gram is one that could benefit from a more stable and robust funding.40 ATP is best understood as one effective and valuable element of a national innovation system that employs a portfolio of policies and instruments to encourage the discovery, development, and exploitation of new technologies.41 It is not a panacea for the challenges facing the U.S. economy. Rather, as the assessment carried out by the Government-Industry Partnerships Committee suggests, the ATP is achieving its goals with a degree of success commensurate with the technical and commercial difficulties associated with the program’s objectives. Its awards hold the potential of advancing commercially and socially valuable technologies. As with any program, it could be improved, and the Committee’s report recommended some ways to do so. It is also important to remember that the ATP carries out a much more rigorous review and assessment effort than any other U.S. partnership program. The Advanced Technology Program arguably represents a “best practice” in the United States in terms of the concept, management, regular assessment, and potential contributions.42

• • •

Whatever improvements might be made in the ATP and SBIR programs, the policy dialogue surrounding such programs certainly can be improved. Careful research, regular assessment, and attention to the initiatives under way around the world are more informative than sloganeering about “picking winners and losers.”43 A constructive dialogue about measures to capitalize on the substantial and growing U.S. R&D investment in areas of great promise needs to be advanced. Such a dialogue can help avoid misallocation of public funds and capture the substantial benefits of new technologies for the U.S. economy.


Economic Policy conduct an assessment of ATP in January 1999 as a part of its broader review of Government-Industry Partnerships for the Development of New Technologies.


See National Research Council, The Advanced Technology Program, Assessing Outcomes, op. cit., p. 94.


See Richard R. Nelson, ed, National Innovation System: A Comparative Study, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.


See National Research Council, The Advanced Technology Program, Assessing Outcomes, op. cit.


With regards to “winners and losers,” the government’s awards are in fact often made to firms in technologies that do not succeed (i.e., losers). This is normal. High-risk, potentially high-payout investments result in frequent failure, literally by definition. The ATP and SBIR programs also provide awards to firms with technologies that do succeed. These successes outweigh the costs of failed awards and permit advances in welfare growth and the success of national missions that would not otherwise occur in the same time frame, if at all.

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