WASHINGTON — The chairman of a congressional panel on technology innovation said Wednesday (March 21) he will seek to double the budget of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) as a way for the agency to play a larger role in fixing the fragmented U.S. standards-setting process.
Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Science Committee's innovation panel told a conference at Georgetown University here that it is time to reexamine the Commerce Department agency's role in shaping technology standards and influencing the direction of U.S. innovation policy.
Wu said he hopes to push through the House this year a NIST budget authorization bill that would put the agency on the path toward doubling of its annual budget. "We have a window of opportunity to set the framework for NIST to play a role in innovation," Wu told the conference on the role of standards in fostering innovation.
The Bush administration requested about $581 million to fund NIST programs in fiscal 2007.
NIST has been criticized for responding slowly to shifts in U.S. technology policy. The growing U.S. emphasis on competitiveness and technology innovation has spotlighted the agency's potential role as an honest broker in standards disputes. Wu expressed concern over the "bifurcated U.S. standards-setting process" that, for example, left the U.S. "asleep at the switch" in international standards controversies like the proposed Chinese wireless standard known as WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure, or WAPI.
"We need a more coordinated government approach to standards setting and that role should reside at NIST," Wu said.
Previous budget increases for NIST have gone to controversial technology development and manufacturing programs. Industrial policy critics argued those initiatives were doomed to fail because they effectively picked industry winners and losers.
Wu said he instead wants to devote more funding to NIST's standards activities, adding that he hears frequent complaints from industry about the agency's failure to play an active role in standards setting. In some cases, NIST representatives failed to show up at meetings. Wu said NIST officials claim their lack of participation is a budgetary issue.
While the high-tech industry is far from a consensus on a federal role in standards setting, one executive said federal agencies should participate in standards deliberations since they are large consumers of information technology. At the same time, the executive said, they could represent the interests of other consumers. The current problems with standards setting began when the government left the process, said Don Deutsch, vice president for standards strategy at Oracle Corp.