BOSTON B — BOSTON -- Three Cabinet members urged more than 500 business executives from New England companies yesterday to hunt for new product ideas in federal laboratories.
The government has been trying to market its research capabilities to the private sector now that the primary Cold War mission of the labs has all but disappeared.
Energy Secretary James D. Watkins told executives at a conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that his department hoped that federal efforts would spawn a new generation of environmental technology.
"New technologies developed to clean up DOE facilities, to remedy the environmental damage from nearly 50 years of nuclear weapons production, can be applied to meet the needs of the burgeoning civilian-industrial waste business," Mr. Watkins said.
Some executives said the efforts to push technology from federal labs into the marketplace was a step in the right direction. But many said that policy fell short of addressing the crucial product-development stage, where most companies spend the largest portion of their research and development budgets.
Many doubted that their companies could reap benefits from access to federal research without changes in tax laws to favor heavier investment in research and development.
"We have not developed a collective, coherent system for maintaining competitiveness," said Robert J. Hermann, vice president of science and technology at United Technologies Corp.
The executives, who paid $95 each, gathered at MIT to hear administration officials announce their "national technology initiative."
The initiative consists of a planned series of regional meetings between business executives and federal officials aimed at acquainting companies with federal research programs.
The MIT meeting was the first. One other conference is now scheduled, for March 4 in Austin, Texas.
"There are no new regulations, and no new laws," to be proposed by the administration at these conferences, said Rockwell A. Schnabel, acting secretary of commerce. "We're not asking companies what technology they would like to develop. We are simply opening our doors and saying, 'Here's what we have.'"
James B. Busey IV, acting secretary of transportation, also encouraged executives to look for federal research that could help their companies.