SAN JOSE, Calif. – In the final weeks of his administration, President Obama has convened a group of semiconductor veterans to study the top issues affecting the chip industry in the U.S. The group is expected to submit a report to the next administration recommending significantly higher federal spending on semiconductor research.
A new working group under the well-established President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will look at ways to strengthen the U.S. industry in the face of competition from China and the growing cost and complexity of pursuing Moore’s law.
“Some countries that are important in this domain are subsidizing their domestic semiconductor industry or requiring implicit transfer of technology and intellectual property in exchange for market access,” the White House said in a thinly veiled reference to China in a statement online announcing the new work group.
Indeed, China has prepared a $20 billion investment fund in semiconductors. It also helped organize a $100 billion private fund to spur increasingly active investments in chip M&A deals.
“The industry may also be approaching technological and economic inflection points,” around the slowing pace of Moore’s law, the new U.S. group added.
Indeed, Intel is already stretching out its time between process nodes beyond the traditional 18-24 months. Engineers are working harder to find new ways to deliver performance increases and power and price declines given traditional scaling techniques are breaking down as processes approach physical limits.
The statement suggested it will recommend “additional public and private investments in R&D” as part of a “set of recommendations on initial actions the Federal government, industry, and academia could pursue to maintain U.S. leadership in this crucial domain.” It gave no specifics of how long it will take to arrive at those recommendations.
In a sign of the importance the administration gives the issues, it appointed a top White House technology advisor and PCAST chair John Holdren to co-chair the work group along with former Intel chief executive Paul Otellini. Other members of the group include:
- Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman
- John Hennessy, President Emeritus of Stanford
- Paul Jacobs, Executive Chairman of Qualcomm
- Ajit Manocha, former CEO of GlobalFoundries
- Craig Mundie, a former senior advisor to Microsoft
- Mike Splinter, former CEO of Applied Materials
- Laura Tyson, a professor at UC Berkeley and NEC Director
The Semiconductor Industry Association recommended forming such a task force on policy for the semiconductor industry, SIA chief John Neuffer said in an online statement applauding the move.
“It’s very important for the U.S. government to signal the semiconductor industry is important to the U.S economy and national security,” said Neuffer in an interview.
The SIA has long lobbied Washington to raise federal spending on semiconductor research and lower U.S. statutory tax rates which at 35% are higher than rates of competing countries. It also has lobbied for more visas for foreign-born students receiving advanced STEM degrees in the U.S. and for expanding free trade with deals including the Trans Pacific Partnership, a position neither current presidential candidate supports.
Separately the SIA has started work on a report outlining the industry’s vision for the chip sector's road map. As many as a dozen small groups have been helping the SIA draft the document which it will finish before the end of the year. Next week, the SIA will host the first gathering for the whole group working on the vision statement.
The new PCAST group comes after years of lobbying an administration that is widely seen as closely engaged with the tech community. Obama’s recovery act funded work on smarter electric grids, a manufacturing effort spawned numerous research centers and policy efforts at the FCC sought to protect so-called Net neutrality.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times