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Government role in new technologies Your editorial on the Department of Commerce ("Corporate pork - the sequel," July 19) repeats some long-discredited accusations against the department's Advanced Technology Program.

The ATP does, as you note, "help develop high-risk technologies that could bolster economic growth." And it's working quite well. The results of ATP projects include a broad array of important new technologies that the US would not have today without the ATP's support. A few examples:

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*Miniaturized, automated DNA analysis "chips" that are becoming invaluable for rapid, accurate genetic analysis.

*A suite of process monitoring and control technologies that are cutting costs and improving quality throughout much of the US auto industry.

*A bench-top bioreactor, now in clinical trials, capable of growing large amounts of human stem cells isolated from bone marrow for cell replacement therapy.

*Prototype bridge beams made of carbon- and glass-reinforced polymer composites that are lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and expected to improve bridge durability and reduce overall life-cycle costs.

Detailed economic analyses strongly indicate that as these and other ATP-fostered technologies - in fields such as tissue-engineering, industrial catalysis and information technology - penetrate the marketplace (at private expense), the benefits to the nation's economy will repay the cost of the program many times over, not to mention improving the quality of life that can come with them.

As for big businesses being the "major beneficiaries" of the ATP, it has simply never been true. Of the 431 ATP research and development awards announced to date, 79 percent were made to small or mid-size companies or joint ventures led by small or mid-size companies. Well over half went to individual small businesses or to joint ventures led by a small business. In the end, the "major beneficiary" of the Advanced Technology Program will be the US public.

Lura J. Powell Gaithersburg, Md.

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NIST Advanced Technology Program

US strong-arming through tariffs

I read with a certain amount of horror of the impending tariffs on European food products ("US to up prices of EU goods," July 26). The US is using its might to get what it wants, regardless of whether it is in the right.

If the US is going to find Microsoft guilty of monopolistic practices, it is surely disingenuous in asking the World Trade Organization to help the US force its wares on Europe.

Enough of the world resists being Americanized that we should consider adhering to those wishes. A mind-set we held when first exploring this continent - that we can do whatever we want and roll over anyone who stands in our way - is demonstrably bad policy.

Thomas Hudson Charleston, S.C.

Small-plane rules

As a general aviation pilot, I appreciated the balanced approach taken in your July 20 article, "Tragedy stirs new look at small planes." There were, however, two small problems. In regard to small planes landing "even when the air traffic control tower isn't open," there are relatively few airports in the US that have air traffic control towers, and airlines must land at these locations. But there are hundreds more airports that have no control towers. On visibility rules for flying under visual flight rules: The article gave the required visibility as five miles during the day and three miles at night. In most cases the reverse applies: three miles visibility during the day and five at night.

Deborah L. Scheetz Dracut, Mass.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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