Avi Hasson - Moti Kimche
Avi Hasson, the Chief Scientist. Photo by Moti Kimche
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The Chief Scientist's Office at the Industry and Trade Ministry may have a new head, but his hands are tied: A week after the appointment of Avi Hasson was announced, it turns out his office has no money - its budget ran out in June.

Since then, the office hasn't been able to give out grants to foster research and development, its main reason for existence.

The lack of grants is slowing the growth of the country's high-tech companies, which often rely on the government agency, said industry sources.

The office's initial budget for 2010 was NIS 950 million, a sum that was later raised to NIS 1.3 billion, partially to fund the plan by the Finance Ministry and the Industry and Trade Ministry to advance the country's high-tech industry.

The lack of activity is visible on the office's Web site as well - a notice from April states that the office will not be accepting any new applications, other than requests for more money for projects that previously received support. It states that applications for new projects will only be accepted starting in November, unless the office announces otherwise.

The Central Bureau of Statistics reported recently that national investment in research and development decreased to 4.3% of GDP in 2009, compared with 4.7% in 2008. In the business sector, investment in research and development was down 2.6% in 2009, after increasing 2.5% in 2008 and 9.2% in 2007.

The Industry and Trade Ministry said the Chief Scientist's Office had indeed halted research committee discussions due to the lack of funding.

"The research committee does not have the authority to meet and make decisions without budgetary backing," it said. "Through August 2010, the research committee approved NIS 930 million in requests for research and development investments."

And many more are in the pipeline.

"On the chief scientist's table are requests for more than NIS 2 billion that lack a budget. The research and development fund alone lacks NIS 350 million, and the other programs (the technological incubators, the Magnet program for generic industry-oriented technologies, and the Tnufa program for beginning technologies ) lack about NIS 150 million," said the ministry.

"The Industry and Trade Ministry is waiting for the Finance Ministry to approve more funding to address this."

Industry and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer chose Hasson as his candidate for the next chief scientist, and if the government approves the appointment, Hasson will begin his term at the beginning of 2011.

Hasson will be replacing Eli Opper, who will head the European Union's EUREKA program for research and development.