Commerce Department details fall tech agenda

The Commerce Department's Technology Administration (TA) detailed its fall agenda on Friday, outlining plans to release reports and unveil initiatives in biotechnology, nanotechnology, telemedicine and manufacturing, as well as a major effort to increase interagency cooperation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

NIST is "the world's greatest scientific institution that nobody knows about," TA Undersecretary Phil Bond said at a briefing with National Journal's Technology Daily reporters. This fall, he plans to change that by launching a major initiative to ensure that every federal agency is leveraging the talent and technology at the institute's twin campuses in Maryland and Colorado by expanding existing agreements with federal agencies and creating new ones.

"[NIST] is doing world-class science with two Nobel Prize winners, and it has a lot to offer every agency," he said. Bond and his peers hope to make all appropriate agencies aware of NIST's resources and to urge those agencies to outsource more services to NIST's campuses.

Deputy Undersecretary Benjamin Wu said NIST is engaged in critical homeland security projects such as researching cyber-security tools, irradiating mail, testing robots for search and rescue, and creating protective suits for emergency "first responders."

"We want to take [their work] to the next level," Hu said.

TA also will begin an effort to ramp up telemedicine applications, addressing the thorny issue of state licensing requirements. "The best hope in solving [the licensing] problem in the near-term would be a compact among states" allowing doctor participation in telemedicine applications across state boundaries, Bond said.

Commerce officials this fall will release a report on challenges to telemedicine and have ongoing telemedicine conversations with officials from the Health and Human Services Department.

In September, Commerce will release the results of a detailed survey of the biotech industry as a "snapshot" of the state of biotechnology in America, and officials are touting the survey as the first of its kind.

"We are very excited about this report," said Chris Israel, deputy assistant secretary for technology policy. The data was gleaned from survey tools mailed to every biotech company in the United States, with 50 percent responding, yielding "unprecedented" results, Israel said.

"This will show us the landscape of biotechnology in the U.S., where we are now and where we are headed," he added. The report is intended to guide lawmakers and industry on issues affecting long-range planning for the industry and will not contain policy recommendations.

Other fall initiatives include addressing the issues of digital piracy and "open source" software whose underlying code can be accessed and altered. Commerce officials also will meet with people at U.S. trade associations and conduct trade missions abroad.

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