Advanced Technology Program: A Funding Retrospective "After many years in existence, the program has not produced a body of evidence to overcome those fundamental questions about whether the program should exist in the first place.... With many other priorities facing the Committee and funding constraints as they are, the Committee concludes that funding would be better spent on higher priority programs and recommends that the ATP program be terminated."
With these words, the House Appropriations Committee has tried to zero out FY 2001 funding for the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program (ATP) - again. With identical language in its FY 2000 report, the committee made the same attempt last year to no avail; funds for ATP were added back in the House-Senate conference. In fact, numerous attempts have been made in the House to kill the ATP since FYI started covering the program in 1993. Those attempts have consistently failed. However, rarely has the final appropriation matched the Administration's request for the program, and it has been subjected several times to rescissions (reductions to funding previously provided.)
The Advanced Technology Program, administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), was established by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. It provides cost-shared, competitive grants to industry to support R&D on high-risk, cutting edge technologies with broad commercial and societal potential. Since 1990, about $1.5 billion in federal dollars have been spent, resulting in over 450 projects funded, with about half of those now completed.
Critics have called the program "corporate welfare," charging that the government should not be involved in choosing companies and technologies to support, and questioning whether the federal funds have had much impact. While many reports have been issued on ATP, results are uncertain. For example, a March 1999 independent assessment gives a qualitative estimate that benefits to the nation from ATP projects greatly exceed the total cost of the program, but a recent (April 2000) GAO study found that, because of the proprietary nature of private-sector R&D, the ATP selection process may be unable to avoid funding research directions that industry is already pursuing on its own (GAO/RCED-00-114; "Advanced Technology Program: Inherent Factors in Selection Process Could Limit Identification of Similar Research; available at http://www.gao.gov/ see GAO Reports, then "Recent Reports.")
Below is a review of some of the twists and death-defying turns of ATP's funding history during the time that it has been tracked by FYI. The numbers may not take into account all rescissions and across-the-board discretionary funding cuts.
FY 1994: ATP funding jumped to $199.5 million, from $67.5 million in the previous year. This is the last time it would receive the full Administration request.
FY 1995: ATP received $430.6 million, compared to a request of $451.0 million. This represents the final appropriations process in which Democrats were the majority in the House. The incoming House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA), states that he favors elimination of ATP. Later, President Clinton signs a rescission bill which, among other things, cuts FY 1995 funding for ATP back to $340.7 million.
FY 1996: The Administration request for ATP is $490.9 million. The House and Senate Budget Resolutions call for elimination of ATP and the entire Department of Commerce. The House Commerce- Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee, followed by the full Appropriations Committee, eliminates ATP. The conference report provides no new money, only allowing prior-year carryover funds, but is vetoed. The FY 1996 appropriations process runs into calendar year 1996, with a series of short-term continuing resolutions. ATP is finally funded - halfway through the new fiscal year - at $221.0 million for the year as part of a final omnibus FY 1996 appropriations bill.
FY 1997: Clinton requests $345.0 million for ATP. The House Appropriations Committee recommends $110.5 million to close out all program commitments; the Senate Appropriations Committee slashes that to $60.0 million. After year-end budget negotiations with the White House, ATP is funded at $225.0 million in an omnibus appropriations bill.
FY 1998: Clinton requests $275.6 million. House Commerce- Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) announces his intent to zero out ATP, but ends up providing $185.0 million in his bill. After several House floor attempts to cut or kill the program, ATP ends up with $192.5 million for FY 1998.
FY 1999: Again surviving several unsuccessful attempts on the House floor to reduce or eliminate it, ATP is funded at $203.5 million for FY 1999, compared to a request of $259.9 million. However, because of disagreements over the Commerce Department's plans for conducting the 2000 Census, all Commerce programs are only funded through June 1999. Agreement is finally reached to assure funding through the end of FY 1999. Later into the fiscal year, Clinton signs a rescission bill cutting FY 1999 ATP funding to $197.5 million.
FY 2000: The Administration requests FY 2000 funding of $238.7 million, but later revises this downward somewhat to reflect carryover funds available from FY 1999. House appropriators recommend zeroing out ATP, using the same language in the committee report that they did again this year. ATP is ultimately funded at $142.6 million for FY 2000.
FY 2001: The Administration has requested $175.5 million, an amount less than when FYI began covering the program in 1993. The House Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations bill terminates the program; the Senate has not yet acted.
How will the program fare in this year's appropriations process? The Senate generally does not have the same ideological opposition to ATP as do many House members, and President Clinton has been largely successful at preserving his favored programs in the appropriations endgame. It is worth noting, however, that the Appropriations Committee recommendation was passed by the full House on June 7 with no House member rising to debate or protest the elimination of ATP. Even the White House, in a Statement of Administration Policy criticizing congressional actions on the FY 2001 appropriations bills (see FYI #77), barely devotes a short paragraph to the House's termination of the program.
Audrey T. Leath