PRIORITIES FOR FEDERAL INNOVATION REFORM
JBX Technologies, Inc.
Dr. John Blair
September 17, 1999
The solicitation for Issue Papers properly recognizes that ”Many technological innovations developed in Federal research facilities are documented in agency databases. However, only a small percentage of these innovations are researched and transferred to the private sector for development and commercialization.”
The issue of making use of technological developments in Federal research facilities has been addressed from time to time, occasionally with renewed vigor. Congressional recognition of the issue surfaced in the mid-seventies with the enactment of the Sevenson-Widler act, still on the statue books and revised and strengthened since.
Each Federal laboratory, as mandated, maintains a Technology Transfer/Industrial Partnership organization. The skeleton staffing of these organizations, however, is often stressed to the point of even performing effectively the most basic function of producing partnering agreements. Agency rules, more often than not, impose hurdles on the timely consummation of external partnerships. Administrative impediments, coupled with cultural disparities between the potential Federal and Industrial performers make the initiation process difficult. In the final analysis, the high cost of doing business with Federal laboratories contribute to the dampening of enthusiasm.
Specifically, in the Department of Energy National Laboratories the Galvin Commission, among other issues, reviewed the advisability of forcing a laboratory culture, basically unfamiliar with external interactions, abruptly into the outreach mode with the aggressive forcing function of the Technology Transfer Initiative (TTI) then vigorously pursued.. Rightly, the commission cautioned against making the laboratories into “Job Shops” and advised a slower and more deliberate route. Although the recommendations quickly slowed the outreach process, the efforts of the externally oriented arms of the Department and the persistence of forward looking laboratory managers sustained a deliberate movement of improvement. The overall process, however, as the solicitation rightly states, still does not do what would be desired.
In the view of this writer, the intellectual and physical resources and the variety of programs locked into the National Laboratories constitute a national asset which deserves special attention. It is therefore suggested, that renewed consideration be given at high government levels to engage in a process designed to streamline policies and processes, for the purpose of enabling the Nation to utilize a valuable resource more broadly and effectively as we enter the new Millennium.
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