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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The National Institute of Standards and Technology: An Appropriations Overview

Wendy H. Schacht
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a laboratory of the Department of Commerce, is mandated to provide technical services to facilitate the competitiveness of U.S. industry. NIST is directed to offer support to the private sector for the development of precompetitive generic technologies and the diffusion of government-developed innovation to users in all segments of the American economy. Laboratory research is to provide measurement, calibration, and quality assurance techniques that underpin U.S. commerce, technological progress, improved product reliability, manufacturing processes, and public safety.

Continued funding for NIST extramural programs directed toward increased private sector commercialization has been a major issue. Some Members of Congress have expressed skepticism over a “technology policy” based on providing federal funds to industry for development of pre-competitive generic technologies. This approach, coupled with pressures to balance the federal budget, led to significant reductions in funding for NIST. The Advanced Technology Program (ATP) and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), which accounted for over 50% of the FY1995 NIST budget, were proposed for elimination. In 2007, ATP was terminated and replaced by the Technology Innovation Program (TIP). However, no funding was appropriated for TIP in the FY2012 appropriations legislation and NIST is “currently taking the necessary actions for an orderly shutdown.”

While much of the legislative debate has focused on ATP, TIP, and MEP, increases in spending for the NIST laboratories that perform the research essential to the mission responsibilities of the agency have tended to remain small. As part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, announced by former President Bush in the 2006 State of the Union, the Administration stated its intention to double over 10 years funding for “innovation-enabling research” done at NIST through its “core” programs (defined as internal research in the Scientific and Technical Research and Services [STRS] account and the construction budget). In April 2009, the current President stated his decision to double the budget of key science agencies, including NIST, over the next 10 years. While additional funding has been forthcoming, it remains to be seen how support for internal research and development (R&D) at NIST will evolve and how this might affect financing of extramural efforts such as MEP. The dispensation of funding for NIST programs may influence the way by which the federal government supports technology development for commercial application.

Date of Report: June 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: 95-30
Price: $29.95

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