The United States is planning to marshal its resources of scientific and technological know-how to accelerate the development process in the Third World.
A new Foundation for International Technological Corporation will not only help the very poor countries, but also reopen possibilities of two-way scientific exchanges with more advanced countries like Brazil.
"Middle tier" countries - others include Mexico, Korea, and Iran - are now cut off from normal aid programs by their relative prosperity.
The idea of a foundation as a transmission belt carrying technical and scientific knowledge to poorer nations is not new. It has been discussed and studied for the past 15 years in scientific and academic circles as a way of providing a new dimension in aid beyond the "basic human needs" approach.
That strategy, especially since passage of the 1973 Foreign Assistance Act, stresses aid for food, health, and education. It aslo focuses mainly on the most disadvantaged countries, and on the poorest within those countries.
But recently, Third World leaders have pressed hard for a transfer of technology that might allow some less-developed nations to advance rapidly.
Moreover, the United Nations is planning a Conference on Science and Technology in Vienna for August 1979, and the United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) is working on a code of conduct for the transfer of technology.
Under the guidance of Dr. Frank Press, President Carter's science and technology adviser, the FITC plan evolved and was approved by the president, who announced it in a little-publicized speech last March 29 to the Venezuelan parliament in Caracas.
AID Administrator John J. Gilligan established a planning office under Ralph H. Smuckler, dean of international studies at Michigan State University. Smuckler will reveal some of the details today to a blue-ribbon private sector advisory committee headed by David E. Bell, vice president of the Ford Foundation.
Initial funding would be about $50 million, but that figure could grow substantially in a few years. The complete plan will be presented as an adjunct to existing aid plans.
"There are significant things that can be done by invoking the technological strength of the United State," Press said in an interview. "It's not simply making available existing technology, but brand-new developments that may be more appropriate for [less developed countries]."
The way Press and Smuckler visualize it, the developing countries will be full participants in deciding what technology they need, and creating programs to use it in their own countries.
Press said that the foundation's efforts would differ from other aid-related science programs - such as the World Bank's - in that the FITC would seek "unique" ways of doing things.
He cited as possible examples the use of satellites for point-to-point education, in remote village schoolhouses. Another prospect he regards as exciting is the use of solar power for irrigation. Yet another is an alliance with multinational companies operating abroad, "whose laboratories abroad might be used for educational purposes and training beyond the needs of their own companies."
Ultimately, according to Press, the foundation would help the less-developed countries build their own institutions so they can turn out their own scientists, engineers and technicians.
FITC planners recognize that some of the proposals will be controversial. Critics are likely to look at the proposed relationships with more advanced countries such as Brazil as a back-door route to aiding countries moving up the economic ladder and no longer really eligible for aid.
But Smuckler says present rules "have opened a scientific and cultural gap with Brazil." Moreover, he points out that many of these countries have developed techniques or made scientific advances that could have application within the U.S. economy.
Another controversial issue, raised in a discussion paper prepared for today's meeting with Bell's advisory committee, relates to access to proprietary technology, and opportunities for trade and industrialization.
Carter administration officials also acknowledge that some countries, which demand the delivery of technology on a highly concessional basis, will regard the FITC approach as too timid.
"Some may view the FITC as a sop," Smuckler said, "as aspirins when stronger medicine is needed. The FITC won't address those basic issues - they'll be decided in discussions with UNCTAD. But the FITC can promote a dialogue on the underlying issues."
The advisory committee is also being asked for opinions on the extent to which FITC should depart from emphasis on the "basic human needs" approach. The FITC sponsors believe that a broad view of the methods for dealing with basic human needs would allow much bigger inputs for advanced scientific training and research.
Similar but not exactly comparable technology transfer programs have been adopted by Canada, Sweden and West Germany. Among questions yet to be resolved is the extent to which FITC would look to collaborative efforts with those countries, or look for additional funding from wealthy nations, such as the oil cartel.