In his proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2006, President George W. Bush gives the U.S. Commerce Department's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) a new name and cuts its funding by more than half. The department's Advanced Technology Program gets neither a new name nor any funding for the coming fiscal year.
Actually, the president had no choice but to rename the MEP the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The last Congress mandated it, to honor former Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. It remains to be seen whether a new and more Republican Congress will go along with the White House and give the program $47 million for the spending year beginning Oct. 1 or defy the White House and fund the program at a higher level.
In the current fiscal year, the program, which is designed to improve the competitiveness of U.S.-based small manufacturers, is funded at $117 million. The program is supposed to encourage small manufacturers in the 50 states and Puerto Rico to adopt advanced technologies and best business practices. Individual centers are a partnership among private industry, educational institutions and federal, state and local governments. The Bush administration proposes to "maintain a strong national network of centers while focusing funding on centers' performance and need."
The Advanced Technology Program gets no such semi-encouraging words. "Consistent with the administration's emphasis on shifting resources to reflect changing needs, the 2006 budget proposes to terminate the Advanced Technology Program," says the White House Office of Management and Budget. What's more, "no new" grants of assistance are expected to be awarded during this fiscal year.
The ATP was created to speed up the commercialization of high-risk advanced technologies. Its critics, however, have claimed that much of its grant money has gone to large firms that ought to be able to commercialize promising technologies on their own. The ATP is funded at $144 million in the current year, down from $186 million in fiscal year 2004.