Senate Science Subcommittee Considers NIST Technology Programs

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Publication date: 
3 February 1995

"I continue to believe that programs like ATP are headed in the
right direction."
    --Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), subcommittee chairman

In the debate over how to pay for the Republicans' "Contract With
America," one program that has been suggested for elimination is
NIST's Advanced Technology Program (ATP) (see FYI #163, 1994).  The
program, which received almost $400 million in FY95, awards
matching funds on a competitive basis to help industries develop
long-term, high-risk technologies.  Although ATP was initiated
under the Bush Administration, some Republicans charge that it
constitutes "industrial policy."

On January 31, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science,
Technology, and Space reviewed the ATP and other Department of
Commerce science and technology programs.  Subcommittee members of
both parties supported ATP's efforts to help American businesses
compete internationally.  Subcommittee chairman Conrad Burns (R-MT)
warned that "there is a fine line between industrial policy and
lending a helping hand," but said he supports NIST's programs.  He
expressed concern, though, over ATP's proposed rate of growth and
rural states' ability to participate.  Full committee chairman
Larry Pressler (R-SD) added that any strategy to improve the
nation's economic competitiveness must also include tax, antitrust,
and product liability reforms.  Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said
he "thought this battle was over" and a "strong bipartisan
consensus had been reached" on programs such as ATP.

Commerce Secretary Ron Brown testified that "the marketplace alone
does not invest sufficiently" in long-term, broad, basic
technologies.  He attributed this to increased economic competition
and faster product cycles.  He repeated emphatically that ATP does
not provide taxpayer money for product development, but for risky
pre-competitive technologies that companies and venture capitalists
would not invest in.  Asked by Burns whether companies were
reducing long-term R&D because they expected government support,
Brown pointed to the small size of the ATP program versus the large
number of companies cutting their research budgets.

When Burns raised the common criticism that federal funding of
industry picks "winners and losers," Brown responded that the
funding priorities were industry-driven.  In the context of cutting
the deficit, Brown stated that while his department had made
significant cuts in recent years, programs like ATP had been made
a priority even at the expense of other Commerce programs.

Brown was followed by Commerce Undersecretary for Technology Policy
Mary Good, and NIST Director Arati Prabhakar.  Burns raised the
issue of FY96 funding by asking the effect of a flat fiscal 1996
budget for ATP.  In reply, Good exclaimed, "It's better than
elimination!"  She believed the program would be most useful if it
grew, as planned, to "a full-scale national program," but added
that it should not expand forever.

Burns closed by stating that if we "don't live up to our
responsibility for taking care of our grandchildren [by investing
in the future], then we have been remiss. . ."

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