There was also much discussion of the extensive ATP assessment program. The outside assessments, complemented by in-house evaluations, demonstrate that the program is achieving its goals in many cases—though not all—and that the program is willing to terminate projects that are not achieving their goals. 146 As noted, this ability to self-correct in a timely manner is an important feature of the ATP. The willingness to accept the inevitable failures and cancel funding is in itself a valuable aspect of the program and one that is unfortunately only too rare. Government programs that can demonstrate an ability to meet their goals, particularly inherently uncertain R&D goals, are also rare. Programs that can positively contribute to these goals can make contributions to U.S. economic growth and international competitiveness. Indeed, as Professor Feller notes, the extensive ATP assessment program has itself led to significant progress in understanding important aspects of the U.S. innovation system and supported the development of methodologies for its analysis.
As mentioned, there are clearly issues for the NRC assessment to address. For example, issues such as the timing and speed of the award process should be considered, as well as the possibility of concentrating resources in thematic areas, better integration of assessment results in the decision process, and the need to ensure sufficient program scale for maximum impact. There is the related possibility of the program undertaking more “work for others” as do a number of the DoE laboratories. This approach was suggested by Francis Collins of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the initial NRC meeting to review the ATP. These potential improvements might prove valuable to the new ATP management. Yet as the NRC study goes forward, it is important we note and record what the researchers and program participants—winners and losers alike—are saying. What they seem to be saying, and what the outside research shows, is that this is a federal program meeting its challenging goals.
146 See William F. Long, Advanced Technology Program: Performance of Completed Projects—Status Report Number 1, op. cit.