This week President Obama signed the America COMPETES Act, which supports an array of strategies for maintaining America’s leadership in science and technology. Among the Act’s important provisions is one encouraging the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to expand upon its work with the private sector to develop new standards for a range of vital industries such as emergency communications and tracking, green manufacturing, high performance green building construction, and cloud computing.
Technical standards are not the stuff of everyday conversation, but they are crucial to smart development and economic growth. Whether the goal is reducing health care costs, building a clean energy economy, or defending our Nation, standards are essential to ensuring efficiency, economy, and interoperability. And historically, no one has done it better than the United States.
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 fresh focus on standards in COMPETES—highlighted in part by the creation of the new position of Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology—follows a series of important steps already taken by this Administration. Last year, for example, the National Science and Technology Council—a Cabinet-level interagency council—established a Subcommittee on Standards. This Subcommittee brings together senior government officials to raise the profile of standards among Federal government leaders and improve Federal agency coordination on standards issues.
Last November we followed up by blogging about the importance of voluntary consensus standards, especially in key growth sectors of the economy such as the smart grid and healthcare IT. Increasingly, Federal agencies such as the Department of Energy, NIST, and the Department of Health and Human Services are collaborating with entrepreneurs and others in the private sector to develop interoperability standards that will drive economic growth, innovation, and jobs.
Most recently, the NSTC Subcommittee on Standards issued a Federal Register Notice seeking input from the public on the effectiveness of Federal agencies in the development and implementation of 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? We want to hear from you. We encourage you to look at the Notice and send responses to SOS_RFI@nist.gov.
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. Working together with our private-sector partners on a foundation of smart standards, we will build the industries and jobs of the future.
Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer
Patrick Gallagher is the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology