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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Obama Administration’s Proposal to Establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

John F. Sargent Jr.
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

Manufacturing plays an important role in the nation’s economy, employment, and national defense. Accordingly, Congress has maintained a strong interest in the health of the U.S. manufacturing sector. Some analysts have expressed concerns about a decades-long decline in manufacturing employment punctuated by a steep drop from 2001-2010, as well as about the offshore outsourcing of production and related functions, such as research and development, by U.S. manufacturers. Others see the U.S. manufacturing sector as vibrant and healthy as evidenced by growth in output and productivity.

The Obama Administration has undertaken a number of initiatives intended to support U.S. manufacturing, including establishment of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (AMNPO), Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program, National Robotics Initiative, and Materials Genome Initiative.

In his FY2013 budget, President Obama proposed the creation of a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) to help accelerate innovation by investing in industrially relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications, and to support manufacturing technology commercialization by bridging the gap between the laboratory and the market.

The NNMI proposal calls for the establishment of up to 15 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI) funded through a one-time infusion of $1 billion in mandatory funding to the Department of Commerce’s National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and carried out over a period of 10 years. Each IMI would be comprised of stakeholders from industry (including large companies and small- and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises), academia, federal agencies, and state government entities. According to the proposal, each IMI is to be competitively selected, serve as a regional hub for manufacturing innovation (as well as part of the national network), and have a unique focus area (e.g., an advanced material, manufacturing process, enabling technology, or industry sector). The NNMI would be managed collaboratively by NIST, the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and other agencies.

An Administration official has testified that the NNMI program has not yet begun and that the establishment of the NNMI will require congressional authorization and funding. No legislation has been introduced to establish the NNMI. However, the President announced his intention to establish a pilot institute using current year funding; in this regard, the Department of Defense issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) in May 2012 to award up to $30 million for an institute focused on additive manufacturing. The pilot is described as “the first institute to be launched within the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation” and “a proof-of-concept for the potential subsequent institutes.” The BAA limits the types of organizations that can compete for the award of this institute to universities and non-profit organizations. Universities must incorporate in their proposals a partnership with a cluster of manufacturing firms and associated institutes; non-profit industry consortia must incorporate a partnership with universities for applied research.

The AMNPO has published a request for information seeking public comment on various aspects of the NNMI to aid in the development of the institutes and the network. Topics included in the RFI include technology focus areas, structure, governance, sustainability, and education and workforce development.

Date of Report: July 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R42625
Price: $29.95

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