The February 23 action by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State to rescind $46.6 million in funding for programs at the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology would have damaging impacts on the full range of U.S. industries that depend on NIST for critical technology- based research and services. Coming on top of the House-approved rescission of $107 million in FY 1995 funds from NIST's Advanced Technology Program, the proposed rescission would be a substantial setback in the nation's efforts to invest in technology for economic growth. These actions would be shortsighted in today's climate where rapid technological change and global competitiveness are challenging many U.S. companies' very survival. They would erode the growing spirit of industry- government technology partnerships to strengthen our economy.
The proposed $19.5 million rescission for NIST's laboratory work would have a real impact on industry's ability to compete in both emerging and mature markets. NIST laboratories develop and deliver measurement techniques, test methods, standards and other types of infrastructural technologies and services that provide a common language needed by industry in all stages of commerce. These technologies are beyond the reach of individual companies for economic, technical or other reasons. They are widely needed by industry and have demonstrated great returns for the economy. The increased funds provided in FY 1995 for these activities are enabling NIST to support industry-focused efforts in advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, environmental technologies, advanced materials and processing, semiconductor metrology, information infrastructure, and international standards assistance. The proposed cuts would affect thousands of companies—and ultimately, workers and taxpayers—relying on NIST to provide these infrastructural technologies that underpin our economy.
The proposed $26.5 million rescission for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) would undermine this emerging nationwide network of extension centers—co-funded by state and local governments—that provide small and medium-sized manufacturers with technical assistance as they upgrade their operations to boost competitiveness and retain or create new jobs. The rescission would reduce funding available for establishing new centers around the country. Approximately 10 new centers could be funded in FY 1995, rather than the planned 36 centers. This program has shown a rate of return of 7 to 1 for the federal government's investment, with concrete benefits in increased sales, cost savings, and jobs for small manufacturers. Reducing the number of new centers would slow the delivery of MEP services to large regions of the United States—and many thousands of small companies.
The proposed rescission of $0.6 million for the Baldrige National Quality Program is small in absolute terms but constitutes a substantial fraction of NIST's $3.4 million quality improvement program. It would force the cancellation of brand new pilot programs to help the education and health care sectors take advantage of proven quality improvement efforts that are making large, positive differences for U.S. industry. At a time when government and business leaders—and citizens—are fighting to contain costs in both health care and education, it is foolish to abandon a promising approach for making substantial improvements in these systems. After several years of planning that involved both communities, these programs literally have just been launched—and, under the proposed rescission, would have to be terminated.