These days, it's tough to argue against federal cutbacks. Reducing the deficit has become our most urgent bipartisan issue, and rightly so. Typically, agencies and constituencies facing cuts whine the loudest. A politician defends a pet program because it represents ``a tiny fraction'' of the entire pie. It gets old, doesn't it?
Now Congress is looking to cut, or maybe even eliminate, composites research and development. We're not talking about that much money, just a few hundred million dollars. In fighting the cuts, however, the composites industry needs to go beyond that stale argument. Industry leaders can make a compelling case against R&D cuts.
But hopes for continued funding look dim. The House Science Committee voted 24-19 on June 28 to defeat an amendment by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, to authorize Advanced Technology Program funding in fiscal year 1996; on the same day, the commerce subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee cut ATP funding completely.
Indications are that, at best, programs that have started will be allowed to finish, but no new APT programs will be funded this year.
Congress needs to understand that money from the two major initiatives - ATP and the Construction Productivity Advancement Research program - pays for important work that could revolutionize our nation's infrastructure. Bridges made of fiber-reinforced composites that never rust. Waterfront pilings that never rot.
Before presenting his fiscal 1996 budget, President Clinton had asked for an ambitious $490 million, which included $160 million for composites for ATP.
Industry lobbying originally saved CPAR, but it again appears to be in danger of elimination. Congress should continue funding this program, which would spend $6 million for construction test sites at Army Corps of Engineers bases.
We know, everyone's program is ``important.'' But these infrastructure projects are truly exciting.
The private sector will balk at spending millions on new load-bearing com-posite products because of potential liability. Government is going to build roads and bridges, whether out of traditional materials or new composites. It is the responsibility of government to encourage new ideas that could save billions of dollars, long-term.
We encourage the healthy debate in Washington on government's role in industrial development. But, when it comes to the roads and bridges of the future, congressional leaders need to cool the rhetoric and employ their vision.