Debate Over Technology Programs Continues Into August Recess

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Publication date: 
18 August 1995

The science-policy community remains active during what is usually
a quiet period of August, discussing the ramifications for science
and technology of recent actions by Congress.  Representatives from
industry, professional associations, and academia gathered together
on August 16 to share concerns over the fate of the
Administration's technology partnership programs and hear from
government officials.  The joint meeting of two science-policy
groups, the Science and Technology Working Group and the Coalition
for Technology Partnerships, was motivated by the congressional
majority's intent to eliminate programs in which the federal
government collaborates with industry to encourage development of
new technologies. 

The Administration's main technology partnership programs are
NIST's Advanced Technology Program (ATP), which leverages
technology development where the benefits would spread across an
entire industry; the Technology Reinvestment Project, run by the
Department of Defense to encourage the development of dual-use
technologies; and the Department of Energy's Cooperative Research
and Development Agreements (CRADAs).  Much of the discussion
focused on defending these programs against charges of being
"corporate welfare."  According to Kathleen Kingscott, Science and
Technology Policy Director for IBM, the partnerships are
competitively awarded, require cost-sharing from industry, and do
not induce dependence on federal funding.  Alexander MacLachlan,
DOE's Deputy Under Secretary for Technology Partnerships, called
the characterization of the partnerships as subsidies or corporate
welfare "childish" and "insulting."  He argued that both the
companies and the federal agency involved gain enormously from the
collaborations, which help further the agency's mission in a way
that makes the best use of the resources and know-how of both
partners.  Dick Thornburgh reported that his experience as former
Governor of Pennsylvania made him a "true believer" in the ability
of government-industry partnerships, such as his state's Ben
Franklin program, to improve economic growth.

Arati Prabhakar, Director of NIST, said the debate was not over
whether the programs delivered value, but whether partnering was an
appropriate role for the government.  She reported that she has
talked to many Republican Members of Congress who are "eager to see
the partnerships work."  She called it "a very valuable
development" that the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Larry
Pressler (R-SD), has reauthorized all of NIST's programs, including
ATP (see FYI #116.)  According to Prabhakar, Pressler intends to
express his support for the agency's programs in a letter to Phil
Gramm (R-TX), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for NIST
and the rest of the Department of Commerce.

MacLachlan warned of the "urgency" of supporting the technology
programs.  The Commerce Appropriations bill will be taken up by the
Senate when it returns in September, and the Energy and Water
Development bill, which funds DOE, is ready to go to conference, to
reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions.

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