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Feds should double science budget, says Intel CEO

The U.S. risks losing its competitive edge in part because of federal neglect, Craig Barrett says.

The federal government needs to double the budget of the National Science Foundation and encourage corporate research with financial incentives, according to Intel CEO Craig Barrett.

Although U.S. universities remain a magnet for students worldwide, the nation itself is in danger of losing its competitive edge over the long term in part because of federal neglect, Barrett said in a recent interview with CNET News.com. As a start, the government should double the budget of the NSF, which awards grants to research institutions.

The agency's budget for fiscal 2004 came to $5.6 billion and it requested $5.7 billion for fiscal 2005, a 3 percent increase.

Barrett said the request for increased funding isn't a disguised corporate boondoggle.

"I am not talking about R&D support for companies, I am talking about the basic research lab at tier one research universities," he said.

For the private sector, "government could make permanent R&D tax credits," Barrett said.

Public support of technology initiatives could well become one of the key factors in national competitiveness in the coming decade, some analysts and executives have theorized. Many Asian governments have cabinet-level ministers for setting out technology policies and attracting multinational corporations.

Even Brazil recently created an agency within its ministry of science and technology to encourage the growth of the information technology industry, said Claudia Fan-Munce, the managing director of IBM's venture capital group.

"Just like in China, the government is taking a very active role in creating an environment for attracting venture capital," she said. "It's becoming fertile ground, particularly on the software development side."

By contrast, little is being done in the states, said Barrett, and neither presidential candidate appears ready to change the picture.

"I would like to see them come out with a policy, some policy perspective on what they are going to do, aside from talking in gross generalities on the topic. I have not seen much in the current administration," he said, adding, "I did not see a lot in the prior Democratic administration in this topic."

Instead, the national debate over technology policy appears to be focused on offshoring. Intel maintains a number of facilities overseas, but the company garners 70 percent of its revenue from overseas sales, he said. The company's leading growth markets for the future will be China, Russia and India.

Another problem that needs addressing on a national level is broadband, Barrett added, with the appropriate federal agency coming up with rules that will encourage private investment to build-out networks. Japan, Korea and China are far ahead of the United States in broadband, he said.

"I mean, if you are interested in advanced telecommunication technologies or if you are interested in DSL build-out, where do you go? Los Angeles?" he joked.

In addition to talking about the issues, Barrett has been involved in some government initiatives. He sat on the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century , a study of the educational system in the United States sponsored by Ohio Sen. John Glenn, in the '90s. His wife also ran for governor of Arizona once.