On the surface, the Bush administrations proposed fiscal year 2005 budget looks as if it gives technology investment its due. But a closer look leaves us scratching our heads.
Unless you carry a gun or a badge, you wont find much to celebrate in the presidents plan. Bushs $132 billion in research and development spending calls for a 7 percent increase for the Department of Defense and a 15 percent increase for the Department of Homeland Security. This funding comes at the expense of significant public/private partnerships that are a breeding ground for important technologies to improve manufacturing and business operations on the home front, bolstering our economy and long-term security in the bargain.
The Bush budget cuts technology and science programs in the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce. Bush plans to end grant initiatives such as the Advanced Technology Program and the Technology Opportunities Program.
The ATP cuts would spell the end of a number of long-range IT research projects already under way. Among the casualties would be a project supported by a $2 million grant from last year in which developers are building software that allows manufacturing plants to retool and reconfigure quickly. This is technology that can help U.S. factories compete.
The TOP cuts raise similar questions, since they would end ongoing programs such as the one at the University of Alaska, which is working to improve electronic cataloging and distance learning technologies. Such programs can help overcome the thorny problem of the urban/rural technology divide.
In addition to R&D cuts, the Bush administrations proposed budget ignores needed upgrades to our national labs and dismisses worthwhile efforts at the DOE to seek viable alternative-energy sources. Moreover, proposed flat spending on IT initiatives within government agencies—after several years of 10 to 11 percent increases—may seem to make budget sense in tight economic times, but it isnt likely to help improve an overall government technology infrastructure that consistently gets poor marks from its own auditors for performance, integration and security.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle have voiced opposition to these cuts. We call on them to fight for programs that nurture technologies—and therefore the businesses and jobs—of the future. The governments role is to balance the safety of the nation with the need for effective R&D that keeps America on technologys leading edge.
Making the world safe for free enterprise is a worthy goal, but undercutting our ability to compete in such a world doesnt make sense. The tax revenues for defense, after all, come from the profits of industry and the wages of workers—in an economy that is fueled by technology.
eWEEK welcomes your point of view. Send comments to eWEEK@ziffdavis.com.