On Tuesday, Patrick Gallagher, Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, testified at a one hour, forty-five minute hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. Gallagher, who was testifying before the subcommittee for the first time, was well-received by subcommittee members who were anxious to know how NIST could increase the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States.
In opening the hearing, subcommittee chairman Allan Mollohan (D-WV) said “NIST`s critical role in measurement science and standards fosters innovation and encourages economic growth. The agency is a world leader in the physical sciences and technology.” The Administration has requested a 7.3 percent increase for NIST for FY 2011. Within NIST, the budget for its laboratories would increase by 13.5 percent or $69.5 million, from $515.0 million to $584.5 million. The laboratory budget is one of three budgets that would double under The President’s Plan for Science and Innovation (the others being the National Science Foundation and the DOE Office of Science.)
There was little discussion about NIST’s laboratories beyond the opening testimony of Director Gallagher. Chairman Mollohan’s remarks centered on how NIST has awarded $580 million in stimulus funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Gallagher reported that a large percentage of these funds have been allocated for construction, and for new equipment at NIST’s laboratories.
“Do you agree that [U.S.] manufacturing is in the tank?” asked Ranking Minority Member Frank Wolf (R-VA). The congressman spoke of the loss of manufacturing in cities such as Trenton, NJ, and wanted to know how NIST programs would create what he called “forever” (as opposed to short-term stimulus) jobs. Gallagher shares Wolf’s concerns about U.S. manufacturing, described the FY 2011 request as having “an unprecedented focus on manufacturing,” and said that NIST’s programs in areas such as the implementation of a smart electrical grid or health IT would create new jobs. Gallagher spoke of the importance of applying advances from U.S. research and development to American manufacturing and jobs. Wolf and other subcommittee members asked if the Department of Commerce, of which NIST is a part, would support programs to return overseas manufacturing jobs to the U.S. Also of grea5t concern to Wolf and to Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) is cybersecurity, and how NIST is working to prevent cyber attacks. NIST requested $10.0 million for “scalable cybersecurity for emerging technologies and threats.”
Other topics raised by subcommittee members included post 9/11 building codes, attracting more students into the physical sciences, NIST’s competitive construction grant program, and the role that NIST plays in STEM education. There was also discussion about NIST’s Technology Innovation Program, for which the Administration requested $83.7 million for FY 2011. Gallagher replied that there are “a lot of good things to be said about TIP,” while acknowledging that this level of funding will not have a large national impact. It is, he said, best seen as more of a pilot program, and explained that it will soon be evaluated.
Mollohan ended the hearing on a cordial note without directly commenting on the outlook for the FY 2011 budget. “I learned a lot,” he said, as the hearing adjourned.
Note: Yesterday NIST announced “a new competition for grants for the construction of new or expanded scientific research buildings at institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations. NIST has $50 million available for the cost-sharing grants and anticipates funding 3 to 5 projects with grants of $10 to $15 million each.”