Senate Finance Committee members yesterday indicated that they are distinctly underwhelmed by policy recommendations from a National Research Council panel that deliberated for 18 months over the United State's future role in global high-technology markets.
Describing the panel's proposals as "modest suggestions," Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) said that "this country is still fighting by Marquis of Queensbury Rules against an international trading community of black-belt karate experts, and they've been able to work us over."
The Panel on Advanced Technology Competition and the Industrialized Allies urged that the U.S. investment in technology be "among the nation's highest priorities" and urged establishment of a special cabinet-level, policy-making review process for high-technology trade. The panel encouraged "free trade" but also called for protectionist policies as "a last resort."
"I agree with your recommendations," said Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), "but they are rather general." Several questions posed by Finance Committee Chairman Robert Dole (R-Kan.) about the Japanese effort in semiconductor technology failed to elicit specific policy suggestions.
In prepared testimony, Howard W. Johnson, chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and of the panel, told the Senate committee that "antitrust laws should be reviewed in the perspective of markets that are now international." However, neither the panel's report nor the testimony elaborated on how that should be done.
The 22-member committee consisted of leaders in business, technology and academe, including Theodore H. Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University; Shirley M. Hufstedler, former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; and Ralph E. Gomory, vice president and director of research for International Business Machines Corp.
The panel essentially asked that policymakers and business officials become more "aware" of the role of international competition, and asserted that a measure of cooperation among labor, government and business would improve America's competitive posture.
"The primary purpose of the assessment is not so much to issue a report as to serve as a basis for congressional hearings and coordinated policy proposals from the executive branch," Johnson said.