Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hill Hears NIST's Goals

Patrick D. Gallagher, PhD, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, Department of Commerce, appeared before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on March 11, 2011. He presented an overview of NIST activities along with details on NIST’s budget request for FY 2012.

The President’s FY 2012 budget request for NIST is $1 billion, a 17 percent increase over the FY 2010 enacted level. Specifically, the NIST budget for the laboratories requests $679 million to accelerate the development of standards, technology, and measurement science in advanced manufacturing technologies, cybersecurity, and infrastructure.

The Under Secretary commented that other critical emerging technologies play an important role in transforming our society and revitalizing the economy. NIST is bringing together stakeholders from industry, government, academia, and standards development organizations to establish consensus-based interoperability standards and conformity tests.

The budget request for NIST’s “Interoperability Standards for Emerging Technologies Initiative” for $23.8 million is to be used to develop standards to accelerate the development of new technologies such as a smart electrical grid (Smart Grid), interoperable electronic healthcare records, and cloud computing.

Funding for $100 million ($500 million over five years) is requested to create the Public Safety Innovation Fund as part of the Administration’s Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative or W13. The President has called for the National Wireless Initiative to make available high- speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of Americans and to support a nationwide interoperable wireless network for public safety.

Funds would also help develop a next generation Public Safety Communications Network. NIST would in consultation with other agency partners focus on developing and testing requirements, standards, wireless applications, and other wireless technologies in support of an interoperable nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.

The Under Secretary mentioned several 2012 manufacturing initiatives. Among these initiatives, $9.5 million would go for measurement science and standards to support biomanufacturing. He commented that the high cost of biotechnology medicine is adversely impacting the U.S. healthcare system and economy.

Biotechnology drugs, currently dominated by protein therapeutics, are the fastest growing class of pharmaceuticals and the fastest growing category of healthcare spending as reported in the current literature. However, the problem is that inefficiencies in the manufacturing process contribute to the high cost of these drugs.

Under the biomanufacturing initiative, NIST would work closely with industry, FDA, and other standards organizations to better understand the manufacturing process and work to produce higher quality biologic products by continuously improving the manufacturing processes. It is important to understand the manufacturing process and how to develop better biomanufacturing processes to help next generation products such as stem cells be used to develop personalized biotherapeutics.

The Under Secretary enthusiastically wants to direct help to small and to medium-sized companies. He discussed how the budget request for $75 million to fund the “Technology Innovations Program” (TIP) would help to incentivize innovative R&D projects. The projects would be conducted by small and medium-sized U.S. based companies, alone or as a joint venture with universities, national laboratories, and other non-profit research organizations.

In FY 2012, TIP expects to hold a funding competition in one or more research areas such as advanced robotics and intelligent automation, energy, healthcare, water, civil infrastructure technologies, and manufacturing.