Commerce Dept. Funding Cut; Additional Cuts Loom in the Future

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Publication date: 
21 April 1995

President Clinton has signed into law a bill slicing $90 million in
current year funding from the Department of Commerce's Advanced
Technology Program.  Funding for this program drops by 21% from
$430.7 million to $340.7 million.  Also contained in this
rescission legislation, the savings from which will be used to
offset the cost of military peacekeeping operations, was a $300
million reduction (or 68%) in funding for DOD's Technology
Reinvestment Project, as well as cuts in the National Information
Infrastructure grants program.  Commenting on these cuts Clinton
said, "Regrettably, rescissions will reduce some of my
Administration's technology priorities, which serve as a foundation
for America's future competitiveness and national security.
Nevertheless, reductions in this Act are less than those in earlier
version of the bill."

This cut in one of the Commerce Department's highest profile
programs may be an indication of what looms in the future for this
agency, and for the entire department.  On April 6, officials with
the National Institute of Standards and Technology appeared before
Senator Phil Gramm's (R-TX) appropriations subcommittee to present
their budget request.  Gramm opened the hearing by cautioning that
"we are in a very tight budget cycle," a prediction seconded by
Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) who said, "this subcommittee is going
to get a lot less money" in the FY 1996 appropriations process.

Undersecretary of Commerce Mary L. Good and NIST Director Arati
Prabhaker gave stellar presentations on the Advanced Technology
Program, causing Chairman Gramm to say, "I now have totally clear
in my mind what you are talking about."  His questions about the
program were largely philosophical, centering on the proper role of
government in research and development.  He expressed support for
basic research, saying that the role of the federal government in
this area is "beyond debate."  But in going beyond this stage he
asked, "where do you draw the line," and "where does the government
role end, and the private sector begin" in the development of
technology.  It is not, he said, "a clear cut decision."  To this
Good replied that "we won't survive if somebody does not do the
five year stuff, the ten year stuff...I think we have no choice."

Gramm ended what was a friendly, fairly brief hearing by warning
that the budget process, which starts in May following the return
of Congress, is not going to be an easy one.  Among the first
indications about what lies in store for the Advanced Technology
Program, and the Commerce Department itself, may be the House
Budget Committee's budget resolution.  This resolution charts
over-all federal spending, and it is rumored that it will be
released around May 10.  Also coming into play is a plan being
advanced by a House leadership balanced budget task force.  House
Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon (R-NY) will introduce a
bill on May 2 that would balance the federal budget by the year
2000 (two years earlier than previously scheduled.)  Among this
bill's provisions are the elimination of the Departments of
Commerce, Energy, and Education.

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