GAO Raps Federal Technology Research Program

WASHINGTON (04/26/2000) - A government program intended to fund financially risky research and development projects at private companies, including information technology projects, is coming under attack in Congress for duplicating privately funded research.

House Science Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) yesterday released a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office that looked at three Advanced Technology Program (ATP) projects. The GAO report found that all three projects, including development of handwriting recognition systems and research into increasing the capacity of fiber-optic lines, were also being conducted by private companies.

"The federal government should not use its R&D budget to compete with or replicate the private sector," Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

But officials at the ATP said the GAO's research was flawed. Government investigators "handpicked" three completed projects, "presumably with the intent of making the strongest possible argument, and (drew) conclusions that are unreasonably far reaching," said Raymond Kammer, the director of the research program, in a letter to the GAO.

The ATP, which is run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is intended to accelerate the development of high-risk technologies - projects that may have trouble getting private funding because of fears of financial failure. Since 1990, it has funded 468 projects costing $1.5 billion in federal matching funds and completed 199 of them.

In its report, the GAO said it was difficult for the government to avoid duplicating the private sector because private-sector companies, for proprietary reasons, may not disclose what they are working on.

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