Learning To Look Ahead:

The Need for a National Materials Policy and Planning Process

EMD-79-30: Published: Apr 19, 1979. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 1979.

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Problems involving materials have begun to emerge in the past few years and promise to present the United States with difficult and critical choices in the near future. GAO has conducted and summarized a staff analysis of these problems and presented a framework for their consideration. This will help in the formulation of an enlightened national materials policy. The critical questions are whether materials are available, from whom, and at what price. GAO believes that the chief concern must be assuring the availability of materials and related subjects, along with their scarcity and industrial uses, available information, the accessibility of supplies, the development of a shortage mentality, time and space considerations, domestic shortages combined with foreign abundance, and the possible effects of technological change on the future values of certain materials.

The government's materials information network is deficient in the following major areas: (1) the domestic and international databases for mineral resources and reserves; (2) information on the flow of materials through the U.S. economy; (3) measurements of U.S. industrial capacity; and (4) the role of government information systems in materials research and development. Data collected by federal agencies is sometimes fragmentary, dated, or misleading; often not disseminated outside the agency; and frequently too parochial to be useful. Access to materials is being hampered by antiquated mining laws, recent trends toward the overseas processing of minerals, international commodity agreements and competition, stockpiling, and the encouragement of foreign mineral supplies by government-supported financial institutions. Intense foreign competition for materials may threaten the future U.S. access to vital supplies and efforts to enhance supplies often with other policies of environmental protection, workers' health and safety, and energy conservation. Most decisions about recovery, recycling, conservation, or substitution are governed by cost considerations. The government has never given minerals availability the attention it warrants, but the President's recently announced Nonfuel Minerals Policy Study is a positive measure to remedy this. Future planning efforts should focus on critical materials and on production and consumption, and should come under continuous scrutiny and annual review.

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