Craig Fields, who as director of the Pentagon's advanced research arm advocated greater government support for high-technology industries, has been reassigned to a new position, the Defense Department disclosed Friday.
Fields, as head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, had several run-ins with top Administration officials over his advocacy of a more active government role in support of such projects as high-definition television. He also backed the industry-government sponsored Sematech cooperative, aimed at improving U.S. computer chip manufacturing capability.
Fields, who did not return phone calls, joined DARPA in 1974 and has been its director for about a year.
The Pentagon initially denied that Fields was being dismissed. In response to press inquiries, it later issued a statement acknowledging that he was being moved to a new position.
"Dr. Fields is not being fired from any position and any such characterization unfairly impugns his years of fine service to the nation," the Pentagon said. "The department plans to transfer him to the position of deputy director of defense research and engineering for defense management report implementation."
Congressional sources said the new position amounted to a demotion and would give Fields little real authority.
Fields' dismissal as head of DARPA is likely to stir controversy in Congress.
"The firing of Craig Fields represents a death blow for U.S. competitiveness," said Fred Branfman, director of Rebuild America, a group that advocates industry-government projects. "The Bush Administration has DARPA solely building weapons to meet the waning Soviet military threat instead of helping to develop economic weapons to meet the Japanese challenge."
DARPA, which was established in the wake of the U.S. panic over Sputnik more than 30 years ago, awards hundreds of millions of dollars each year to corporations and universities to conduct financially high-risk research.
DARPA currently is funding private R&D; in such technologies as superconductivity, advanced semiconductors, high-definition TV, neural networks and similar ventures. While DARPA is confined to projects with a military application, many of the technologies it funds are also expected to help U.S. industries.