Order Code 95-36 SPR
Updated July 6, 2005
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
The Advanced Technology Program
Wendy H. Schacht
Specialist in Science and Technology
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The Advanced Technology Program (ATP) was created by P.L. 100-418, the
Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, to encourage public-private
cooperation in the development of pre-competitive technologies with broad application
across industries. Administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST), a laboratory of the Department of Commerce, this activity has been targeted for
elimination as a means to cut federal spending. Since FY2000, the original Housepassed appropriation bills have not included funding for ATP. Many of the
Administration’s budget requests have proposed termination of the program. However,
ATP continues to be supported, although at levels below that achieved in FY1995 when
the activity was expanded significantly. The FY2005 Omnibus Appropriations Act,
P.L. 108-447, financed the program at $136.5 million (after mandated rescissions),
which reflects a 20% decrease from the earlier fiscal year. For FY2006, both the
Administration’s budget proposal and the House-passed version of H.R. 2862, the
FY2006 Science, State, Justice, and Commerce appropriations bill, contain no funding
for ATP. H.R. 2862, as reported to the Senate from the Committee on Appropriations
would provide ATP with $140 million. This report will be updated as events warrant.
Title V of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act (P.L. 100-418) established
the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). This effort grew out of concerns over the
competitiveness of American companies in the global marketplace. While numerous
factors affect the rate of technical progress in an economy, what was seen as critical is
how quickly and successfully science and technology are transformed into new or better
products, processes, or services. The commercialization and diffusion of goods and
services stood out as significant problems in the ability of U.S. industries to compete.
Underlying the structure of ATP is an effort to foster cooperation among
government, industry, and academia to facilitate the generation of new technologies for
the commercial market. While opponents argue that joint ventures stifle competition,
proponents assert that they are designed to accommodate the strengths and responsibilities
of various sectors. Collaborative projects attempt to utilize and integrate what the
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participants do best and to direct R&D activities toward the goal of meeting marketplace
demands. Joint endeavors are seen as reducing risks and costs while permitting work that
crosses traditional boundaries of expertise and experience.
The Advanced Technology Program was designed “. . .to serve as a focal point for
cooperation between the public and private sectors in the development of industrial
technology” and to help solve “. . .problems of concern to large segments of an industry,”
as noted in the Conference Report to accompany the bill. Placed within the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in recognition of the laboratory’s ongoing
relationship with industry, ATP provides seed funding to single companies or to industryled consortia of universities, businesses, and/or government laboratories for development
of generic (broad-based), pre-competitive technologies that have many applications across
industries. Awards, based on technical and business merit, are for high-risk work past the
basic research stage but not yet ready for commercialization. Market potential is an
important consideration in project selection. Scientific and technical review generally is
performed by federal and academic experts. Business plan assessments are made by
individuals from the private sector.
Awards are for either product or process (manufacturing) technology development.
Individual firms are restricted to funding of $2 million over three years. Money is to be
used only for direct R&D costs. Large firms must provide at least 60% of total (direct and
indirect) projects costs; small and medium-sized companies are not required to cost-share
direct costs. Joint ventures may receive up to five years of financing for any amount
limited only by availability. In such cases, the private sector must provide more than 50%
of funding. While universities and federal laboratories can participate in collaborative
work, the grant from ATP is made solely to companies. P.L. 102-245 modified the
original law and required that the recipient of an ATP award be a firm that is U.S.-owned
(“a company that has a majority ownership or control by individuals who are citizens of
the United States”) or a business that is incorporated in the United States and has a parent
company established in a country that affords American firms reciprocal opportunities.
According to NIST, through the end of 2004, 768 projects have been funded, of
which about 30% are joint ventures. Approximately $2.3 billion in federal funds have
been matched by $2.1 billion from the private sector. Small businesses or cooperative
efforts led by such firms make up 65% of the awardees. The first four competitions
(ending August 1994) were general in nature. However, in 1995 NIST restructured part
of ATP to focus on various groups of projects in “well-defined” programmatic areas
designed for long-range support. These were selected in conjunction with industry. Since
FY1999 one competition has been held in all areas of technology.
In its first year, FY1991, ATP was funded at $36 million. Appropriations increased
to $48 million in FY1992, $67.9 million in FY1993, and $199.5 million in FY1994. For
FY1995, financial support expanded significantly to $431 million. However, P.L. 104-6
rescinded $90 million of this amount. Funding for FY1996 was $221 million with a small
increase to $225 million in FY1997 but reduced to $218 million by P.L. 105-18. For
FY1998, P.L. 105-119 appropriated $192.5 million. P.L. 105-277 provided $197.5
million in FY1999 support for ATP, 3% above the previous year. This figure reflected
a $6 million rescission contained in the same law that accounts for “deobligated” funds
resulting from early termination of certain projects. In FY2000, the appropriations bill
that originally passed the House included no funding for ATP, since, as stated in the
accompanying report, “. . .the program has not produced a body of evidence to overcome
those fundamental questions about whether the program should exist in the first place.”
Yet, P.L. 106-113 did finance ATP at $142.6 million, 28% less than FY1999. In FY2001,
the original House-passed appropriations bill did not fund the program, yet P.L. 106-553
provided $145.7 million, 2% above the previous year’s financing.
