Panel on semiconductors ends work with suggestions ignored U.S. continues to lose ground, members say.

February 12, 1992|By New York Times News Service

A government advisory panel charged with drafting a strategy to help the U.S. semiconductor industry issued its final report yesterday and prepared to shut itself down, its numerous recommendations having gone largely unheeded.

"I expect that we will go out of business," said Ian Ross, the chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Semiconductors and the former president of Bell Laboratories, the research division of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. "We don't really see that there is a role for NACS ongoing, under the present circumstances."

Mr. Ross, who spoke at a Washington news conference, could scarcely conceal his disappointment that the committee, which started out with a bang in 1989, is ending with scarcely a whimper. Almost none of its recommendations have been carried out and, in the committee's view, the nation's computer chip industry is still losing ground to Japanese competitors.

Mr. Ross and other industry executives said the group's experience demonstrated how difficult it could be to craft a policy to help a specific industry when the Bush administration was against "industrial policy" that picks winners or losers.

"Either the stuff they said had no teeth, or the stuff they said was interesting and never had a prayer," said Michael Borrus, a semiconductor industry expert at the University of California at Berkeley who had worked for the committee.

Now, with the economy reeling and an election at hand, the administration appears to be becoming more receptive to what it calls technology policy. But the committee concluded that it has "done all that it can" in terms of presenting ideas.

The committee, made up of top electronics industry executives and government officials, was created by the 1988 trade law to advise the government on a strategy for the semiconductor industry.

Its final report is entitled "Attaining Pre-eminence in Semiconductors."

Its first report, issued in 1989, contained some bold proposals -- chief of which was the establishment of a corporation, perhaps backed by government loan guarantees, that would make low-cost capital available to help U.S. companies re-enter the consumer electronics business.

The proposal was "opposed by the administration very openly and very forthrightly," Mr. Ross recalled yesterday. In retrospect, some analysts say, the committee lost credibility with that initial report and never regained it.

In its final report, the committee warns that Japanese companies are still heavily outspending American ones on research and new equipment.

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