Computer Execs To Uncle Sam: `Help!'

Computer companies in the U. S. are so competitive that they usually won't give each other the time of day. But faced with a foreign threat, CEOs of 11 top companies--from Apple Computer Inc. to Unisys Corp.--got together in the fall of 1989 to plot a defense. Their first report, in July 1990, warned that the U. S. was sliding in all the major technologies that are crucial to world leadership in computers.

Now, the computer makers are telling Washington what should be done to halt this decline. In a two-part report, issued on Feb. 26, the CEOs argue that the government doesn't know how its investment of some $70 billion in research and development is being spent--and that critical areas, such as computer technology, are getting short shrift. That's why the group wants more industry input in the federal budget process, increased spending on high-performance computing, and a redirection of the national laboratories from designing bombs to perfecting chips and software. "There's no magic pill," says Marshall C. Phelps Jr., director of government programs at IBM. "But if the public and private sector can identify the right projects to work on, we'd all be better off."

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