By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

WASHINGTON — Citing the need to secure America's economic future, a bipartisan coalition of senators introduced a bill to double the amount of money the federal government spends on scientific and technological research and development.

The legislation, called the Federal Research Investment Act of 1998, or S. 1305, was introduced by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and John Rockefeller (D-W .Va.) late last week. It calls for federal spending on research and development to rise from 2.1 percent of the total budget to 2.4 percent. The measure would double the annual aggregate amount of civilian R&D funding over 12 years.

"Our world runs on technology, and much of our economy runs on it as well," Frist said. "In fact, half of all U.S. economic growth is the result of technological progress. [It] is the principal driving force behind America's long-term economic growth and our rising standard of living."

Rockefeller concurred with Frist and pointed out that "government-sponsored research plays a particularly important role in the success of the economy and the improved quality of life."

"In fact, 75 percent of all patent applications cite non-profit or federally funded research as a core component to the innovations being patented," Rockefeller said. "People are living longer, with a higher quality of life, in a better economy due to processes, procedures and equipment which are based on federally funded research."

S. 1305 calls for increased funding for the research efforts at 14 separate agencies and departments, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture, Education and Energy.

Bill Includes Accountability Measures

In addition, the bill reinforces the intent of Congress by requiring the president to include a report in the annual budget request providing a detailed summary of the aggregate level of funding for civilian R&D programs, along with a strategy for achieving these levels each year until 2010.

In order to account for the increased funds and assess the performance of the programs, the bill also requires the National Academy of Sciences to develop methods for evaluating federal R&D efforts. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget would be responsible for identifying programs that are failing to achieve their goals.

Jeff Trewhitt, media spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), told BioWorld Today the bill is an important step in the nurturing and sustaining of the public-private partnership between NIH and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

"This is legislation that should garner resounding bipartisan support," Trewhitt said. "The NIH is the premier basic research agency of the world. Its scientific discoveries often serve as the basis for new medicines produced by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies."

The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Phil Gramm (R-Texas), John Breaux (D-La.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). *