A Good '96 for Tech

An Advance Look at Clinton's R&ampD Agenda

The Clinton administration plans to rank the National Information Infrastructure, dual-use technology and environmental cleanup at the top of its FY 1996 budget for research and development -- and will add a few new twists, according to a White House memo obtained by Washington Technology.

That means serious government friendliness to information technology in areas outside the traditional government arenas, specifically in education and healthcare.

The 16-page document, sent May 6 to agency directors, was signed off by Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta and White House science adviser John Gibbons. It represents the first report of the new National Science and Technology Council, convened last year to focus federal R&D spending across the government.

Sources familiar with the NSTC say the memo represents a major improvement in the way research and development planning is conducted at top policy levels.

The document mentions no specific numbers, but is designed to guide agency heads as they plan their fiscal 1996 R&D budget requests to Congress. "It is expected that your agency's budget will reflect the broad R&D policy principles presented," the memo said.

The 1996 R&D priorities fall into six categories: a healthy, educated citizenry; job creation and economic growth; world leadership in science, math and engineering; improved environmental quality; harnessing information technology and enhanced national security.

While the document emphasizes some current initiatives such as the National Information Infrastructure, the Advanced Technology Program and Clean Car, there are several new focal points and numerous fine-tuned priority distinctions. Most notable is an emphasis on education -- basic research on learning and cognitive processes, learning productivity and applied educational technology tools.

The administration is poised to announce a new educational technology initiative this month worth an estimated $100 million.

Also new is the National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative, a catch-all which targets components and manufacturing techniques for future NII products. That includes flat panels, high-speed processing and speech and handwriting recognition among other areas.

Overall, the administration's commitment to information technology research will remain strong, with special attention on mass storage and security: "Emphasis should be placed on advances on information storage media for both high and low-end applications..."

In 1996, federal infotech R&D strategy will likely be more focused on commercially viable technologies. The memo calls for continued development of virtual reality, simulation, video and high-definition systems, 3-D and speech interfaces. "Additional effort is needed to accelerate the transfer of these technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace," said the memo.

Key to that goal will be "The development of tools and techniques to enable assembly of systems from inexpensive, versatile, reusable software components." The memo also specifically mentions satellite and wireless capabilities in the construction of gigabit-speed networks.

In aeronautics R&D, the administration is calling for a "technical base" for commercial development of the high-speed civil transport as well as technologies for advanced sub-sonic planes. The administration is also targeting investments in next-generation, reusable launch-vehicle development as part of an overall strategy to improve the U.S. launch infrastructure.

The national security section of the memo re-emphasizes support for integrating defense technology needs with the commercial industrial base. That means more investments in lower cost manufacturing and other dual-use programs under the Technology Reinvestment Project.

Quick-response systems will continue to enjoy support in 1996 with a higher priority placed on non-lethal weapons and systems to enable remote location operations. Critical investments in information technologies, modeling and simulation, sensors, microelectronics, materials are also mentioned.

The memo calls on agencies to "measurably increase" their investments in basic research and university-based research but warns that merit review must be the yardstick for grants: "Research not subject to merit review with peer evaluation is expected to decline and funding in these areas should be moved into areas of merit review..."

Perhaps the newest concept in the memo is "anticipatory R&D" -- programs designed to prevent problems in the environment, health, population and crime before they become money-draining national crises.

NSTAC Members Attending March 2 Meeting

C. Michael ArmstrongHughes

Norman R. AugustineMartin Marietta

Stanley C. BeckelmanBoeing

Kent M. BlackRockwell

Robert A. BoaldinUSTA

D. Travis EngenITT

William T. EsreySprint

Joseph T. GormanTRW

John T. HartleyHarris

William J. HilsmanInterDigital

Royce J. HollandMFSCC

Charles R. LeeGTE

Richard D. McCormickUS West

John N. McMahonLockheed

Roy MerrillsNTI

Charles E. RobinsonPTI

Roy A. WilkensWILTEL

Albert F. ZettlemoyerUnisys

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