The Bush Administration’s FY2002 budget proposed suspension of new ATP
projects pending a program evaluation, although $13 million was to be provided for
ongoing financial commitments. Again, the initial appropriations bill passed by the
House terminated ATP. The final legislation, P.L. 107-77, financed the effort at $184.5
million, almost 27% more than FY2001.
The President requested $107.9 million in FY2003 funding for ATP, 35% below the
previous appropriation. Several Continuing Resolutions financed the program until the
108th Congress enacted P.L. 108-7, the Omnibus FY2003 Appropriations Act, which
funded ATP at $178.8 million (after a 0.65% across-the-board rescission mandated by the
legislation), 3% below the earlier fiscal year.
The Administration’s FY2004 budget requested $27 million for ATP (an 85%
decrease) to cover on-going commitments; no new projects would be financed. H.R.
2799, as originally passed by the House, provided no support for the program. This bill
subsequently was incorporated into H.R. 2673, the FY2004 Consolidated Appropriations
Act, which became P.L. 108-199 when signed by the President on January 23, 2004. The
Advanced Technology Program was funded at $170.5 million after a mandated 0.59%
across-the-board rescission mandated in the legislation (but not including the NIST share
of a rescission of Department of Commerce unobligated balances). This was 4.5% below
the FY2003 level.
For FY2005, the President’s budget proposal and the original version of H.R. 4754
passed by the House, did not include funding for ATP. As reported to the Senate by the
Committee on Appropriations, S. 2809 would have financed ATP at $203 million, 19%
above the earlier fiscal year. The FY2005 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-447)
provided ATP with $136.5 million (after a mandated 0.8% across-the-board rescission
and a 0.54% rescission from Commerce, Justice, State discretionary accounts), a decrease
of 20% from the previous fiscal year. The legislation also rescinded $3.9 million in
unobligated balances from prior year funds in the ATP account.
Both the President’s FY2006 budget and the House-passed version of H.R. 2862, the
FY2006 Science, State, Justice, and Commerce appropriations bill do not provide any
support for ATP. H.R. 2862, as reported to the Senate from the Committee on
Appropriations, would fund the program $140 million.
NIST has undertaken numerous studies of ATP; the General Accounting Office
(GAO, now the Government Accountability Office) has also studied the program. In its
first evaluation (1994), NIST concluded the program had stimulated research that would
not have been done without the federal support; that R&D cycles within companies have
been abbreviated; and that “valuable business alliances” had been created.1 However, in
a May 1995 report, GAO argued that these conclusions can not be adequately
substantiated by the information provided in the NIST study on which they are based.2
Acknowledging that it was too early to determine the long-term impact of ATP, the GAO
report stated that some of the indicators NIST utilized “. . .may create false expectations
of the program’s economic success.” NIST vigorously defended its methodology.
Additional studies funded by NIST found that ATP shortened R&D cycles by half
and accelerated technological progress within the firm; stimulated productive
collaborative activities among companies and between firms and universities; facilitated
commercialization; and increased private sector investment in high risk technology
development.3 An April 2000 progress report reinforced these earlier findings.4 This
study indicated that “. . . participants in 261 projects have identified more than 1,200
different applications (or uses) of the technologies under development,” and that the
majority of these are new solutions to market needs or improvements in existing products
or processes. Product cycles are being reduced, and while 24% of respondents said that
they would not have undertaken the project without ATP funding, most others noted that
the R&D would have been significantly slower without such support. NIST found that
“. . . organizations are pursuing different R&D than they would have undertaken without
ATP funding,” and that this work is more technically advanced and risky. The ATP
financing also stimulated additional private sector money in these technical areas than
otherwise would be the case. Over half of the companies are now able to make a new or
improved product. According to March 9, 2000, testimony by Raymond Kammer, then
director of NIST, approximately 120 new technologies have been commercialized.
The concern over whether ATP supports projects that could reasonably attract private
sector investment has been an issue throughout the life of the program. In a report
examining award winners and “near winners” during the first four years of ATP, GAO
found the program funded both projects that would not have progressed without this
federal support and those that would have been financed by the private sector.5 Half of
National Institute of Standards and Technology, Setting Priorities and Measuring Results
at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, January 31, 1994.
General Accounting Office, Performance Measurement, Efforts to Evaluate the Advanced
Technology Program, GAO/RCED-95-68, May 1995.
Silber and Associates., Company Opinion about the ATP and Its Early Effects, January 30,
1995; Acceleration of Technology Development by the Advanced Technology Program: The
Experience of 28 Projects Funded in 1991, by Frances Jean Laidlaw, for the National Institute
of Standards and Technology, Economic Assessment Office, October 23, 1997; National Institute
of Standards and Technology, Advanced Technology Program: Development, Commercialization,
and Diffusion of Enabling Technologies, by Jeanne W. Powell, December 1997; National
Institute of Standards and Technology, Advanced Technology Program Performance of
Completed Projects, Status Report Number 1, by William F. Long, March 1999.
