Quality Magazine

Reauthorization of COMPETES Act Brings Changes to NIST

January 6, 2011

On Jan. 4, President Obama signed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which provides updates to the funding, programs and leadership of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The signing of COMPETES “means more research and expanded programs to advance science and technology in the United States,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “These innovative programs and initiatives will help create jobs here at home, make our businesses more competitive abroad and strengthen the foundation of our economy.”

An update to the 2007 law that strengthened the federal government’s commitment to science, technology and education funding, the new law would continue NIST on a 10-year path of doubling its budget for core standards and technology programs. It authorizes funding NIST for the next three years at $918.9 million (FY11), $970.8 million (FY12) and $1.04 billion (FY13), though the actual funding levels will be specified by future congressional appropriations bills. The act also creates a new position for the NIST director, under secretary of commerce for standards and technology.

The new law authorizes multiple changes to the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, such as enabling MEP centers to work with local community colleges to provide information on job skills needed by local small and medium-sized manufacturers. The law creates an innovation services program to help manufacturers minimize their energy usage while improving profitability; and calls upon the comptroller general to study the cost-sharing structure between the NIST MEP program and state and local entities in the funding of regional MEP centers.

The Act also:

  • Authorizes a research initiative for emergency communications and tracking technologies for trapped individuals in confined spaces, such as mines, high-rise buildings, and collapsed structures;

  • Broadens opportunities at NIST for underrepresented minorities in fellowship and teacher programs;

  • Directs NIST to collaborate with industry on cloud computing standards, formalizing NIST’s cloud computing activities begun in the past two years;

  • Removes a cap on NIST’s financial support of fellowships, previously limited to 1.5 percent of its laboratory budget;

  • Eliminates the NIST Commerce Science and Technology Program (COMSCI);

  • Authorizes a green manufacturing and construction initiative for high-performance building standards; and
  • Authorizes a competitive grant program at the National Science Foundation for internships in the manufacturing sector, with priority given to applicants who coordinate with MEP centers.