(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation (T&I) held a hearing to review the proposed reorganization of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to better meet the needs of industry in the 21st century. Also, Members examined NIST’s current role in assisting in the creation of technical standards and the need for coordination of these activities across the federal government. This is the T&I Subcommittee’s final hearing in preparation for the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.
“As the only federal technical agency with a constitutional mandate—measurement—and also the oldest federal technical agency with a statutory charter, NIST has proved its worth to taxpayer investment for more than one hundred years. And as technologies have evolved, so has NIST,” stated Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), who chaired today’s hearing. “However, the current lab structure dates from 1988, and the technologies of today are much more multidisciplinary and integrated in scope and function. Subcommittee Chairman Wu and I are in complete agreement that the NIST structure needs to better reflect the needs of the private sector communities it serves and we intend to make this a component of the America COMPETES legislation.”
NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life for Americans. Over the past two decades, NIST has been very successful in helping to develop technical standards for numerous sectors, ranging from standards defining the security of our financial transactions at ATMs to improving the fire resistance of building construction materials.
In an effort to overcome the challenges globalization presents and meet U.S. industry’s and government’s growing needs, Members and witnesses discussed a reorganization of NIST. The proposed reorganization would reduce the agency’s laboratories from ten to six to create a lab structure that reflects the multidisciplinary nature of today’s technologies.
Coordinating the federal government’s participation in the development of technical standards is vital to American competitiveness and innovation. Witnesses were united in the essential role standards play in meeting complex challenges in key policy areas, especially those that are multidisciplinary and require expertise from several federal departments and agencies, such as smart grid, health IT, and cybersecurity. Witnesses agreed that NIST, as a neutral science based agency, could serve as a convener of public and private stakeholders and work with private industry to establish frameworks for the development of some technical standards.
In addition to domestic technical policy standards, witnesses stressed the importance of international standards to promote job growth and the economy, as well as helping to achieve goals such as national security. Members and witnesses looked at NIST’s role in assisting in the development of international standards and coordinating the federal government’s response to standards. Witnesses discussed how the wide adoption of standards around the world drives competition, increases product choices, and lowers costs. Overall, witnesses discussed the growing role of standards in the global marketplace and the need for the U.S. to be represented in the creation of these standards.
“Until the eighties, standards were considered to be purely a domestic issue. With the growth of international trade and international corporations in new technology sectors, this began to change. Our understanding of the importance of international impact of standards has accelerated over the past twenty years with the globalization of technology innovation. Today technical standards are a key part of the innovation puzzle,” added Gordon. “I want to make it clear that this Committee has no interest in telling private sector standards developers how to do their jobs. This Committee has always been Congress’s strongest proponent of the public-private sector partnership that defines the U.S. standards development system.”