National Institute of Standards and Technology, Development, Commercialization, and
Diffusion of Enabling Technologies: Progress Report, by Jeanne W. Powell and Karen L.
Lellock, April 2000.
General Accounting Office, Measuring Performance: The Advanced Technology Program and
the awardees stated that they would have continued without ATP financing. Of the “near
winners,” 50% pursued their efforts in the absence of federal money but took longer to
achieve their goals. According to GAO, while 63% of the applicants did not look
elsewhere for funds, about half of the applicants who did “. . .were told by prospective
funders that their projects were either too risky or ‘precompetitive’ — characteristics that
fulfill the aims of ATP funding.” Respondents also noted that the program facilitated
development of joint ventures to pursue ATP activities.
A study undertaken by the American Enterprise Institute concluded that ATP “has
had only limited success” in choosing projects that could not raise private sector funds.
According to the authors, this has occurred because companies are not interested in
pursuing R&D that fails to complement work performed for profit. In addition, the ATP
selection criteria focus on commercial sales and job creation, not on projects for which
there are “broad social benefits” and insufficient private investment. An April 2000
report by GAO, reinforced by May 26, 2005 testimony, noted that “two inherent factors
in ATP’s current award selection process — the need to guard against conflicts of
interest and the need to protect proprietary information — make it unlikely that ATP can
avoid funding research already being pursued by the private sector in the same time
Issues and Observations
There have been efforts in the past several years to terminate the Advanced
Technology Program. These actions, along with additional attempts to withdraw
government support for other technology development efforts, appear to reflect a
philosophy that eschews direct federal financing of private sector R&D efforts aimed at
the commercialization of new technologies and production processes. Such activities are
seen by opponents as “industrial policy,” the means by which government rather than the
marketplace “picks winners and losers.” Instead, measures that would occasion a better
investment environment for industry to expand their innovation-related efforts would,
proponents argue, be preferable to government funding.
This signals a change from the existing varied approach to facilitating technological
advancement. Legislative initiatives have resulted in a body of laws, programs, and
policies that involve both indirect and direct measures to stimulate technology
advancement in the private sector. Indirect incentives include a research and
experimentation tax credit; changes to the antitrust laws to encourage collaborative R&D
and cooperative manufacturing ventures; alterations of patent ownership policies to
facilitate government-industry-university interaction; and practices to promote technology
transfer. Direct measures involve federal funding for ATP, the Small Business Innovation
Research Program, and the now terminated Technology Reinvestment Project of the
Department of Defense. These cost-shared programs have been supported, in part,
because of their potential contribution to the country’s national or economic security.
Private-Sector Funding, GAO/RCED-96-47, Jan. 1996.
General Accounting Office, Advanced Technology Program: Inherent Factors in Selection
Process Could Limit Identification of Similar Research, GAO/RCED-00-114, April 2000, 5.
The mix of approaches was developed with bipartisan support in Congress. Under
former President Reagan, public-private cooperation in research and development was
promoted by the executive branch. The George H. Bush Administration adopted a policy
in which the government’s role was “. . .to support the development of generic or enabling
technologies at the pre-competitive stage of R&D.” The Clinton Administration
expanded this concept to include additional direct federal funding to achieve increased
commercialization of the results of R&D. ATP reflects such ideas; thus discussions over
its proposed elimination have called into question many of the underlying assumptions
shaping the environment within which industry works toward technological advancement.
Proposals to terminate or severely limit ATP have renewed the debate over the role
of the federal government in promoting commercial technology development. In arguing
for less direct federal involvement, advocates believe that the market is superior to
government in deciding technologies worthy of investment. Mechanisms that enhance
the market’s opportunities and abilities to make such choices are preferred. It is suggested
that agency discretion in selecting one technology over another can lead to political
intrusion and industry dependency. On the other hand, supporters of direct methods argue
that it is important to focus on those technologies that have the greatest promise as
determined by industry and supported by matching funds from the private sector. They
assert that the government can serve as a catalyst for cooperation.
Technological progress is important to the nation because of its contribution to
economic growth and a high standard of living. How best to achieve this continues to be
debated. Critics view ATP as a means for a federal agency to select commercial firms
and/or technologies for support. They maintain that the absence of market-generated
decisions will result in technologies that can not be utilized productively by participating
companies. Such a program encourages selection of well-written proposals rather than
assistance for truly important technologies. However, proponents stress that ATP is
market driven and that the technical areas for investment have been developed in
conjunction with industry. In addition, companies have to put up significant amounts of
funding and survive a rigorous business review; procedures that make the Advanced
Technology Program different from other federal efforts.
Perhaps most crucial to the debate is the way cooperative R&D is viewed. Today,
American companies appear to be more competitive in the global marketplace than when
the 1988 Act was being considered. While there are many factors contributing to this
improving situation, proponents of joint R&D efforts, such as ATP, point to the benefits
derived from increased technical collaboration and the development and application of
the resulting new technologies and production processes. Questions remain whether
direct federal funding for such programs is the most effective or efficient means to secure
these outcomes. Is the approach embodied in ATP the preferable one, or could other
mechanisms such as permanent tax credits for R&D, changes in capital gains treatment,
and/or liability and regulatory reform be more effective?