Last week, the Senate completed its consideration of the FY 2006 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill. The House passed its version of this bill, H.R. 2862, in mid-June. During consideration of this bill, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), offered an amendment to eliminate funding for the Advanced Technology Program. A motion was made to table or kill Coburn's amendment. That motion passed by a greater than two-to-one vote: 68 "yes" votes to table and "29 "no" votes against.
Under Coburn's amendment, the $140.0 million the Senate Appropriations Committee allocated to ATP would have been eliminated. Current funding is $136.5 million. The Administration requested no funding for ATP, and the House-passed bill complied. Coburn advocated increasing FY 2006 funding for hurricane and tornado warning broadcasting and for the Methamphetamine Hot Spots program. Coburn was the only senator who spoke in support of his amendment. Excerpts from his remarks follow, with some paragraphs combined in the interest of space:
"There is no question that the ATP has done some good in its history. It has $140 million in budget authority and has, this year, $22.4 million in outlays. But there has come a time when we need to make decisions. One of the things I have been consistent on in terms of my time in the Senate is insisting that we start reprioritizing the things that work and the things that do not work.
"The Advanced Technology Program was scrutinized at a hearing of the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this year and had good testimony. I will not demean some of the positive things that have come from this program. There is no question certain positive things have come from it. However, GAO and the Comptroller General noted that 63 percent of the requests for grants through ATP never sought funds anywhere else. ATP is supposed to be the source of last resort on technology. . . . It has not been small businessmen [who have been getting the funding]. It has not been new ideas, innovation coming from small entrepreneurs. What it has been for is the major corporations in this country that have billions and billions and billions of dollars worth of sales every year, and billions in profits. . . . The fact is, good ideas will usually get funded. There is venture capital all across this country looking for good ideas, private capital that will fund great ideas. In this time of fiscal constraint, it is time we reprioritize what we do with this money."
"Many of the program's most vocal supporters believe without Federal funding provided by ATP, countless research projects would receive no money at all, and that ATP exists to remedy the failure of the market to fund research and development. There is no evidence, however, that would support those claims."
"This is an area where there will be some controversy. I don't know if we will win the vote on this amendment. If we start looking at the human faces of what we, as Government, can do versus what business on its own can do and venture capital on its own can do, what we will see is that our parochialism needs to stop in terms of benefits to limited numbers, and we need to increase benefits to the masses. What I am asking by this grant is to eliminate a program that is marginal at best and put the money where it is going to make a tremendous difference in people's lives, born and unborn. It is my hope the Senate will concur with the amendment and that we can have a bipartisan vote to do it. It is also my hope that this is the first of many amendments, as we continue the appropriations process, where we will start making the hard choices - not easy, not black and white, but gray - that are necessary for us to meet the growing needs of the Federal Government in this time of tremendous tragedy along our gulf coast and in a time of tragedy for our budget."
Speaking in opposition to the Coburn amendment were Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Carl Levin (D-MI), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and the chairman of Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, Richard Shelby (R-AL). The full text of Shelby's remarks follow:
" . . . I oppose this amendment. This amendment would terminate funding for the Advanced Technology Program, what we call ATP. ATP is unique among Federal research programs. Most Federal research is focused on advancing scientific knowledge. However, there is a very long road from scientific discovery in a university lab to the commercialization of that product.
"According to the National Science Foundation, less than 1.5 percent of venture capital funding in the private sector is available as seed funding for proof-of-concept. ATP seeks to fill that gap in funding.
"The program was founded to ensure that not only do we win the Nobel Prizes with our excellent venture research but that we also commercialize our discoveries ahead of our foreign partners and thereby create jobs for our own people. Some have said the idea that we are in a global technology race is outdated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it is semiconductors in China and Taiwan or nanotechnology in Europe, our global competitors are investing heavily in programs to beat us to the marketplace. Surely we can afford the $140 million investment included in this bill to stay competitive.
"The Advanced Technology Program projects have succeeded in a wide range of fields. They are already delivering cheaper, better bone marrow transplants, mammograms, and cartilage repair. They are enabling companies to make biodegradable plastic from corn, improving manufacturing, and powering longer lasting lightweight fuel cells.
"Moreover, this program has helped small businesses. More than 75 percent of all ATP projects include a small business. Sixty-six percent of ATP projects are led by or involve only a small business. Of the single-applicant awards, 78 percent have gone to small businesses and 11 percent have gone to medium-sized businesses and nonprofits. By contrast, only 11 percent of solo awards have gone to large businesses.
"In a more extensive and comprehensive review, the National Academy of Sciences found ATP to be an effective Federal partnership that they said ‘could use more funding effectively and efficiently.'
"Measurement and evaluation have been part of the ATP program since its inception. The most recent ATP annual report showed the program has generated $17 billion in economic benefits from 41 of its 736 completed projects.
"In short, this program works. After all, the Council on Competitiveness's National Innovation Initiative report noted that ‘innovation will be the single most important factor in determining America's success through the 21st Century.''
"If we adopt the amendment offered by my friend from Oklahoma, Senator Coburn, we would cut off a program which has as its sole purpose investing in American innovation. This program has the support of the Senate. On March 17 of this year, the Senate voted 53 to 46 in favor of a sense-of-the-Senate amendment to the budget resolution stating: ‘It is the sense of the Senate that the Senate Committee on Appropriations should make every effort to provide funding for the Advanced Technology Program in fiscal year 2006.'
"That is exactly what we are doing. This bill funds technology initiatives which fuel our economy. The program works. In this austere budget environment, there is no room for programs that do not work. We do not have that luxury. I oppose the termination of the Advanced Technology Program. I move to table the Coburn amendment and ask for the yeas and nays."
The roll call vote can be reviewed by copying and pasting the following into your web browser: