Consider tech investment payoff

With Congress and the Clinton administration locked in a battle over science and technology spending, a quick review of recent headlines seems in order.

The Army announced that it had spent $45 million to create a center at the University of Southern California to work with film producers and video-game makers to research and develop advanced computer-based training simulators. Less than a week later, the Air Force announced that a class of top officers recently completed a training course that uses Hollywood multimedia technology and screenwriters to develop realistic scenarios that teach decision-making skills during evolving crises.

This unlikely pairing of Washington and Tinseltown is not new. In fact, much of the technology that Congress and the Defense Department invested in years ago, such as supercomputing, has found its way into Hollywood and other parts of the economy. DOD's investments are paying off - at the box office and elsewhere. DOD's latest initiative to adapt Hollywood multimedia technology for developing advanced training programs is an extension of this symbiotic relationship.

The benefits of investing in basic IT research are worth remembering now, as Congress contemplates a series of deep cuts in IT spending: slashing NASA's budget by $1 billion; cutting by $147 million the Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative, which replaces live underground nuclear testing with computer simulations; and eliminating the Federal Aviation Administration's funding for a program that would take advantage of the Global Positioning System to improve air traffic control.

These cuts could do more than simply forestall opportunities for IT to improve government operations. Such Draconian measures also could affect the country's position as a technology leader and hamstring the economy.

Budget cuts must be made to meet spending caps instituted in 1997. But cutting IT to the bone is too costly. Congress needs to look elsewhere for savings and restore much of the IT spending that will enable agencies to do more with less while still protecting and serving the public.

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