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U.S. Won’t Try to Cut Sematech Funding, Adviser Says

From Times Wire Services

The White House’s science adviser Wednesday denied reports that the Bush Administration may seek to slash federal support for Sematech, an industry-government consortium working to develop advanced computer chips.

“I personally am completely unaware of any move to reduce support for Sematech,” D. Allan Bromley told the Senate Armed Services defense industry and technology subcommittee.

But he said the Administration does not endorse an advisory committee’s recommendation that government funding for Sematech be substantially increased from its current level of $100 million a year. That money is matched by another $100 million from U.S. companies.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the subcommittee chairman, said he was “concerned over recent reports of attempts by Administration officials to drastically reduce or eliminate funding for a number of existing programs, such as Sematech.”

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Other Pentagon-funded programs that Bingaman said may face cutbacks include manufacturing technology, high-definition computer displays and X-ray lithography, a technique used for producing powerful semiconductor chips.

“I believe that (the Defense Department) has an appropriate role in supporting research in long-term, high-risk, high-potential technologies,” he said.

The recommendations were made in the first annual report of the National Advisory Committee on Semiconductors created in Congress’ trade bill last year.

Its chairman, Ian Ross, president of AT&T; Bell Laboratories, told the subcommittee that the subsidies were needed to halt U.S. loss of the semiconductor industry to Japan.

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“Unless something is done soon we could find ourselves a decade behind,” Ross testified.

Ross said the United States dominated world sales of semiconductors in 1980 with double Japan’s share. But Japan had more than half the world market by the end of last year and the U.S. share had dropped below 40%.

He said the world semiconductor market is now $50 billion and is the foundation for a $750-billion world market for electronics, which depend on the semiconductors.

Bromley testified that he shares the concerns expressed in National Advisory Committee’s report over the danger of losing U.S. world leadership in the semiconductor industry.

“In many ways, what has and is happening to the semiconductor industry is a paradigm for what could happen to other U.S. industries such as the computer and telecommunications industries unless corrective actions are taken in the immediate future,” he said.

However, Bromley contended that “the money for direct government subsidies to somehow reverse the situation by brute force is not now available, and it is unlikely ever to be available. Even if such funding were available, it is unlikely that such an approach would work.”

The semiconductors advisory committee recommended that Sematech’s funding should be increased immediately by $100 million a year, split evenly between industry and government. It said additional funding of $800 million will be required over the next three years.

But Bromley, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the Bush Administration does not endorse “major increases in federal funding levels for Sematech.”

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