Senate Pushes Extra R&D Spending


Senate Pushes Extra R&D Spending

By Neil Munro
Staff Writer

A broad coalition of 106 high-tech research societies has joined with prominent senators to promote a bill that would allow a doubling of the federal government's spending on civilian research and development by 2007.

Senate photo

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas

The bill was announced in late October by co-sponsors Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who were joined by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the budget committee, at a Senate press conference attended by many of the coalition members' presidents.

Although the draft National Research Investment Act of 1998 includes no extra money for research, it can be used to build support for extra spending during the next few years, said Gramm. Starting with the bill, "we're trying to make a constituency for science," said Gramm.

To promote the bill, the scientific community will cement an alliance with companies such as IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., and establish a grassroots lobbying organization, said Flint Lewis, chief lobbyist for the Washington-based American Chemical Society and executive director of the 106-society coalition. Members of the coalition include the Washington-based American Association of Engineering Societies and the American Mathematical Society.

"I'm very pleased to see the bill introduced," especially because it is also intended to help development of innovative technologies, said Taffy Kingscott, a Washington-based lobbyist for IBM.

But aside from companies such as IBM, Motorola Inc., Schaumburg, Ill., and Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., few information technology lobbyists spend much time promoting federal expenditures on science, such as the new five-year, $500 million Internet 2 program that is intended to greatly improve the communications capacity of the Internet. One success won this year by industry was a temporary extension of a tax break for extra research and development.

In 1996, the federal government spent roughly $33.5 billion on civilian research, plus $39.8 billion on defense research. The civilian funding supported medical, information technology, materials science and other research.

But even backers of the bill indicated a difficult road ahead. According to Domenici, there won't be any significant science increases for five years and any spending growth will be incremental. Moreover, increased spending on science and technology requires curbs on other government programs funded each year by Congress, said Domenici, who played a central role in the deal-making that produced the balanced budget agreement between the Congress and the White House.

Aside from the balanced budget plan approved this summer by Congress and the White House, there are plenty of obstacles to the increased science spending. For example, four legislators in the House are objecting to a new $300 million program that will use federal laboratory expertise to develop a new generation of chip-making technology for Intel. Intel and its industry partners are expected to spend $250 million on the project, while the Department of Energy's laboratories are expected to spend $34.4 million.

The technology may be lost to overseas companies in Japan and Holland, despite government rules estricting the export of chip-making technology, according to an Oct. 9 letter sent to Energy Secretary Federico Pena by four Democratic House legislators, including Rep. George Brown, D-Calif., the chief Democratic members on the House Committee on Science and John Dingell, D-Mich., who is the ranking minority member on the commerce committee.

However, "it is a great program. ... I am not in the least bit concerned about that," said Domenici, whose state includes two of the federal laboratories working on the $300 million program.

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