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The Government Role in Civilian Technology: Building a New Alliance
sharing between the government and industry. Joint R&D, to which industry committed financial resources, served to link projects closely to market signals and in-house R&D efforts. Direct subsidization of technology projects by the government has had far less success in facilitating commercial R&D efforts.
Avoiding excessive technological risk in time-constrained programs : Federal technology development programs must balance the risks of excessive technological conservatism against the risks associated with attempting to quickly develop and commercialize “blue-sky” technologies. Successful federal programs, such as agricultural research and commercial aircraft, have avoided excessive commitments to quick commercialization of immature technologies.
CURRENT GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS TO SUPPORT TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT
In addition to the programs in civilian technology development outlined above, postwar science and technology policy has included a commitment to dual-use and military R&D and technology development programs. Although this report centers on civilian technology, programs to support the defense industrial base, particularly high-technology development for defense, cannot be disregarded in an assessment of the federal role in promoting commercial R&D and technology. More than 90 percent of federal R&D funds go to industrial firms for defense-related programs. This funding has important implications for civilian technology commercialization efforts.
In the 1950s and 1960s, funding of R&D for defense-related technologies produced important civilian technology spin-offs in areas such as computers, semiconductors, and commercial airframes and engines. More recently, however, defense-related R&D has proved less effective as a source of new commercial technologies. Indeed, the relationship between the civilian and military areas of so-called dual-use technologies has changed significantly. In many technologies (computer hardware and microelectronics are among the best-known examples), advances in military applications now depend on rapid incorporation of technological innovations and applications from commercial technologies. Moreover, the economic viability of many U.S. suppliers of defense technologies depends increasingly on their fortunes in civilian, rather than military, markets. In the view of the panel, this change has important implications for the operations and priorities of one of the most successful supporters of defense-related technology development: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.