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
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
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,
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