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Challenging Mission, Strong Team

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Our country – the public, businesses, NGOs, non-profits, academic institutions and governments at all levels – relies on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic & Statistics Administration (ESA) to provide timely, relevant, and high-quality data about our population and economy so they can make better decisions. This is no easy task given the sheer magnitude of our nation – we have over 7 million employer- businesses, 320 million people, a Gross Domestic Product of over $17 trillion, and trillions of dollars in international trade. It can make your head spin.  Additionally, keeping track of our economy and population is made all the more difficult because of the dynamism of our country: hundreds of thousands of new businesses start every year; tens of millions of people move; and new industries arise while others decline. On top of all of this, we are in the midst of a data revolution, with rapid advances in private-sector data availability, new data analysis tools, and ever more and changing ways to disseminate data. 

As the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, I ensure our people, programs, and policies are properly aligned and resourced to successfully perform our mission in this rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment. ESA’s three operating units; Commerce’s Office of the Chief Economist, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Bureau of Census include a workforce of more than 10,000 dedicated professionals. In addition to our duties and challenges, ESA has been given another mission: to take the lead in achieving goals under the Data Pillar of the Department of Commerce’s Strategic Plan, working across all bureaus in Commerce to fulfill the imperative to “maximize the positive impacts of Commerce data on society.”

To be successful in both my traditional job as ESA Under Secretary and as a leader of the Data Pillar, I need a capable, nimble, leadership team with a diverse set of skills.  None of us can be successful alone; instead we need to be members of strong teams committed to excellence. This post focuses on just one ESA team, that of my immediate office, which has been revamped in the past year. Team members were chosen and the positions created to meet a specific and diverse list of challenges, the most important being continuity, communication, coordination, and planning.

Presidential Task Force Issues Recommendations to Level Playing Field for U.S. Fishermen

Seafood on ice

Earlier today, the U.S. government took additional steps to level the playing field for legitimate U.S. fishermen, and ensure the vitality of marine fish stocks. The Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of State and Commerce, released 15 recommendations to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud and increase consumer confidence in the sustainability of seafood sold in the U.S. 

The recommendations released today include:

  • International: Work with international governments, Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, and others to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud at the international level.
  • Enforcement: Strengthen enforcement tools to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
  • Partnerships: Create and expand partnerships with U.S. state and local governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations to identify and eliminate seafood fraud and IUU seafood in U.S. commerce.
  • Traceability: Create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into the U.S. market to prevent entry of illegal product into the supply chain and better inform retailers and consumers. 

Tech Week 2014: Optimizing Patent Examiner Training through Volunteer Experts

Tech Week 2014: Optimizing Patent Examiner Training through Volunteer Experts

The first week in December, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held Tech Week, an opportunity for representatives from corporations, universities, and other organizations to showcase innovations in their field for its patent examiners. Such training, part of its Patent Examiner Technical Training Program, (PETTP) helps ensure patent examiners truly understand the state of the art in the technologies and disciplines in which they consider granting patents.  The technologists, scientists, engineers, and other experts in the PETTP volunteer their assistance. 

PETTP responds to one of several executive actions issued by the White House earlier this year aimed, in part, at strengthening the quality and accessibility of our patent system. One of these initiatives focused on the critical need for examiners to stay up-to-date in their technical fields of expertise through more robust technical training, enabling them to perform the best examination possible. PETTP improves the patent process by ensuring patent examiners are aware of emerging trends, maturing technologies, and recent innovation. 

Topics during USPTO Tech Week included technology advancements and trends in the areas of stem cells, petroleum, regenerative medicine, pharmaceuticals, robotics, financial trading, wireless communication technology, and more. Among the many presenters were representatives from Qualcomm, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, iRobot, Google, Seiko Epson, Sun Chemical, Verizon, and NASA. 

Program Manager Ray Taylor of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) discussed the innovative technologies developed for this large, infrared telescope slated for launch in 2018. JWST will observe some of the most distant objects in the universe, the formation of stars and planets, and give insight into the Big Bang, the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, and the evolution of our own solar system. Taylor explained the unique challenges JWST faces, such as developing a strong yet lightweight primary mirror 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Telescope. This was accomplished by building mirror segments out of ultra-lightweight beryllium, in a way that folds up to fit into a spacecraft and adjusts to shape after launch. Overcoming operational challenges related to temperature, such as mirror deformation and alignment, were also outlined for patent examiners. Taylor received a multitude of questions, leading to a robust discussion on the telescope’s development.