US revamps science, technology standard-setting efforts

NIST to bolster cloud computing, green building, emergency communications development.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been given new marching orders: expand work with the private sector to develop standards for a range of key technologies such as cloud computing, emergency communications and tracking, green manufacturing and high performance green building construction. NIST could also see its core science and technology budget double by 2017.

NIST has also cut the number of labs it runs to 6 from 10.  NIST labs now include, engineering, physical measurement, information technology, material measurement, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology  and the NIST Center for Neutron Research.

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In addition to the standards-setting bump, the NIST Director adds the title of undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology.

All of these changes are part of the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010 that President Obama signed this week and represents some of the biggest changes to the standards-setting body in years. And other changes are sure to come. 

For example, the White House's National Science and Technology Council recently issued a notice in the Federal Register looking for public input on development and implementation of future standards. "The subcommittee is seeking answers to such questions as: How is the Federal government doing with respect to standards activities? What works well? What can be improved? The challenges of the 21st century, including the need to build a clean energy economy, reduce the high cost of health care, and secure our information technology systems, require that we actively consider ways to enhance the efficiency and responsiveness of the standards development process. Send responses to SOS_RFI@nist.gov," according to the  to the government's  Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.  

The blog goes on to state: "Technical standards are not the stuff of everyday conversation, but they are crucial to smart development and economic growth. Since World War II, the United States has played a key role in international standardization-a role made possible by the unique public-private sector cooperation that has been a hallmark of the U.S. standardization system. Through this system, the private sector has largely led the way, with the Federal government engaging as both producer and consumer and with representatives from science and technology agencies often contributing to the standards development process through memberships on technical committees."

The America Competes Act also goes beyond NIST and includes provisions to let every government agency conduct prize competitions.  Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America's top talent and best expertise.

According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog: "Whether it's developing new products that will be manufactured in America, or getting and using energy more sustainably, or improving health care with better therapies and better use of information technology, or providing better protection for our troops abroad and our citizens at home, innovation will be key to our success."

The prize competition idea follows on some very successful challenge programs offered by the X Prize Foundation and the government's own Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Challenge.gov site. 

 Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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