets for information technology initiatives, he says. Also, Congress is batting around passage of a cyberterrorism bill with new money for research before the end of the year.

"Across the government, they could be spending something on the order of the size of the ITR (Information Technology Research) Initiative or perhaps as high as 10 times that," says Rick Adrion, division director for the NSF's Experimental and Integrative Activities directorate. "There's a lot going on in Washington."

Already, researchers are submitting homeland security proposals for the NSF's ITR small (under $500,000) grant cycle, Strong says. Target areas for the security proposals, due Feb. 6-7, 2002, include information assurance, data mining in distributed or massive databases, knowledge sharing in collaborative environments and bioinformatics. (For complete list, see

Another way to get involved in homeland security research is to talk to your NSF program manager about refocusing your project toward relevant issues, Strong suggests.

"If you need additional money to do that, you'll probably find a receptive ear," he adds.

One of the most urgent needs is to link security agencies' intelligence databases and make them searchable, says Lawrence E. Brandt, program manager of NSF's Digital Government program. Intelligence bureaus historically have not been good at sharing. Now they have to be.

"I just talked to somebody today from Computer Week who was interested in the effort INS (the immigration agency) is making to get information about incoming people from the FBI and roll it into the decision-making process whether to let the people into the country," Brandt says.

Officials are also looking for new ways to track money around the world, and ideas on automating foreign language translations, to speed multinational collaboration, Brandt adds. Although there will be some quick fixes using off-the-shelf products, basic research is critical.

"As the president keeps saying, it's not a short-term fix," Brandt says. "It's not so much about fixing today's system, it's helping agencies figure out how their strategy should change based on how technology is moving."

"More research has to be done on the problems and better ways of dealing with them than simply reorganizing government," adds Strong.