SALT LAKE CITY — It isn’t the first time Utah’s research-focused economic development program has been faced with the question of whether it will live to fight another day.
The Utah Science, Technology and Research initiative, USTAR for short, has been subject to question and criticism essentially from its inception in 2005 by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who predicted the program would make Utah a “haven” for forward-thinking researchers and create a system of returns that would expand with each year.
On Tuesday, a Utah legislative committee is scheduled to hear a proposal that may decide the initiative’s long-term fate. Possible outcomes include allowing the agency to continue to exist as a stand-alone effort focused on supporting entrepreneurial efforts and associated economic development, with a science innovation focus; downsizing the agency and shunting remaining programs under the umbrella of another state-run economic development agency; or eliminating USTAR entirely, though that appears to be an unlikely outcome.
Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Business, Economic Development and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee, said his committee has been exploring questions surrounding the initiative’s efficacy, and potential future, since the beginning of the summer.
“Really, what’s at question here is are we making the highest and best use of these public dollars,” Hemmert said. “Is the way we’ve been spending the $20 million or so that’s been budgeted the best way to support applied scientific research?”
How and where the initiative spends money has been under a microscope for some time now, particularly after the scathing results of a 2013 audit that uncovered issues with reporting practices, including inflated performance numbers, and led to a wholesale recalibration of the agency overseen by former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.
That effort was widely seen as a positive reset, but the agency has been under steady fire throughout interim meetings over the …read more
Source:: Deseret News – Business News