|Volume 2: No. 27|
The House VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee has made its recommendations on NSF funding for FY'93. (The House allocates budget levels for agencies and programs, then considers them in new groupings for final appropriation and authorization. NSF competes with the Veterans' Administration, Housing and Urban Development, NASA, EPA, and several independent agencies. A bit of bad press such as the recent NSF behavioral-science rescission can shift large sums from one agency to another.) The subcommittee had $3B more than last year, most of which went to the VA and HUD. The Space Station was cut to $525M below request. NSF was recommended at $2.723B, just $150M more than last year. Salaries and Expenses will be cut by $19.5M. (Warning: You may get the level of service that you pay for!) NSF's Critical Technologies Institute should get its $1M budget request. Full Committee mark up in the House may not occur until mid July. [firstname.lastname@example.org, grants, 6/29.]
The Commerce Dept. has announced 27 Advanced Technology Program awards to 80 institutions. About $90M will be given in this second year's competition, with another $100M planned for later years of continuing awards. Eleven projects involve electronics, data storage, and semiconductor technology, including an HDTV fractal compression chip from Iterated Systems (Norcross, GA). Other awards are mainly in materials and manufacturing. Individual-company awards are limited to $2M of direct R&D costs over three years. [Brian Robinson, EE Times, 5/4.] AI systems in support of manufacturing might be a way to tap this program. The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences will get $19.7M over five years. Honeywell, Hercules Aerospace, Sheldahl, and 3M will get $2.3M over three years to develop and apply a generic neural-network control system. [Joanne Connelly, Electronic News, 5/4.]
Congress and the President are still deeply divided over industrial policy. Last year, Congress required the administration's National Critical Technologies Panel (under Alan Bromley) to put forth a list of critical technologies. Debate over the report continues, but both sides acknowledge that critical technologies exist. A new advisory panel called the Critical Technologies Institute (CTI) appears to be the next forum with bipartisan credibility. CTI might spark action even before the election. [Brian Robinson, EE Times, 5/4.] Critical technologies will get most new government grants, of course.
Sematech's William J. Spencer advocates that the 10 major national labs be converted to research houses working in cooperation with industry consortia (such as Sematech). Lab personnel should not be expected to develop and commercialize their own products. Working through consortia would provide project prioritization and guidance without unduly benefiting any one company. [Electronic News, 4/27.] (The more efficient that national-lab tech transfer becomes, though, the more difficult it will be for small businesses to compete.)
Roger Woolnough says that Esprit has resulted in very few commercial products, despite thousands of teams collaborating on hundreds of projects. Major European companies (Philips, Olivetti, Thomson, Nixdorf) have not been regenerated; rather, they have suffered financial setbacks. The European Commission now wants to see "priority technology projects" and producer-user collaborations (as opposed to precompetitive research). Common Market countries may be unwilling to fund the requested budget increases, though; the commission is "somewhat in the position of a wastrel son, promising to reform if only his father will clear his gambling debts one last time." [EE Times, 5/4.]
The Office of Technology Assessment has estimated that 127K defense engineering jobs will disappear by 1995. [IEEE. EE Times, 4/27.] That means serious competition for remaining slots in all engineering sectors.
NSF has been widely criticized for spreading (or at least permitting) the impression that cumulative "enrollment shortfalls" -- under an arbitrary highest-enrollment-to-date line -- foreshadowed a serious shortage of scientists and engineers. Bob Bellinger faults former NSF Director Erich Bloch for focusing on input to the scientific pipeline instead of the productivity of mid-career and older engineers. Bob does like the text of a recent protest from Bloch, though: "If the present recession, our miserable productivity growth, and our continuing loss in market share are to be reversed, we need additional incentives and encouragement for scientists and engineers. ... Members of Congress, lawyers and MBAs are not going to improve our competitive standing in the world. Scientist and engineers just might." [EE Times, 4/27.]
(I find it difficult to hold competitiveness and NSF in the same thought. Economic contribution may be considered -- to a small extent -- for SBIR proposals, for large engineering centers, and perhaps for a few other engineering awards. For most proposals, though, scientific merit is the touchstone. Review is by scientists, not industrialists. I have hopes the Commerce Dept.'s Advanced Technology Program will maintain a more pragmatic focus.)
There are three stages of R&D-lab evolution, according to Tamara Erickson, a VP at Arthur D. Little Inc. The first generation is a beautiful R&D center with few links to corporate offices, funded by a fixed percentage of sales or revenue. Projects are chosen without administrative interference. The second generation is adversarial, with "eggheads" begging for funds from "pencil pushers" who keep killing bottom-ranked projects until little is left. Researchers are afraid to abandon false starts because they'd be terminated, and they discourage realistic managerial oversight for the same reason. The third generation is cooperative, and is mainly seen in new biotechnology firms. [Robert Bellinger, EE Times, 5/4.] Partnership only works when each side needs the other. Second-generation researchers are in danger because they have failed to demonstrate the need for their services.
Bill Park (email@example.com) sent me extracts from a recent sci.research.careers "glut" discussion. Joel Norris (joel @atmos.washington.edu) says that we just have fewer trained people than we need and more than the country is willing to pay for. Schieber@jetson.uh.edu attributes short-term R&D management to merger mania (caused by the Reagan administration's refusal to enforce antitrust laws). Any company with enough funds for fundamental research became a target. Don Gillies (gillies @m.cs.uiuc.edu) notes that U.S. research hiring has seldom been in equilibrium: We've had the space race, AT&T breakup, government-supported PhD overproduction, undergraduate baby boom, government-unsupported research overproduction, 1992 faculty glut, and now recession-induced continuing enrollments. We have yet to reach steady state in terms of CS retirements. Ellen R. Spertus (firstname.lastname@example.org) advises keeping an eye on research fashions. Build your expertise in an area that departments care about. Computer security is out. Sequential is out; parallel is in. Brian Yamauchi (email@example.com) expects genetic algorithms and artificial life to become mainstream in the next couple of years, but to fade quickly as all AI approaches have. Eugene Miya (firstname.lastname@example.org) says "do your own thing." He remembers some mid-70s astronomy graduates who couldn't get top jobs, so they formed their own "observatory" and begged for equipment. Now they have an observatory and their own institute.