White House calls for less advanced research

A White House plan to eliminate a popular program that awards high-tech research grants signals a change in priorities and a new emphasis on homeland security research, a Commerce Department adviser says.

President Bush's fiscal 2005 budget proposal would nix all funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program.

"I don't think anyone says it is not a useful program, only that the national priorities have shifted," said Connie Partoyan, counselor and senior adviser to the undersecretary of Commerce for technology. The research money that would have been set aside for ATP has gone into other NIST research efforts or those led by the Homeland Security Department, she said.

Implemented in 1990, the Advanced Technology Program supports long-term R&D that could lead to radical new technologies but the private sector deems too risky for investment. Each year, the program funds projects proposed by companies and academia.

The White House's summary about the Commerce 2005 budget said other NIST offices more effectively support research. It noted that "large shares of ATP funding have gone to major corporations that do not need subsidies," and that "ATP-funded projects often have been similar to those being carried out by firms not receiving such subsidies."

"If a program's important, presumably some business, a consortium or a private research organization would fund the research," said Edward Hudgins, an analyst who has written about the NIST R&D program for the Cato Institute of Washington.

For this year, the program will receive $179.2 million, of which $61 million is slated for new grants. This year's call for solicitations went out Feb. 11.

As of last September, the program had awarded 709 grants worth approximately $2.1 billion. Of the projects ATP has funded, about half have been in the electronics, computer hardware, communications or IT fields. Other research areas funded include advanced materials chemistry, biotechnology and manufacturing.

Joab Jackson writes for Government Computer News magazine.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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