[Excerpt] 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 25 or more years 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. Many programs were created based upon what individual committees judged appropriate within the agencies over which they had authorization or appropriation responsibilities. However, there has been recent legislative activity directed at eliminating or significantly curtailing many of these federal efforts. Although, for the most part, this approach has not been adopted, the budgets for several programs have declined.
The proper role of the federal government in technology development and the competitiveness of U.S. industry continues to be a topic of congressional debate. Current legislation affecting the R&D environment have included both direct and indirect measures to facilitate technological innovation. In general, direct measures are those which involve budget outlays and the provision of services by government agencies. Indirect measures include financial incentives and legal changes (e.g., liability or regulatory reform; new antitrust arrangements). As the 111th Congress develops its budget priorities, the manner by which the government encourages technological progress in the private sector again may be explored and/or redefined.