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Suggested Citation:"UNRESOLVED ISSUES." National Academy of Engineering. 1991. Technology Policy and Critical Technologies: A Summary of Recent Reports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20840.
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Page 34
Suggested Citation:"UNRESOLVED ISSUES." National Academy of Engineering. 1991. Technology Policy and Critical Technologies: A Summary of Recent Reports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20840.
×
Page 35
Suggested Citation:"UNRESOLVED ISSUES." National Academy of Engineering. 1991. Technology Policy and Critical Technologies: A Summary of Recent Reports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20840.
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Page 36

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Unresolved Issues Although agreement on key points is clearly growing, major issues in U . S . technology policy discussions remain unresolved. THE ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IN COMMERCIAL TECHNOLOGY Despite all the recent activity and attention to the issue, the specifics of the appropriate role of the federal government in commercial technology remain unresolved. The importance of government policy in providing an environment conducive to industrial innovation and competitiveness is widely acknowledged. At the level of specific individual federal policies and programs to stimulate commercial technology, however, there is less agree­ ment. There is broad support for the traditional federal role in supporting basic scientific research and technology development and acquisition for specific federal missions, most notably national defense. There is increasing concern, however, that this is not enough to maintain U. S. technological competitiveness and support seems to be growing for broader government involvement in generic commercial technologies. Such programs are often associated with "industrial policy, " however, and the position of the White House remains uncertain in some observers' minds . 1 6 Although the concept of generic technology is embraced in the OSTP technology policy statement, there is uncertainty about the extent to which the statement will be reflected in subsequent government policy decisions and programs. Moreover, budget levels requested for new initia­ tives such as the Advanced Technology Program at NIST ( $47 million in FY 1 992 ) do not seem to represent a significant change in priorities for the Administration. There is support, as noted in the previous section, for a strong federal role in creating and maintaining a financial environment conducive to inno­ vation and manufacturing by lowering the cost of capital and reducing pres­ sures for short-term profits. There is also support for an increased federal role in improving the human resource base for new technology. However, there is lack of agreement and, in some cases, disagreement on specific recommendations in both of these areas. 34

Some of the reports argue that the federal government can help remove impediments to the commercial application of technology by "harmonizing" national policies in areas other than direct support of research, technology development, and technology transfer-such as the budget deficit, tax laws, antitrust, and regulation-with the goal of improved competitiveness. But not all parties agree on these actions. For example, the OT A report Making Things Better analyzes arguments for and against changes in antitrust law to encourage cooperation among firms. It points out that it is difficult to predict how much effect a change would have on the level of cooperation because of the many other factors that affect cooperation. It also points out that a " further weakening of antitrust enforcement could send the wrong signal to business, and invite anti-competitive behavior. " Some reports, such as the first NACS annual report, recommend pro­ moting strategically important industries with low-cost capital or govern­ ment guaranteed purchases . Most of the reports, however, shy away from such direct government measures. They also, for the most part, stop short of supporting trade policies designed to manage competition from dominant foreign producers or broad industrial policy-i.e., coordinated technology, industry, and trade policies to promote key industries. RESISTANCE TO REORDERING PRIORITIES Implicit in the concept of critical technologies is the possibility that, once technologies are recognized as critical, development priorities-both public and private-may have to be reordered. In a time of budget stringen­ cy, changing priorities implies reallocation of resources. This engenders opposition from supporters of programs that are not on the list because they fear they will lose funding to the technologies that have been identified as critical. Thus it is not surprising that there is considerable resistance in the reports to the idea of reordering priorities for technology development in­ vestments. Some reports, such as the DOD 's 1 989 Critical Technology Plan, question the wisdom of " disproportionate " funding for a particular " critical technology " taken out of context, without matching increases for related technologies . It argues, with reason, that the promise of critical technologies can only be realized when they are integrated into a balanced science and technology program with a full spectrum of mutually supportive technologies. Steadily improving technologies in diverse areas are an essen­ tial part of the overall S& T investment strategy and must not be short­ changed when recognizing the more visible role of the " critical technolo­ gies. " Similarly, the Department of Commerce report argues that a " targeted industry " strategy, in which a few technologies or industries are singled out for intensive government support, is not desirable for the United States. 35

According to this view, the United States-because it has a large, diversified economy, a large science base, and rich technological resources-should pursue development of as many emerging technologies as possible to diversi­ fy risk and broaden the future industrial base. LEADERSHIP The question of leadership also remains unresolved. Who will lead the broad coalition of government, industry, and academia that must work together to improve U . S . competitiveness ? Who will establish the new priorities and set the new directions ? Who will set the policy goals ? Who will oversee the implementation of the policy and monitor programs ? The difficult structural and investment changes that would be part of a more competitiveness-oriented technology policy can only take place with strong leadership. Some reports argue that only the federal government, and the President in particular, can provide the necessary leadership for certain needs. They argue that the federal government represents the broad national interest and can serve as the catalyst for bringing together disparate groups in a common cause . These reports tend to recommend strengthening of government organization for science and technology policy so that the government can play a leadership role. Such calls for federal leadership and coordination of national technology policy are often met with distrust. Several reports call instead for industry leadership. They argue that industry is in a better position than government to identify technologies with potential commercial value and technological areas where the competitive threat is greatest. Some examples of industry­ led activities are emerging, such as the AlA's National Center for Advanced Technology, but it is unclear how they will ultimately influence public and private policy. What is clear is that leadership and coordination mechanisms are need­ ed that will allow and encourage institutions in each sector-government, industry, and academia-to address those aspects of the technological leader­ ship and competitiveness challenge in which they have comparative advan­ tage. The key is establishing a common goal and a shared understanding of what needs to be done and of what the relative roles and interactions of various groups should be in achieving that goal. 36

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