NIST's Advanced Technology Program Close to Death in the House

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Publication date: 
30 June 1995

On June 28, the NIST Advanced Technology Program (ATP) was dealt a
double blow by the House, from which it is unlikely to recover.  On
that day, the House Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee voted to
phase out the program, and the House Science Committee did not
include the ATP when it passed authorizing legislation for NIST's
core laboratory programs.  The ATP, a program by which NIST
provides cost-shared grants to industry for the early stages of
technology development, is criticized by many Republicans as
"corporate welfare."

In addition to the research performed in its own labs, NIST also
has two major extramural programs, the Manufacturing Extension
Partnership (MEP), a series of centers to disseminate manufacturing
know-how to small and medium companies, and the ATP.  According to
reports, the appropriations subcommittee provided a total of $404
million for NIST, terminating the ATP, but providing some funding
for the MEP.  (The current-year NIST appropriation of $853.8
million includes $265.0 million for laboratory research, $64.7
million for facilities repair and construction, $430.4 million for
ATP, and $90.6 million for MEP.)

The Science Committee considered the bill for NIST laboratories as
part of a string of authorization bills, in a mark-up session that
ran until midnight.  The legislation, H.R. 1870, would authorize
(or set ceilings of) $338.0 million for NIST's core programs in FY
1996, with $272.2 million going to laboratory research (including
physics research), and $65.5 million to construction.

On June 15, the Science Subcommittee on Technology authorized
NIST's extramural programs in a separate bill (H.R. 1871) from the
core programs, and only for "such sums as may be appropriated."
This tactic caused much furor during the subcommittee mark-up (see
FYI #82.)  Only the core programs bill was on the June 28 roster
for consideration by the full Science Committee, and minority
members charged that this would allow the ATP and MEP, opposed by
committee chairman Robert Walker (R-PA), to "die a quiet death." 

The Democrats, led by George Brown (D-CA), John Tanner (D-TN), and
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), raised this charge again in
Wednesday's full committee mark-up.  As in the subcommittee, they
offered amendments to combine both the intramural and extramural
activities into one bill, and as in the subcommittee, the
amendments failed on largely party-line votes.  However, arguing
that "this has not been a sham process," Walker denied allegations
that by bringing only the laboratory bill to the full committee, he
was ignoring the other NIST bill.  He conceded that there was "a
possibility" that the other could be brought up before the
committee, particularly as the appropriators had provided funding
for the MEP.  Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) stood up for the MEP,
arguing that it was a good program and Members should not "write
its obituary yet."

The appropriations bill, as yet unnumbered, is scheduled to go
before the full House Appropriations Committee on July 10.  The
authorization bill, H.R. 1870, has not been scheduled for a House
floor vote yet.

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