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Blog Entries from July 2011

NOAA, U.S. Department of Energy and Private Partners Launch Project to Reduce Cost of Energy, Including Wind Energy

Wind turbines

There has not always been a need to know precisely how hard the wind blows 350 feet above Earth’s surface. Today, wind turbines occupy that zone of the atmosphere, generating electricity. So NOAA and several partners have launched a year-long effort to improve forecasts of the winds there, which ultimately will help to reach the nation’s renewable energy goals.

The Wind Forecast Improvement Project (WFIP) is a collaboration among NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), two private wind energy companies and academic research institutions. The project began today as dozens of powerful, custom instruments designed to better profile and predict the weather and winds were powered up.

“The end goal is to lower the cost of electric power for the consumer and meet President Obama’s clean energy challenge,” said Alexander MacDonald, NOAA deputy assistant administrator for research and director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo. “Our starting point is to improve the basic wind forecast for all users, including wind power and conventional energy companies, the aviation industry and the general public.”

Last fall, through a competitive process, the DOE chose AWS Truepower, LLC and WindLogics, Inc. to participate in WFIP. DOE funds WFIP with about $6 million, while NOAA contributes scientific experts and expertise in collecting atmospheric data and in making weather predictions. The project targets the Upper Midwest and Texas, which were selected in part because WFIP industry partners support thousands of wind turbines in the areas.  Read more  |  Video

Spotlight on Commerce: Jon Wright, Legislative Assistant in the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

Photo of Jon Wright

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Jon Wright is a Legislative Assistant in the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

My boss describes me as the office’s “utility infielder,” because I help the Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs manage Department-wide special projects as a legislative assistant in the Secretary’s Congressional and state government liaison office

During my time at Commerce, I have had a wide variety of responsibilities and experiences from responding to Congressional oversight inquiries to staffing a Congressional delegation led by Secretary Locke to South Korea to build support for the U.S.–Korea Trade Agreement. The experience in government that impacted me most, however, was serving as a liaison to the Coast Guard Florida Incident Commander during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill where I advised him on handling the concerns of federal, state, and local elected officials.  It was my job to help ensure that the people who represent Floridians and Florida business owners were being heard. The response team and the administration were committed to addressing the economic and personal impacts of the spill, and I was proud to play a part in that.

Innovation and Invention: USPTO and Smithsonian Museum Partner in Exhibiting 'The Great American Hall of Wonders'

Kappos at podium

The exhibition, The Great American Hall of Wonders, examining the 19th-century American belief that the people of the United States shared a special genius for innovation, is now open at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is a collaborative effort between the museum and Commerce's U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and explores six subjects – three natural resources, three man-made inventions – that helped shape America during this period: the buffalo, Giant Sequoia, Niagara Falls, the gun, the railroad and the clock. The exhibition will focus on the ways these six subjects brought together artistic, scientific and technological ways of seeing the world.

In addition to providing creative and technical assistance for development of the exhibition, the USPTO has played a part in the public program development by working with the museum to provide:  speakers for university level courses as well as inventors from the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame for a lecture series.   There will also be a day and a half long inventors symposium held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the USPTO will take the lead in providing experts to address the many challenges facing independent inventors and entrepreneurs.

Economics and Statistics Administration Releases New Report on STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future

Recent and Projected Growth in STEM and Non-STEM Employment

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) today released a new report that profiles U.S. employment in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future offers an inside look at workers who are driving our nation’s innovation and competitiveness and helping America win the future with new ideas, new companies and new industries.

In 2010, 7.6 million people or 5.5 percent of the labor force worked in STEM occupations. Key findings from the new report show that over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs, and STEM jobs are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs in the coming decade. Meanwhile, STEM workers are also less likely to experience joblessness.

Further findings show STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. STEM degree holders also enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations. Likewise, college graduates – no matter what their major – enjoy an earnings premium for having a STEM job.

ESA wrote up their findings on their blog and have released the complete report: STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future.

