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<nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy
Gary Chapman on 17 Aug 2000 14:35:13 -0000


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<nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy


DIGITAL NATION

Tech Policy Likely to Emerge as a Key Issue in Campaign

By Gary Chapman

Copyright 2000, The Los Angeles Times, All Rights Reserved

During the Democratic Party convention here, we're not likely to hear much
detail about the candidates' plans for science and technology policy. That
would make even the most dedicated convention watchers reach for their TV
remotes. But future science and technology policy will be an important
centerpiece of many campaign issues, especially given Vice President Al
Gore's history of running as a candidate of and for high tech. 

When Gore and Clinton ran in 1992, they attracted the support of many
high-tech leaders of that time who had previously been lifelong
Republicans, such as Hewlett-Packard Co. President John Young and the
then-head of Apple Computer Inc., John Sculley. Gore, in particular, who
had been promoting the Internet for years as a senator with influence on
science and technology policy, cast himself as a young and tech-savvy
candidate in sharp contrast to President Bush. Bush came to represent an
older generation who didn't yet grasp the importance of technology. 

Of course, the 1992 election was before the "dot-com" delirium, the
technology-spiked stock market boom, the sweep of the Internet around the
world and the recognition that high tech is the driving force of the
economy. 

Now, in this year's election, no one underestimates the significance of
technology. Gore has once again positioned himself as the candidate who
best understands high tech, and he has the support of some major
technology players such as Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr
and Apple Computer's Steve Jobs. 

Moreover, the two presidential campaigns are shaping up as a referendum on
how best to manage a technology-driven economy because the technology
advisors surrounding George W. Bush are opposed to just about everything
Gore believes in. 

When Clinton and Gore came into office in January 1993, the first policy
paper they produced was about their high-tech plans. Titled "Technology
for America's Growth," the paper released just three weeks after their
inauguration was a statement about a new direction for federal technology
policy, one that emphasized targeted civilian technology investments
instead of the old model of spending money on military research and
development with the hope that something useful for the economy would then
"spin off" from military research. 

The Clinton administration also proposed a dramatic initiative of spending
about $60 billion on various civilian programs, including technology
research, during a time of crushing federal budget deficits. Their
philosophy was that federal spending could jump-start the
recession-plagued economy and that technology R&D would lead to prosperity
and job creation. 

Congress, however, balked because of the financial risk of this proposal,
and only a few of the Clinton-Gore plans were funded. Then came the
election of 1994, when the Republicans took over the House of
Representatives and set the stage for six years of bitter conflict between
Congress and the Clinton White House, which included, of course, a
shutdown of the government and the second impeachment of a president. 

The Republican who took over the chairmanship of the House Science
Committee in 1994 was Robert S. Walker from Pennsylvania, handpicked for
the job by his mentor, Newt Gingrich. Walker set about dismantling all the
Clinton-Gore plans for science and technology. He cut the federal R&D
budget 34% over five years, he tried to eliminate the Commerce Department,
he regarded with contempt all the civilian investment programs Gore
favored, and he slashed funding for programs such as renewable energy
research and boosted funding for nuclear power. His committee held
hearings on whether global climate change is real or not, hearings stacked
with witnesses skeptical about global warming. 

The late Rep. George E. Brown Jr., Walker's Democratic predecessor as
chairman of the House Science Committee, called Walker "the most
ideological chairman in the entire Congress." 

Walker is now chief technology advisor to Gov. George W. Bush. Walker
retired from Congress in 1997 and has been a lobbyist in Washington since
then. His reappearance as an advisor to Bush portends a repeat of the
battles of 1994, a time that heated up the politics of science and
technology policy to a roiling boil. 

Gore essentially believes the federal government's role is to support
research and development in so-called critical technologies related to
energy, transportation, the environment and the Internet, among other
fields. He has been the political figure behind federal programs such as
the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles program run by the
Commerce Department, the Advanced Battery Consortium and Internet 2, the
research program investigating a very high-speed successor to today's
Internet technology. 

Walker, however, believes that the government should invest only in basic
scientific research and leave technological development to the private
sector. Bush's platform on technology calls only for larger investments in
military R&D, a $20-billion-per-year increase. 

Gore's model is sometimes called "technology pull," meaning that the goal
of accomplishing something grand, in scientific or technological terms,
pulls the technology toward the goal. Examples include the Apollo space
program in the 1960s and the goal of halting global warming. 

Walker's approach is more like the Cold War decades of military R&D
spinoffs, combined with a faith in the "black box" model of science, which
means that the government simply dumps money into the mysterious black box
of science and out comes something good for society. 

If Gore is elected president and if the House reverts to a Democratic
majority, Gore is likely to revive many of his technology investment plans
that were nixed by Republicans six years ago. He may even restart the
Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the nation's only
technology forecasting agency that was killed by budget cuts in 1995. 

If Gore takes the White House and Congress remains in Republican hands, we
can expect to see a continuation of the ideological conflicts over science
and technology policy that exploded on the political stage in 1994-95.
We'll then continue to muddle along in Washington, without much progress,
until the "new economy" hits its first recession and the rules of the game
change once again

Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the University of
Texas at Austin. He can be reached at gary.chapman {AT} mail.utexas.edu. 





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