Andrews, Edmund L. "Clinton's Technology Plan Would Redirect Billions From Military

 

Andrews, Edmund L. "Clinton's Technology Plan Would Redirect Billions From Military
Research," New York Times, 24 February 1993, p. A14.

Washington, Feb. 23 - President Clinton's newly introduced plan to bolster industrial technology
involves almost no increase in total government spending on research, but it would redirect
billions of dollars from military programs to projects involving private industry.

The plan gives a prominent new role to the Department of Commerce, and it could lead to big
changes in the way the Defense and Energy Departments carry out their weapons-related research
programs. Yet, as the Government takes a fresh look at its sprawling $73 billion research
establishment, it remains unclear how the White House hopes to coordinate the activities of
dozens of agencies, how it plans to select which projects to finance and how it intends to evaluate
the progress of the overall effort.

All told, the plan opens up a potentially enormous pot of money for industrial research, but it
could also turn into a political pork barrel of unprecedented size. Backers say the effort must
strengthen the technological base of American companies battling foreign competitors but also
avoid wasting money on projects that individual companies would have paid for anyway or on
projects with no enduring public value.

Administration officials say everyone involved in the effort is mindful of the billion-dollar
disasters of earlier technology extravaganzas like the failed synthetic fuels program under
President Jimmy Carter. The Synthetic Fuels Corporation, the name of the Federal research effort
to develop alternatives to petroleum, ultimately cost taxpayers billions of dollars but produced
virtually no commercially useful technologies.

"The synfuels program haunts almost every discussion we have," remarked Henry Kelly, acting
assistant director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "The good news
is that a lot of the players were around then and know what went wrong."

The new plan would expand the civilian share of the pie from about 41 percent today to more
than 50 percent by 1998. Meanwhile, it would require the Federal laboratories, much of whose
work involves nuclear weapons research, to devote as much as one-fifth of the $25 billion they
spend each year to jointly funded projects with private industry. Today, that total is less than 5
percent.

The plan places renewed emphasis on an effort to develop an nationwide "information
superhighway" to link computers and on work to produce a "clean automobile" that would be
powered by batteries or by fuels like hydrogen and methane.

Briefing reporters today, John Gibbons, director of the White House Office of Science and
Technology policy, said the Administration had no intention of exercising the same kinds of
power over business that Japan's Ministry of Trade and Industry wields over Japanese
companies.

"The point is not to get on the back of business," Mr. Gibbons said. "The point is to help some of
the get off their backs."

To avoid creating a huge political pork barrel, the White House officials said today that they new
policy places heavy emphasis on sharing risks with industry and working with consortiums rather
than individual companies.

The planners' vision is Sematech, the Texas-based consortium on computer child-manufacturing
technology that is financed half by industry and half by the Department of Defense. Organized to
preserve a vital technology in the United States, Sematech is widely regarded as helping
American chip makers increase their share of the global market.

But in the new effort, it remains entirely unclear who is going to do what. The Federal
Government operates more than 700 laboratories, controlled by dozens of agencies in the
Pentagon, Department of Energy, Commerce Department and National Aeronautics and Space
Administration. All of these agencies would play a role. The Government also spends billions of
dollars on research at universities and at private corporations.

Among the principal players will be Vice President Al Gore, who has long championed the
development of a nationwide information network, and Mr. Gibbons, the White House science
adviser.

But the most important decision makers are likely to be those at individual departments. One
central figure will be John A. Rollwagen, who is quitting as President of Cray Research Inc. to
become Deputy Secretary of Commerce in charge of technology policy.

Until now, the Commerce Department has played an almost negligible role in technology
development. President Clinton, however, has proposed dramatic increases in financing for the
department's research arm, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, from $117
million a year today to a combined $1.3 billion over the next four years.

Another key player will be William Perry, who is to become Deputy Secretary of Defense. Mr.
Perry, who served as a top Pentagon official in charge of research and engineering under
President Carter, has long been a champion of directing more military research to areas of
commercial significance.

Under the Clinton plan, the Defense Advanced Research Projects agency will be kept at roughly
its current budget of $1.4 billion. But the agency will be given much greater freedom to support
commercial research - a big change from the Bush Administration, which blocked efforts by
DARPA to play a significant role in technologies like high definition television.

Finally, the Department of Energy's vast complex of laboratories, which have a combined budget
of $4.1 billion, will be given much greater freedom to shift work from weapons research to
commercial projects. But the White House has yet to name any of the key Energy Department
officials who will oversee those activities.

White House officials who briefed reporters today were unable to spell out how much money
many of the agencies would receive or precisely what each one would be expected to do. Indeed,
the "clean car" program would initially consist of setting up a task force that would explore ways
to link Federal and private research efforts.

Over all, the Government would play a supporting role rather than taking center stage in
technology development. The biggest single effort outlines thus far is the $2 billion plan to build
a nationwide communication "superhighway," a program that was championed by Vice President
Gore while he was in the Senate and which Congress has already funded in large measure.

As the project is outlined, however, the Administration would spend money primarily on
developing advanced supercomputers and software that would link them over a high-speed fiber
optic network, and on demonstration projects at hospitals, schools and libraries. For the mst part,
the actual construction of a network that is widely available to the public would be left to private
companies.