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Industrial Competitiveness and Technological Advancement: Debate Over Government Policy

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Publication Date: August 2008

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33528

Topic: Science and technology (Technology and technology policy)


There is ongoing interest in the pace of U.S. technological advancement due to its influence on U.S. economic growth, productivity, and international competitiveness. Because technology can contribute to economic growth and productivity increases, congressional attention has focused on how to augment private-sector technological development. Legislative activity over the past two decades has created a policy for technology development, albeit an ad hoc one. Because of the lack of consensus on the scope and direction of a national policy, Congress has taken an incremental approach aimed at creating new mechanisms to facilitate technological advancement in particular areas and making changes and improvements as necessary.

Congressional action has mandated specific technology development programs and obligations in federal agencies that did not initially support such efforts. Many programs were created based upon what individual committees judged appropriate within the agencies over which they had authorization or appropriation responsibilities. The use of line item funding for these activities, including the Advanced Technology Program and the Manufacturing Extension Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as for the Undersecretary for Technology at the Department of Commerce, is viewed by proponents as a way to ensure that the government encourages technological advance in the private sector.

Some legislative activity, beginning in the 104th Congress, has been directed at eliminating or significantly curtailing many of these federal efforts. Although this approach has not been adopted, the budgets for several programs have declined. Questions have been raised concerning the proper role of the federal government in technology development and the competitiveness of U.S. industry. As the 110th Congress begins to develop its budget priorities, how the government encourages technological progress in the private sector again may be explored and/or redefined.