Technology at work

It is generally accepted that when budgets get tight, innovation suffers.

The budget process begins and ends with a list of priorities. Innovative projects, unless tied to a hot topic such as homeland security, usually fall low on the list.

The increased emphasis on homeland security, combined with only modest growth in technology spending across the board, would seem to leave little money for agencies to start new projects or expand existing ones.

Well, yes and no. Sprinkled throughout fiscal 2003 and 2004 budget documents are many projects in which federal agencies are given leeway to try something new, either by applying old technology to new problems or new technology to old problems.

Such projects often survive because they show real results that support agencies' core missions.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for example, will receive $5.8 million in fiscal 2003 to accelerate development of an electronic process for handling trademark applications. The project, initiated in 2002 with about $1 million, is not grandiose. USPTO already can receive applications online, but must print them out for processing. By November, officials hope to make the entire process electronic.

Other projects could have dramatic results, such as saving lives. Congress set aside $10 million in fiscal 2003 for the Mine Safety and Health Administration to digitize mine maps and develop other technologies that could help avert a repeat of the July 2002 disaster that trapped nine Pennsylvania coal miners.

The following projects are examples of new or expanded technology investments included in fiscal 2003 or 2004 budget documents. It's a reminder that projects that show results can obtain funding, even in tight times.

In this package:

Digital maps to point to safer mining

All Hazards Net to warn on more than thunderstorms

Network designed for sharing, security

Health network to identify diseases, bioterrorism

Electronic from end to end

DOD looks closely at narrowband

Amber revolutionizes search for abducted children

Prototype makes UAV data available via Web

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