Standards—agreed upon parameters such as the size and shape of electrical outlets, the number of threads per inch on machine bolts, or the tolerances allowed for various medical tests—are critical to American competitiveness, technological innovation, and global trade because they facilitate manufacturing, speed delivery, and enable the widespread use of countless products and services in the market today. Standards also play a key role in public safety, as a new report described below makes clear.
Most standards are developed and adopted by industry, but in cases where we face national challenges, the Federal Government can help accelerate the process.
That’s why the Administration recently highlighted its commitment to the United States’ industry-led, voluntary and consensus-driven standards system with the release of a White House Memorandum that lays out principles for Federal engagement in standards activities that address national priorities. The Administration recognizes the importance of the Federal Government working with the private sector to address common standards-related needs and taking on a convening or active-engagement role when necessary to ensure a rapid, coherent response to national challenges.
The memo includes several of the recommendations from a National Science and Technology Council October 2011 report—developed with public input and discussion—and builds upon the best practices followed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in accelerating the development ofstandards for such national priorities as the Smart Grid, Health IT, and National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Consensus standards under development for these new technology sectors are expected to help drive innovation, economic growth, and job creation.
Federal efforts to support standards are already making a difference in important national priorities.
In health IT, Health and Human Services (HHS) has developed a framework to work with industry on standards issues to support national health outcomes and priorities. Using an open and transparent approach, HHS has helped accelerate the development and adoption of a standard for doctors and hospitals to securely email health information; helped foster industry consensus on a single, nationally recognized standard for clinical information that is simpler, clearer, and easier to use than previous approaches; and achieved agreement across the industry to use a single standard for laboratory results information. With these accomplishments, health IT standards are making it possible for health care providers—and patients themselves—to better manage patient care.
Public safety communications is another area where interoperability standards are needed, as they promise to revolutionize the way first responders perform their duties. Today, the NIST Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT), made up of technology executives from a broad range of industries, released a report of desirable features of a nationwide public safety communication system. This report—produced with broad input from industry, the public safety community, and academia—is designed to ensure that all of the technical pieces are in place so that the Nation’s first responders can take full advantage of the capabilities of a truly nationwide next-generation broadband communications system. We continue to support the bipartisan efforts in Congress to provide funding and effective governance for the design and buildout of a nationwide interoperable wireless network for our first responders as part of comprehensive spectrum legislation
Advanced manufacturing is another area where standards catalyze innovation. Measurement technologies and standards are necessary to support the development of new processes, technologies and products. Examples of promising new fields that require new and more precise measurements and standards include nanomanufacturing to produce revolutionary materials, and biomanufacturing to formulate the next generation of pharmaceuticals. NIST has already committed to supporting these and other areas of innovation, and is committed to doing even more, as outlined in a newly released fact sheet available here.
Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Patrick Gallagher is the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology