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FYI Number 49: April 25, 2002

Evolving Administration Position on Advanced Technology Program

Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) is very protective of the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program. He was the force behind its establishment and has vigorously protected the program from attempts throughout the years to eliminate it. So it came as somewhat of a surprise to hear Hollings tell Commerce Deputy Secretary Samuel Bodman at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last week that "we are very lucky to have you."

This April 16 authorization hearing on the Department of Commerce's Technology Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology demonstrated how the Bush Administration's approach to the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) has evolved. It would be misleading to characterize its position as a complete change of heart. The requested FY 2003 funding for ATP is 42% below this year's level. However, a year ago the Administration requested a cut of 92%. In his oral testimony, Bodman recognized that the ATP request was "disappointing" to Hollings, and said of the request that it represents "our best judgement on how to balance priorities." This is a "challenging year," Bodman said, explaining that homeland security and national security are the government's highest priorities.

Bodman's oral testimony was supportive of ATP, saying "we have confirmed that this is a very effective program," acknowledging that it had been, as stated in his written remarks, "the subject of perennial debate that has hindered its stability and effectiveness." "Technologies developed through ATP have significant potential to bring economic growth and benefits to the entire Nation," he explained, disputing charges that ATP is corporate welfare or is ineffective. Bodman outlined a series of reforms the Administration is recommending for the ATP program, one of which would reduce an impediment to university participation (see FYI #37.) Bodman's written testimony stated, "We want to work with the Congress on the implementation of appropriate reforms, including recoupment of the government's investment in profitable ventures, which can be re-invested into the Program. In this way the stability and effectiveness of the Program, we believe, can be greatly improved. The Secretary and I have been personally involved in this issue and feel strongly about the proposed reforms. The Administration's proposed budget of $107.9 million demonstrates our commitment to an enhanced ATP."

Yet, aspects of NIST's programs remain troubled. Ranking Minority Member John McCain (R-AZ) was upset about an ATP award to General Electric, and before Bodman could answer, McCain angrily cut him off saying "you have no grounds on which to respond." Many committee members were unhappy with the FY 2003 request to cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program by 88%, and Bodman and the senators agreed that NIST's Boulder campus facilities, averaging 50 years old, are deficient.

The Commerce Department's six proposed ATP reforms are controversial. A panel of three experts followed Bodman, all expressing concern about the impacts the changes would have on ATP. To which Hollings replied, "I can't thank this panel enough." These reforms would have to be passed by Congress.

The Commerce Department has just announced its FY 2002 ATP Competition. Proposals drawing on this year's funding are due by June 10. Details on this competition are available at http://www.atp.nist.gov/www/press/2002comp.htm

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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