The Democrats' Plan To Get More R&D Into Civvies

As the U.S. loses its high-tech edge, politicians, industry experts, and consultants have devised myriad plans to restore competitiveness. Most have sunk without a ripple. But on July 1, the Senate Democratic leadership announced a strategy designed, in the words of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), to "fix what's wrong with the economy."

The premise is that federal R&D spending--on basic research, space missions, and defense--doesn't feed enough technology to civilian companies. So, the plan recommends a boost in money for applied research, such as the current high-performance computing project. The Democrats would double funds doled out through the Small Business Innovation & Research Program and create a consortium to help industry commercialize innovations. They would also raise funding for engineering education, job training, and promoting exports.

Many of these ideas are in legislation before Congress, and Senate Democrats hope a united front will secure passage. The biggest hurdle is cost: $22 billion in new money over five years. To make that more palatable, the Democrats want to slip some projects into the Defense Dept. budget.