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FYI Number 79: June 21, 2001

High Marks for Advanced Technology Program

"The time has now come for a definitive decision on how Congress should deal with this program," subcommittee chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) said at a recent hearing on the Advanced Technology Program. "We need to either continue ATP with minimal changes, restructure the program with wholesale changes, or else move forward with an entirely new approach," he added.

ATP is now at somewhat of a crossroads. While the Bush Administration has not called for its outright elimination, it does want to suspend new grants this year, and to carry this suspension into the new fiscal year pending a Commerce Department evaluation of ATP. The administration wants to allocate FY 2002 ATP funding to the intramural laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The June 14 hearing of the Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee of the House Science Committee followed the June 13 release of a two-year study by the National Research Council (not yet published). This study was the latest in a series of reviews of the program that was established during the Reagan Administration in 1988. ATP is a cost-sharing program supporting technical research but not product development. It is intended to accelerate the development of high-risk technologies with potential high economic impacts that private industry would be reluctant to undertake.

The NRC study was the focus of the hearing. Two of the members of the committee writing the report testified. Michael Borrus said that the overwhelming consensus was "ATP works and works well." Borrus, of The Petkevich Group stated, "It is definitively meeting its Congressional mandate to provide cost-shared funding to industry to accelerate the development and broad dissemination of challenging, high-risk technologies that promise broad-based economic benefits for the nation." Of note, he said, was that "this committee does conclude that ATP can make effective and efficient use of additional, more stable funding commitments going forward."

Maryann P. Feldman of Johns Hopkins University stated "our findings are straightforward . . . The Advanced Technology Program is Effective." She added, "Academics always believe that more study is needed. But to say that this program should be put on hold while it is studied and evaluated not only ignores the work that has been done but also will dismantle a good program that fills an important need in the U.S. innovation system."

Also testifying was Lewis Branscomb of Harvard University, who was a former NIST director. After describing high rates of venture capital investment in four high-technology states, Branscomb declared, "If Congress wants the power of American entrepreneurship to build on our world leadership in science and engineering, and wants this to happen in more than four states, a program like ATP is needed."

Presenting an opposing view was Claude Barfield of the American Enterprise Institute. He briefly summarized previous reviews of ATP, and stated, "Do these studies argue that there is never a case for federal support beyond basic research? The answer is no, but they do argue for protecting basic and university research - such as that funded by the National Science Foundation and the NIH first - before supporting projects for private corporations such as those that form the basis of the ATP program."

Three final points about the hearing and the outlook for ATP in the FY 2002 appropriations process: It is of note that Chairman Ehlers opening statement exclaimed, "We must achieve a bipartisan consensus on what ATP's long-term mission should be and work for stable and substantial funding of the program." Ehlers also stated that he would work "to ensure that the NIST laboratories are not adversely affected" as budget deliberations go forward.

Finally, with the change in leadership in the Senate, Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC) became the chairman of the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over ATP funding. Hollings, a cofounder of ATP, has been a strong supporter of ATP during previous attempts to eliminate it, and it seems assured that he will oppose the Bush Administration's attempt to suspend this program.

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095


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