WASHINGTON - Favorite government-funded projects of the composites industry will face intense scrutiny in the coming weeks of Congress and could be cut severely or eliminated. Industry officials fear that could slow the use of composites in boat docks, bridges and other new applications in civil engineering - a promising market that could help double the size of the composites industry by the year 2000.
As of last week, the biggest threat loomed for the Advanced Technology Program, a favorite Clinton administration effort to help industry develop promising but high-risk technologies.
Composites account for a significant chunk of ATP - $160 million of the 1995 budget of $430 million. President Clinton, in his budget sent to Congress last week, proposed increasing ATP spending by 14 percent, to $490 million.
Industry groups are mobilizing. The Composites Institute, a division of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., urged members to write to Congress.
Industry lobbying already has helped save another key composites initiative, at least for now. Originally, Clinton had removed funding for the Construction Productivity Advancement Research program from his proposed 1996 budget. But lobbying in January by the New York-based Composites Institute and the Civil Engineering Research Foundation of Washington convinced the administration to put CPAR back into the budget, according to David Mathis, CPAR program manager in Washington.
At $6 million, the CPAR program is tiny compared with ATP. CPAR funds demonstration projects at Army Corps of Engineers bases, testing composites in waterfront pilings, bridge decks, reinforcing bars and other construction uses. That work is important, industry officials say, because civil engineers still view composites as experimental, risky materials for building.
Both CPAR and ATP were ``very, very threatened,'' said Catherine Randazzo, Composites Institute executive director.
The projects are partially funded by industry.
``It's one of those examples where government funding is working. It is bringing about change. It is bringing about [research and development], which will make U.S. industry more competitive,'' Randazzo said.
The Washington debate over funding filtered into Cincinnati Jan. 30-Feb. 1 during the institute's annual conference.
The composites industry has viewed government as a partner to crack construction markets, said Mark Greenwood, research associate at the Owens-Corning Science and Technology Center in Granville, Ohio. Without the incentive from government funding, some civil engineering projects will die, he said.
Ebert Composites Corp. of San Diego won a $1 million ATP to develop an efficient way to manufacture its all-composite tower.
Government contracts create ``an initial market pull,'' said Ebert President Walt Warner.
Although the Clinton administration has expanded ATP dramatically, its future is far from certain. Incoming House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker, R-Pa., said through a spokeswoman that he is ``not a big fan'' of such private/public partnerships, which often cannot show a direct taxpayer benefit.