Former feds protest agency defunding provision

Research and competitiveness advocate labels the bill “a non-starter”

Several former Commerce Department executives oppose a bill that would defund the Technology Administration, a Commerce agency created to promote technology innovation through market and workforce analyses, grants, educational information and technology standards.

The legislation, known as the National Competitiveness Investment Act, would eliminate the Technology Administration and the position of undersecretary of technology at Commerce.

Neither the Senate nor the House has passed the bill. But critics say they are concerned because the legislation would eliminate the undersecretary position, which has direct oversight responsibility for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Technical Information Service and the Office of Technology Policy.

“Defunding and deauthorizing the agency is a big mistake, particularly in light of the fact that the global…economic competition and innovation is increasing,” said Kelly Carnes, assistant secretary of technology at Commerce from 1997 to 2001. She is now chief executive officer of consulting firm TechVision21.

The Technology Administration helps the government track U.S. and foreign technology innovations and formulate policy that promotes innovation and technological competitiveness, Carnes said. She is one of seven former Commerce executives who signed a letter sent to Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), co-chairmen of of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, urging them not to approve the agency’s defunding.

Some officials who represent computing research interests say they don’t believe the legislation has any chance of passage.

“It was clear that the bill was a nonstarter,” said Peter Harsha, director of government affairs at the Computing Research Association, a lobbying group that works to influence computing research policy.

Harsha said previous attempts to close the agency have failed. The Bush administration’s fiscal 2006 budget proposal recommended defunding the agency by stating that its work overlapped with that of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration.

The Technology Administration’s fiscal 2005 budget was $7 million. Under President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2007 budget, the agency would receive only $1 million.

“We are in effect disarming the United States [while] every other country is making innovation…one of their top priority issues,” Carnes said.

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