Technology Administration Goes 'Poof'
BY RICHARD McCORMACK
The Commerce Department's Technology Administration, which bills itself on its Web site as being "the only Federal agency working to maximize technology's contribution to America's economic growth," has quietly shut down. The political appointee who was in charge departed as of Oct. 1, and the last five remaining employees are scrambling to figure out what to do with themselves, along with all of the agency's old reports, files and even its Web site: www.technology.gov.
TA, which was created during the competitiveness crisis in the late 1980s, has been led by some of the nation's most articulate and successful technologists, including Dr. Mary Good, who is past president of the American Chemical Society and created the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America.
But the agency stagnated during the latter part of the Clinton administration, becoming a political dumping ground for inept appointees. When George W. Bush became president, both Republican controlled houses of Congress tried to kill the agency. Bush asked Congress to eliminate the agency in his last two budget requests, and Congress finally obliged.
The agency died "largely because of the record of the incumbents who really didn't care about technology," says one Capitol Hill aide who was involved in creating the Technology Administration in 1988. Democrats in Congress with jurisdiction over the agency didn't make a fuss "because nothing will happen with regard to technology with this administration and it's a chance to start over if we do take the White House back in 2009," he said. "There have been four phases of the Technology Administration, and there wasn't going to be a fifth."
The agency couldn't survive the ennui, and was written out of existence in the America Competes Act (HR-2272), signed by President Bush on August 9. Upon the stroke of his pen, the agency officially no longer existed, stunning those who worked there, along with the last political appointee in charge, Robert Cresanti.
According to those who are now vacating the premises, Cresanti learned of his agency's sudden demise while on a business trip in Texas. But with his agency gone, Cresanti was out of a job. His position as undersecretary no longer existed. As such, it was not clear if the government could pay for his return trip to Washington. To make matters worse, Cresanti was headed on vacation the following week and would not get paid for the time he was away. Upon his return, the Commerce Department provided him with a temporary GS-15 position that paid one-third less than his undersecretary salary.
In his September 28 departure letter, Cresanti wrote: "I am grateful to the President for allowing me to serve my country while pursuing some of my life's great passions...while helping make America the place for technology companies to spawn, grow and thrive....Leaders from around the globe strive daily to understand and capture what underpins the success of technology in the United States. They recognize the value of what we have wrought and seek to learn from it."
At one point, the Technology Administration had a staff of more than 50 employees, coordinating such projects as the commercialization of space, the Partnership for the Next Generation of Vehicles, a Japanese technical literature translation service, the National Medal of Technology, and projects studying the competitive posture of dozens of industries.
It ran into a firestorm of controversy two years ago upon its refusal to publish a congressionally mandated report on outsourcing. It was finally released after Manufacturing & Technology News submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The $335,000-report had been doctored by political appointees and was only 12 pages long. It said virtually nothing about the challenges U.S. workers face in the growing competition for high-tech service and manufacturing jobs, further embarrassing the Bush administration during a time its political appointees were being accused of altering the scientific findings of the government's scientific and technical staff.
"When the President and the administration and your own department want to do away with you, you can't speak up for yourself," says one departing employee of TA. "It doesn't really work."
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