WASHINGTON - Despite charges that it amounts to little more than corporate welfare, the Advanced Technology Program continues to be part of the federal budget with a 1997 appropriation of $225 million signed by President Clinton Sept. 30. The appropriation opens the way for new technology competitions for federal funding through the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.
In the 1996 budget, which gave just over $220 million in funding to the program, House Science Committee chairman Robert Walker, R.-Pa., successfully blocked funding for new projects. Walker, who believes such programs are corporate welfare, has tried in both sessions of the 104th Congress to kill ATP by zeroing out appropriations.
But according to Charles Dinges, acting managing director for government and public relations for the American Society of Civil Engineers, ``this assault on technical programs has not set well with a lot of people,'' especially ``a group of about 40 moderate Republicans'' in the House.
NIST in 1996 is funding 11 composites projects with $2 million in government funds. The ATP program funds advanced but as-yet not economically viable technology research projects in cooperation with private industry.
NIST spokesman Michael New-man said, ``White House support made the difference in ensuring that the budget agreement provided NIST with enough funding to meet all our past commitments and to make new ATP awards.''
Clinton had originally asked for $345 million for the ATP. But the Commerce Department funding bill, one of 13 spending bills that legally must be reviewed by the House, was changed in House floor debate July 23 to cut the program entirely.
``If we are going to take a serious approach to balancing the budget and setting priorities within that budget, then corporate welfare programs like the ATP must be erased,'' Walker said before the vote.
Newman criticized the House Commerce Committee, which had tried to limit ATP funding only to firms of 500 or fewer employees and mandate that any federal ATP funding be ``provided for the purpose of closing out all commitments for the ATP program.''
``If enacted into law, these conditions would have disastrous results,'' Newman said. ``Some of the most [innovative] high-tech companies in the nation, including many ATP awardees, have more than 500 employees.''
Funding for the ATP companion, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is slightly increased from 1996's $80 million to $95 million. Overall, NIST, funded in 1996 with $620 million, would receive $588 million in 1997, $120 million more than the House approved in July.