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Clinton Unveils Program to Help Defense Industries Commercialize

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times

LINTHICUM, Md

President Clinton unveiled a $19.5 billion long-range plan Thursday to help the defense industry adjust to cutbacks in the military budget, saying the plan would help the economy bounce back and bring "a new century of strength, growth and opportunity."

As expected, however, the program would provide little immediate relief for laid-off defense workers and companies affected by cuts and base closings.

Under the plan, Clinton will release $1.4 billion in unspent defense conversion funds approved by Congress last year and rechannel another $300 million from other programs. But only a fraction of that money will be used for worker retraining.

Instead, the White House plans to contend with the defense conversion problem mainly by seeking to foster the expansion of high-technology jobs in future years _ proposing that $19.5 billion in grants be spent between now and fiscal 1997 to help defense industry firms develop new technology and manufacture products that can be sold commercially.

Clinton attempted to underscore his concern for the defense industry and its workers by traveling to this suburb of Baltimore to visit the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group _ a defense firm that recently has begun manufacturing such commercial products as airline radar and home-security equipment.

"What you have done here is what I wish to do nationally _ take some of the most talented people in the world who've produced some of the most sophisticated military technology and put that to work in the civilian economy," he told several hundred workers and guests.

The president also announced that effective immediately, the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency, which previously had provided grants to defense contractors to help finance development of weapons systems, would begin underwriting some commercial research as well.

And he said that beginning Friday, the White House would set up a new toll-free telephone number -- 1-800-DUAL-USE -- to enable companies to obtain more information about the grant program and to proffer their proposals for federal funding.

Few of the proposals that Clinton described were new. The president announced his plans to release the $1.7 billion in unspent funds during a visit to California Feb. 22. He also unveiled the bulk of his proposal for fostering high-tech that same day.

Rather, the thrust behind Thursday's effort appeared to be political, designed to divert attention from an announcement expected Friday outlining the administration's recommendations for military base-closings in 1993.

The base-closure list already has sparked a political firestorm and heavy lobbying by members of Congress. An independent commission has until July 1 to review the recommendations.

Friday , while the list is being disclosed, the president will be in Norfolk, Va. -- along with Secretary of Defense Les Aspin PhD `66 -- to visit the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. Aides say both men are trying to improve their images among military personnel.