Science & Technology

Silicon Boobs


No sooner is the federal budget in the black then America's biotech and computer industries want to suck away some of the surplus. TechNet, a Silicon Valley group "dedicated to helping high tech industry executives build close working relationships with the nation's top political leaders," hopes to get as close to the bosom of Washington, D.C., as a newborn baby.

TechNet's top public policy goals for 1999 are making the federal Research and Development Tax Credit, which expires in June, permanent and doubling the amount of money the federal government spends directly on basic research in science, engineering, and technology. Currently, the government spends $38 billion annually on nonmilitary research.

During a February press conference, TechNet officials and high-tech industry representatives sounded more like lobbyists for Amtrak or the Postal Service than spokesmen for one of the U.S. economy's most successful and competitive sectors. Genentech CEO Art Levinson claimed that without the federal government, there would simply be no biotech industry. He cited the R&D tax credit, in place since 1981, as the reason Genentech is able to develop drugs. Federal funding, declared a TechNet representative, "practically… create[d] the Silicon Valley." Another TechNet rep warned that American industry is threatened by "inadequate research at the university level."

Such claims are as wildly exaggerated as they are self-serving. But hush little TechNet, don't you cry: Sen. William Frist (R-Tenn.) and Reps. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) have already introduced legislation to keep the federal milk flowing.