Congressman Calls for Commission to Improve Federal Funding of Research

A Democratic lawmaker is devising legislation to require companies that manufacture products developed through federal research grants to be made in the United States. It also would determine whether early royalties should be paid to the government for its investment.

Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah's plan would empower a commission to determine a payback formula for the federal government for investments in research that result in viable consumer products.

"The federal government should be able to claim royalties from its own investment in early research then reinvest those royalties in science, technology, engineering and math education and future federal research," Fattah told an audience at the National Summit of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership this week.

"If new or improved products are on the commercial market because of federal research dollars then they should be stamped 'Made in America,'" he said.

Fattah says he wants the government to mimic academic institutions that use royalties generated by intellectual property rights to support further research.

In an interview with, Fattah couldn't say why the U.S. doesn't already collect royalties for its investment in commercially successful products.

"The point is I believe going forward, the way to encourage my colleagues to be supportive is to tie more directly the benefits," he said. "What I'm suggesting is we connect the federal taxpayer in ways that would have a meaningful benefit beyond just the innovation or the new product or scientific discovery. We would tie in the jobs."

Fattah said if this effort had begun 50 years ago, NASA's space program would be close to self sufficient.

Fattah will file the legislation next week when Congress returns from recess. His proposal comes as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pushes for more effective ways to use government money for research and development projects.

"We know less than we would like about which policies work best," Bernanke told a conference on innovation at Georgetown University on Monday.

Bernanke said government support for research and development funding is most effective if it is seen as a long-term investment in the economy.

The federal government accounted for approximately 26 percent of total U.S. spending on research and development in 2008, down from about 50 percent the past three decades.

Lags from basic research to commercial applications that can benefit the economy can be very long, Bernanke said. For example, the Internet revolution of the 1990s was based on scientific investments made in the 1970s and 1980s.

Government funding of research and development has led to innovations such as antibiotics, plastics, airplanes, computers, mircrowaves and bioengineered drugs.

President Obama proposed $147.9 billion for federal research and development in his 2012 budget, an increase of $772 million, or less than 1 percent. But it's not clear what the final budget will look like as Republicans and Democrats wage an epic clash over reducing federal spending.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.