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Democrats Rescue Technology Research Program

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Science  02 Mar 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5816, pp. 1206b
DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5816.1206b

Written off as dead by critics and fans alike, the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) has been given a $79 million lifeline from Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

Run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), ATP was begun in the early 1990s as a way to help companies conduct research aimed at commercializing new products. It has supported everything from genomics to materials science. Republicans—including the current Bush Administration—have long derided it as so-called corporate welfare, however, and neither the Senate nor the House included money in NIST's 2007 spending bills for the program. But after Republicans left Democrats with the job of finishing this year's budget (Science, 22 December 2006, p. 1862), staffers staved off ATP's demise in the spending bill President George W. Bush signed 2 weeks ago.

“This was under the radar,” says lobbyist Robert Boege of the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America in Washington, D.C., of the turnaround, which he says “defied even metaphysics.” Congressional aides and lobbyists say top Democrats on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), view the program as an essential piece of the House Democrats' “Innovation Agenda” introduced nearly a year before they won control of Congress.

Last week, NIST officials said that details of the competition, including how much money will be available, will be announced in the spring. “I am actually very proud, as NIST's director, to be hearing about [ATP] success stories,” NIST head William Jeffrey told a House science committee panel last week in testimony on the agency's 2008 budget request, which once again zeroes out the program. But, he added, “the issue is, in the Administration's view-point, whether or not [ATP] is the appropriate role for the federal government.”

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