Daley Doesn't Sweat the Details on Innovation Policy

As Secretary of Commerce from 1997 to 2000, new White House chief of staff William Daley was Bill Clinton's point person on endless fights on Capitol Hill over the fate of the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). That was a government-corporate partnership effort on high-risk corporate research which Republicans, who controlled Congress, sought repeatedly to strip from the federal budget. "He was more than comfortable defending it," recalls Raymond Kammer, who at the time was director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which ran ATP. Trade and other economic concerns dominated Daley's time during his Commerce stint, says Kammer, "but science didn't get lost in the shuffle. ... He had the insight that government science improved society."

At the same event last month mentioned in a previous ScienceInsider item, the J.P. Morgan exec gushed over the value of ATP, though he had forgotten its original name and was unaware it still exists—although under a new name, the Technology Innovation Program (TIP). Still, Charles Wessner, director for innovation policy at the National Academies, thinks Daley will "be supportive" of TIP in his new, powerful position.

"Daley is someone who understands the crucial role of science, but as importantly understands the role of [government] innovation programs," he says. That's good, he adds, because he feels the Obama Administration has fallen short on the latter.

Last year, Obama requested $79 million for TIP's 2011 budget, consistent with recent funding levels but far below the $309 million it received in 1994, a high point. Wessner says the budget of the program "is more suitable" at the higher level. "We're doing great jobs funding science in this Administration. But you also have to fund the innovation programs," says Wessner. He says that Daley's influence could shore up TIP and also the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, a governmentwide effort to support applied research by small businesses. SBIR failed to get a key boost from an authorization bill that died in the recent Congress.

"Daley may have bigger fish to fry than protecting failed but small programs like TIP," says Brian Riedl, a critic of the program at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Here's what Daley said about ATP last month at a Washington, D.C., think tank:

We had a program in the Commerce Department. ... I think it was called the - I'm trying to remember what it was, but it was a battle every budget season - "advanced research program" - I think it was the ARP.

Look - the truth is, President [George H.W.] Bush 41 started - didn't really fund it, but started it. And we invested in very high-risk projects, private investments - investments in private companies that were doing high-risk research and development. And it was very successful. Now, there were lots of controversies around whether [it was wrong that] we were investing money with big companies ... and then it became very political, and you know, everybody wanted a piece of it sent to their school or their university.

But it was a very good example of a public-private partnership with real direct investments into companies and into projects that we prioritized - not we, the administration along with outside experts - prioritized where we wanted to put those investments. I assume it's been done away with, by now. But - (laughter) - we're back.