Budget reflects new ATP outlook

The Bush administration is changing its outlook on funding for the Advanced Technology Program, run by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, requesting $107.9 million for the program in the fiscal 2003 budget proposal.

Information technology also plays a part in NIST's homeland security efforts, with the proposed budget calling for $2 million to develop embedded sensor systems to monitor buildings during disasters and $1 million for a team of NIST experts to help other federal agencies improve their computer security and fend off hackers and potential terrorists.

Although critics have called ATP a form of corporate welfare, supporters say it supports research that the private sector ignores because it is too risky. ATP was first funded in 1990, and last year the White House asked for only $13 million for the program to continue ongoing project commitments.

Congress disagreed, appropriating $185 million to ATP.

The question of what to do with ATP "is more of a question of the right sizing than anything else," NIST director Arden Bement Jr. said at a Commerce press briefing Feb. 5. Under the current budget proposal, existing ATP awards will continue to be funded, while 35 new awards will be given during the remainder of this fiscal year and an additional 35 will be granted in fiscal 2003, Bement said.

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans released a Feb. 4 report, "The Advanced Technology Program: Reform with a Purpose," that recommends six ways to improve the program, including:

* Allowing universities to lead ATP joint ventures.

* Allowing universities to negotiate with joint venture partners over the rights to hold copyrights derived from the research the partners undertake.

* Allowing large companies to participate in ATP only as joint venture partners.

* Reinvesting in the ATP program a percentage of the revenues from projects instituted under ATP awards.

* Identifying scientific or technological barriers to product development during funding decisions.

* Determining whether "additional private-sector, nonproprietary input" would improve the ability of ATP's selection boards to assess funding requests.

The decision to fund ATP for fiscal 2003 "shows considerable growth on the administration's part and considerable support from Secretary Evans," said Alan Balutis, executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils and former ATP director.

Several state programs aimed at supporting risky research and development projects also allow more university participation and require successful projects to reinvest some of their revenue, Balutis said. "I don't see those things as problems for this program."

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