---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2001 12:20:14 PST
From: "AP / D. IAN HOPPER, Associated Press Writer" <Cemail@example.com>
Subject: Bush Budget Jeopardizes Tech Fund
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal program that pays for research into
emerging technologies like cheap digital TV components and new ways
to diagnose genetic diseases is in jeopardy under President Bush's
Scientists and companies that received federal funds from the
Advanced Technology Program say cutting it would leave a huge gap
in the availability of investments in future technology.
If Bush gets his way, the Commerce Department program would have
its funding -- which skyrocketed during the 1990s -- suspended
pending a review.
``The program hasn't been thoroughly evaluated. We believe that
it ought to be,'' Commerce spokeswoman Mary Crawford said.
Though ATP has a separate oversight office, which has given the
program glowing reports as recently as May 2000, Crawford said
that's not enough.
``There have been a couple reports that have raised questions
about the program,'' she said. ``This is a new administration.
Secretary (Donald) Evans is an engineer by background, he is very
seriously committed to making sure that the Commerce Department is
doing top-quality research.''
Nevertheless, she said, cutting the program completely is ``not
on the table.''
But cutting ATP has been on the table in Congress for years,
with its Republican opponents calling it a form of ``corporate
welfare'' that should be ended. The Clinton administration
vigorously defended ATP, citing studies that said many companies
would not have pursued such research without federal help.
While ATP was created in 1988 trade legislation enacted under
President Bush, it didn't receive funding from Congress until 1990.
In 2001, Congress allocated $145.7 million to the program, which
typically pays 50 percent of the costs of a selected project.
Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists,
said that defending ATP has been difficult because the program only
funds emerging technologies, and doesn't pay for a specific
``Once you've got the basic idea in play, then people can run
off and make proprietary products,'' he said. ``There's a huge
(funding) gap that's left in places where the public has an
interest in moving technology forward. ATP filled that
The program funded the development of cheap transmitters for use
in digital and high definition television, considered essential in
encouraging broadcasters and customers to use HDTV.
``We probably wouldn't have been able to develop these kinds of
techniques and capabilities without the ATP program,'' said Terry
Smith, a director at New Jersey-based Sarnoff Corp., which took
part in the collaboration.
For Sarnoff and its partner companies, finding investors was
difficult in the current economic climate and companies didn't want
to take the economic risk for a technology that might not bring
revenue-producing products for many years. ATP provided about $28.4
``This is technology that has huge potential for returns,''
Smith said, ``but it's also a real stretch among the companies that
are doing it.''
The government gave more than $31.4 million to Affymetrix of
Santa Clara, Calif., to develop keychain-sized DNA chips for use in
a handheld device that can analyze genetic material.
``The near term benefits that have flowed out of it are improved
tools to do basic life science discovery,'' said Rob Lipshutz, the
company's vice president for business development.
Other ATP-funded research had led to the development of
fiberglass rustproof beams for bridges and towers, cloning
technology and a cornmeal-based polyester cloth.
Kelly said one reason for the political opposition to ATP is
that it first appeared as a heavily funded government program just
as a budget-minded Republican Congress took over in 1994.
``It's probably the most investigated start-up fund in the
history of the government,'' he said. ``Its timing was such that it
was the new kid on the block at the wrong moment in history.''
On the Net: Advanced Technology Program: http://www.atp.nist.gov
Commerce Department: http://www.commerce.gov
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org
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