Bipartisan House bill offers NIST help

New legislation introduced last Friday aims to support the National Institute of Standards and Technology by establishing a separate organization to handle operations like fundraising and expanding private sector partnerships.

The Expanding Partnerships for Innovation and Competitiveness Act, introduced by Reps. Haley Stevens, D-Mich.; and Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., would create the Foundation for Standards and Metrology to support NIST operations as the agency is tasked with more work in emerging technology policy areas. 

Some of the work the proposed foundation would help NIST with includes increasing access to private sector and philanthropic funding, fostering collaborations with external entities and helping upskill NIST’s existing workforce.

The FSM would not operate as a government agency, but instead serve as a fundraising arm supporting NIST operations. Currently, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and other science agencies benefit from funding streams via congressionally authorized, independent foundations. 

“By allowing NIST the same flexibility that other federal science agencies already enjoy, the U.S. will fully unlock the potential of NIST’s unique role in our innovation ecosystem and foster the commercialization of emerging technologies, such as AI and quantum computing,” the press release reads.

The FSM would be classified under the bill as a section 501(c) nonprofit, and consist of 11 appointed voting members from a list developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. These members are intended to “reflect a broad cross-section of stakeholders across diverse sectors” like academic, private sector and technical standards groups.

Board members will not receive compensation for their work on the FSM, apart from a board-appointed executive director. 

“NIST’s work is at the heart of American innovation and competitiveness,” said Stevens in a press release. “Unfortunately, recent budgets have not fully funded their critical work.” 

Former public sector leaders and industry organizations are on the record backing the legislation, including four former NIST directors: Walter Copan, Willie May, Patrick Gallagher, and William Jeffrey. 

The legislation comes as NIST leadership has insisted on the importance of sustained funding for their agency as emerging tech, like artificial intelligence and quantum information sciences, dominates policy issues. 

Back in January, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting an additional $10 million in federal funding for NIST’s AI work.

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