WASHINGTON – The Senate Thursday passed a $399 million budget for the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg that eliminates a grant program for private industry research and development.
The House on Wednesday had approved the same measure, part of a 1996 spending package for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State and the federal judiciary.
President Clinton has promised to veto the measure.
Clinton said he supports the slashed NIST grant program because it promotes jobs and technology development and helps keep U.S. industry competitive abroad. He said he also objects to cuts in international peacekeeping activities and to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, among others.
The budget was approved 50-48 by the Senate, with Maryland Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats, opposing it. It includes $259 million for NIST’s core programs, such as laboratory research – a slight cut from the $264.5 million approved for 1995.
Agency officials said they did not expect the budget to hurt the work force. About 2,700 employees work at NIST in Gaithersburg and another 500 work at NIST offices and labs in Boulder, Colo., said Michael E. Newman, an agency spokesman.
But the budget eliminates the agency’s research and development grant program, which received $340.5 million this year.
Critics of the grants have said they believe they should be replaced by tax credits for research and development, capital gains tax cuts and regulatory relief.
Among the program’s recent beneficiaries has been Optex Communications Corp., a Rockville-based firm with 30 employees that has developed memory capacity on compact discs.
Brian Williams, senior vice president for marketing, said the loss of the grants could make it more difficult to raise money from private investors. Optex has received two grants from NIST in the last several years totaling $3.3 million, Williams said.
He said the money gave credibility to Optex research, helping the firm raise at least $6 million from private investors.
Despite her support for the grant program, Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, on Wednesday supported the budget that cut it. She said her vote was in support of NIST core programs. “I would be so furious if they did anything to hurt the core program,” said Morella, chairwoman of the technology subcommittee of the House Science Committee. -30-