National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"EVALUATIVE COMMENTS." 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 37
Suggested Citation:"EVALUATIVE COMMENTS." 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 38
Suggested Citation:"EVALUATIVE COMMENTS." 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 39

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Evaluative Comments It is beyond the scope of this paper to offer a detailed critique of each report . It is appropriate, however, to make some evaluative comments on the reports as a group. Most of the reports involve little or no serious original research or data collection and little or no guiding theoretical framework. The critical tech­ nologies reports generally follow a " methodology" consisting of generating and applying a set of criteria for selecting critical technologies. Important aspects of the methodology are left vague or unstated, however. Definitions of criteria are quite general and little information is provided on how they were applied. How was it determined, for instance, that a particular tech­ nology could " cause revolutionary . . . improvements over current products or processes" ? 17 Such predictions are highly uncertain under the best circum­ stances; companies that stake their business fortunes on such predictions are often wrong. There is little in these reports to give one confidence that these predictions are better. The group consensus process through which these predictions were made is at once a source of strength and of weakness. Although it has led to a widespread consensus that a relatively small number of technological fields will underlie future competitive success, this consensus may simply reflect the faddishness of certain technologies. It is possible that important commercial technologies of the future have been overlooked and that some of the critical technologies will not be so critical . This is not to suggest that the critical technologies reports were not done well, but simply to point out inherent shortcomings in this type of exercise. Furthermore, the critical technologies identified in some of the lists are so broad that they cannot be very helpful in making resource allocation decisions. Attempting to lead in all the critical technologies that have been identified in such broad terms is effectively the same as trying to maintain a dominant U . S . position across-the-board. We really have not narrowed our focus very much . Similar criticisms may be made of the technology policy reports. Key terms such as technology, technological capability, technology base, and technological leadership are either not defined or defined in only a general way. Although most of the reports link technology to national economic performance, they are not always precise about what aspect of economic 37

performance should be of paramount concern-e.g., economic growth, pro­ ductivity, or competitiveness. The primary focus of these reports is compet­ itiveness, but most of the reports do not define competitiveness in an opera­ tional way. The reports tend not to differentiate the various segments of U . S . indus­ try, nor to recognize the difficulty in generalizing about the interests and needs of the U . S . industrial community. Most of the reports finesse diffi­ cult issues, such as what constitutes an American company when determin­ ing eligibility for government-sponsored cooperation or technology transfer. Should a foreign-owned firm be automatically disqualified? What if it man­ ufactures or conducts R&D in the United States ? As a result, the reports ' recommendations in these areas leave thorny unresolved issues. The reports leave many questions unanswered, especially those neces­ sary for implementation of the recommendations. The Carnegie Commis­ sion report Technology and Economic Perform ance lists some of the ques­ tions that need answers: " . . . the Bush Administration believes that it is appropriate for the federal government to support 'pre-competitive, generic technology. ' [footnote omitted! What does this statement mean in operational term s ? What are the criteria for deciding which technologies to emphasize ? Which departments and agencies should undertake technology support ? Where is the proper boundary line between government action and private initiative ? Should government support be contingent upon the rapid dissemination of results to accelerate adoption ? If so, how can incen­ tives for private development investments be maintained? 1 8 " Particularly with respect t o critical technologies, the reports say little about the levels of new money needed, where it would come from (i.e., the public or private sector), precisely what it would be spent on, expected results, or timetables . Although there is increased attention to the problems and potential of technology diffusion and manufacturing modernization, the primary empha­ sis of most reports remains on new technology development. It is increas­ ingly acknowledged that government, industry, and academia all have im­ portant roles to play in technology and competitiveness, but there has been inadequate examination of the parts to be played by small and traditional manufacturers, workers, and citizens. Although there is broad agreement on the areas of government policy that need to be changed, consensus has not been achieved on many specific policy recommendations. In a few cases, reports have addressed the same recommendation but reached conflicting conclusions on its advisability. For the most part, however, the reports have simply made different recommen­ dations, with the result that there are many different recommendations scattered across a broad range of public policy areas. 38

It is possible that if a significantly different approach to U. S . technology policy emerges, it will be driven largely by perceived national defense needs. In a sense this is the path of least resistance in the U. S. policymaking sys­ tem because of the broad support for a strong federal role in the area of national defense. Such an approach, however, would have serious implica­ tions. There are already questions about DOD's efficiency and effective­ ness, 19 and it is doubtful in a practical sense that Department of Defense priorities and practices would optimize U . S . industrial competitiveness and economic and social welfare. 39

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