Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Technology Policy Comes of Age

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Technology Policy Comes of Age

Article excerpt

When President Clinton and Vice President Gore issued "Technology for America's Economic Growth: A New Direction to Build Economic Strength" only a month after taking office, it introduced a new period in U.S. science and technology policy. As indicated by the administration's high-profile release of the document, coupled with its supporting budget request to Congress for fiscal year 1994, technology policy is now at the center of the national economic policy agenda. Still, successfully implementing the new policy will require the administration to do some fine tuning and to explain more fully just why the policy is critical to the nation's economic future.

The administration's proposed programs and projects comprise an agenda that many people in technology policy circles have recommended for some time. These recommendations have been articulated by such broad-based groups as the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Competitiveness Policy Council, as well as by more specialized groups such as the Computer Systems Policy Project and the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing. To summarize, the basic thrust of the collective recommendations is to:

* Shift federal R&D funds from defense to civilian applications, especially those with the strongest links to industry (for example, programs in which industry shares in the planning, conduct, or funding of the R&D), and make government R&D institutions, especially federal laboratories, work more closely with industry.

* Provide tax incentives for private-sector investment in technology and equipment.

* Improve the infrastructure for technology development by helping small manufacturers to modernize, improving education and training, and improving the nation's information infrastructure.

* Use federal procurement and regulations to help create markets for innovative technologies.

These recommendations, tactical in nature, are first of all the outgrowth of changes in the nation's geopolitical environment, moving from the confrontation and containment of the Cold War to more focus on economic competitiveness. In essence, they redirect federal science and technology policy to meet the new challenge of international competition rather than the military competition with the Soviet Union. They also stem from widespread recognition that the nation lags in the transition from technology to products in the marketplace, not in the generation of discoveries and inventions. Moreover, it has become increasingly apparent that we do not sufficiently utilize our national resources and do not provide a climate that fosters investment in education, capital, and small companies.

Although the administration has proposed a credible program, its public pronouncements have been mute on explaining the underlying policies. Beyond stating that technology is important for economic growth and meeting other goals, such as a cleaner environment, the administration has neither clearly defined the problems being addressed nor explained the logic behind its proposals. Left unanswered is what the appropriate roles of the government and private sector are, and, specifically, why the actions proposed are the right ones.

Because of the fundamental nature of the change in policy, it is important to communicate the underlying reason for the changes. Indeed, in the months since the administration released its technology policy, it has become clear that implementation of the agenda is not guaranteed. Several problems have arisen. First, the proposals for many new actions and programs without an overarching strategy or rationale have made it all too easy for critics to label the programs as Democratic big spending and as pork. Second, the lack of supporting arguments has done little to expand the base of support to a broader and more diverse constituency outside of the technology policy community. …

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