WASHINGTON - Of all the programs under the beleaguered Commerce Department, the public/private Advanced Technology Program and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership seem to be the most consistent targets of congressional budget cutters. Formed to take the risk out of investing in new technology - including fibers and composites - both programs have had their entire 1996 funding cut at least once in the 104th Congress.
Funded this year with a little more than $400 million through the National Institute of Standards and Technology, ATP's composites-related funding amounts to $160 million. Funding for 1995 originally was set at $521 million, but Congress and President Clinton agreed to cut $90 million from ATP and $16 million from MEP earlier this year.
For 1996, the Senate originally had authorized $427 million for both programs. But the full Senate Appropriations Committee last week accepted an amendment by Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., restoring a total of $76.6 million to the two programs on a voice vote.
``This amount of money will not keep the programs running, but it [the inclusion of any dollar figure in the measure facing Senate debate] gives the programs a chance at survival when Commerce Department funding is debated before the full Senate,'' said National Institute of Standards and Technology spokesman Michael E. Newman.
Newman suggested a Senate floor vote on the NIST appropriations could come by late September or early October.
The House in July cut all funds from the ATP and pro-vided $81 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker, R.-Pa., is the ATP's most vocal critic in Congress, calling it ``a corporate subsidy program that has grown too large and costly for the taxpayer to bear.''
Walker proposes forming a federal Science and Technology Administration to better manage ``the basic scientific assets of the United States.''
Commerce Secretary Ron Brown made slight mention of the ATP and MEP cuts, registering his disappointment in what he termed ``bare-bones funding for the department's highly successful telecommunications and civilian technology programs.''
Commerce Undersecretary for Technology Mary Good said that ``the big loser in this budget cutting [by the Senate Appropriations Committee] is American business, the American worker and American jobs.''