Spurred by concerns over potential terrorist attacks on the government's network systems, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that will earmark $880 million over the next five years to increase the security of America's IT infrastructure.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., introduced the bill following two post-Sept. 11 Science Committee hearings on the emerging cyber-terrorist threat and the lack of a coordinated U.S. response.

The Senate is currently drafting similar legislation with the only difference possibly being the actual level of funding.

Supporters of the legislation contend that available technologies provide inadequate protection, yet relatively little research and development is being conducted to develop new approaches to protecting computer systems and networks. A government study last fall gave failing marks to most federal agencies' systems.

"The demand for expertise in network security, disaster recovery and other cyber defense skills has never been higher, yet the supply of qualified IT trained professionals falls short. We must have training both for a new generation of cyber warriors whose most important weapon is not a gun but a laptop and for private sector companies who must continually protect their Internet presence," said co-sponsor Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

H.R. 3394 -- Cyber Security Research and Development Act -- authorizes the National Science Foundation to establish new Internet security research centers and to fund fellowships and college grants supporting advanced cyber security.

Granting an initial expenditure of $35 million in 2003, the bill also authorizes the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create partnership grants between industry and academic researchers and to fund a program to bring researchers from other fields into computer security research.

"I am convinced that, over time, H.R. 3394 will come to be seen as a fundamental turning point in the nation's approach to cybersecurity. This bill is the equivalent of legislation the Congress passed in the wake of the Sputnik launch in the late 1950s," said Boehlert.

"You'll recall that the unexpected Soviet launch of the Sputnik forced us to focus on the nation's deficiencies in science, and led us to pass path-breaking -- and it turned out, overwhelmingly effective -- legislation to improve the nation's ability to conduct research and educate students."

Added Boehlert, "Similarly, the attacks of Sep. 11 have turned our attention to the nation's weaknesses, and again we find that our capacity to conduct research and to educate will have to be enhanced if we are to counter our foes over the long run."