WASHINGTON - More than half the applicants to the federal Advanced Technology Program did not seek any source of private sector funding before applying for U.S. dollars, a congressman charged with reviewing government scientific programs said. U.S. Rep. Robert Walker, R.-Pa., noted Feb. 20 that ATP, an offering of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology in the Department of Commerce, has financed research projects that would have been funded exclusively by the private sector if ATP did not exist.
Half of those who were not awarded ATP grants continued with their projects ``even in the absence of ATP funding,'' accoring to Walker.
Eleven plastics-related projects budgeted to receive up to $2 million in ATP funding each are directly threatened by the continuing battle between Con-gress and President Clinton over the 1996 federal budget.
Walker, chairman of the House Committee on Science, made the assertions based on his review of a new General Accounting Office report of the ATP which he said confirms congressional criticisms of the program.
Walker also criticized a Commerce Department-funded Silber and Associates survey of the 125 firms and consortia that participated in 60 ATP-funded projects in the first three years of the program, beginning in 1990.
Commerce Secretary Ron Brown released the Silber survey results Feb. 12, noting all but three participants ``maintain that the ATP has been the lifeblood of their company's innovative research efforts, permitting them to venture into arenas new to U.S. industry.''
Walker called the Bethesda Md.-based Silber study a ``huge waste of taxpayer money.''
But Michael E. Newman, NIST spokesman for the ATP program, doubted that Clinton would sign any legislation eliminating public-private technology partnerships.
A Senate-House conference in January recommended elimination of ATP. The program continues, however, as Commerce Department funding is held at 75 percent of 1995 levels - about $255 million a year -through at least March 15, when a temporary spending measure expires and parts of the federal government will again shut down. The matter will not be settled until a 1996 Commerce Department budget is approved by both Congress and Clinton.
Walker used ATP as a reason to launch into his newest criticism of the ``public-private partnership'' favored by the Clinton administration, which is intended to finance long-term, ``pre-competitive'' development of technical advancements.
``Most troubling to me,'' Walker said in a Feb. 14 letter to Brown, ``is that your own study refutes claims that ATP focuses upon pre-competitive technologies, for 62 percent of participants anticipate their company will commercialize a product or service.
``More than 50 percent of 1990 participants expected to earn revenue on ATP projects before the end of 1995. These figures are incompatible with statements that Commerce [Department employees] have made over the past year to the effect that the technologies under development are `10 to 15 years away,'*'' Walker's letter said.