Spotlight on Commerce: Kevin Kurland, Bureau of Industry and Security

Photo of Kurland

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Kevin Kurland is Acting Chief of Staff for Export Administration and Director, Office of Technology Evlauation at the Bureau of Industry and Security

As a member of the White House Task Force on Export Control Reform (ECR), I have been fortunate to play an integral role in helping further the president’s vision for “Winning the Future.”  The interagency Task Force was directed by the president to build and help implement a blueprint for a new system that addresses current national security and economic challenges.  In April 2010, Secretary Gates announced the results of the Task Force efforts – a single control list, single licensing agency, single information technology platform and single primary export enforcement coordination agency – which agencies and the Task Force have been busily working toward for the past 15 months.

My role on the Task Force stems from my current positions of Acting Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary for Export Administration and Director of the Office of Technology Evaluation in the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).  These positions have exposed me to national security and economic issues across the Bureau and Department-wide.

Spotlight on Commerce: Phillip Singerman, Associate Director for Innovation and Industry Services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Portrait of Singerman

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Phillip Singerman is the Associate Director for Innovation and Industry Services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

In January I was honored to be selected by Pat Gallagher, Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to serve as Associate Director for Innovation and Industry Services, with responsibility for NIST’s suite of nationally recognized industry-partnership programs, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Technology Innovation Program, the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, technology transfer and SBIR grants.  These programs are central to NIST’s mission and to the president’s innovation strategy of using science and technology to drive economic development, and are staffed by professionals of skill, dedication and integrity.

My professional career has focused on economic development at the local, state and regional levels in public, non-profit and private organizations.  In my current role, I continue to have the opportunity to work with the regional public-private partnerships, young entrepreneurial firms and universities which populate the innovation ecosystem.   

This is my second turn at Commerce.  During the latter half of the 1990s I served as Assistant Secretary for Economic Development; what has struck me upon my return to the Department is the higher level of coordination among bureaus, particularly NIST with EDA, USPTO, and ITA, and the leadership exercised by the National Economic Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy to encourage inter-departmental collaboration.

Spotlight on Commerce: Anne Rung, Senior Director of Administration at U.S. Department of Commerce

Portrait of Anne Rung

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Anne Rung is the Senior Director of Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

A year ago I moved from Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised, to Washington, D.C., to join the Department of Commerce as Senior Director of Administration.  Prior to my move to Washington, I  worked for Governor Edward Rendell in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Under Governor Rendell, I served as Deputy Secretary for Procurement and Administration for the state’s largest operating agency, the Department of General Services (DGS).  Because of significant budget challenges in Pennsylvania, our team at DGS focused on reform efforts to drive down costs and improve efficiencies.

I joined the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Administration and CFO to assist with similar reform efforts underway at the Department of Commerce, including acquisition reform – a top priority of Secretary Locke.  Under his leadership, we’ve embarked on an Acquisition Improvement program to deliver greater results, greater savings and greater acquisition efficiencies.  Our efforts include a new approach to defining requirements, better identifying and managing high-risk projects, smarter buying, and performance metrics to ensure accountability.

Protecting Innovation to Ensure New Opportunities for American Businesses, Higher Wages, and Greater Economic Security for American Families

Map of U.S. showing distribution of Green Tech patents

Innovation is a principal driver behind our nation’s economic growth and job creation. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) serves America’s innovators by granting the intellectual property rights they need to secure investment capital, build companies, and bring their products and services to the global marketplace. USPTO is an integral partner in President Obama’s drive to create the foundation for our economic future where we out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  USPTO is proud to play a role in accelerating socially conscious technologies in emerging fields like alternative fuels, clean energy, and green technology.

Last fall the USPTO extended the deadline for filing petitions under its Green Technology Pilot Program.  Under the pilot, patent applications involving reduced greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation and environmental quality are accelerated in their review at no cost to the inventor.

Program statistics show that stakeholders participating in the Green Tech Pilot have obtained patents much more quickly as compared to the standard examination process.  Currently, the average time between granting of a green technology petition and first office action on the merits is just 49 days.  In many instances, applicants have had their Green Technology inventions patented in less than one year from the application filing date.

More than 1,900 petitions have been granted to green technology patent applicants since the pilot began in December 2009. Of the 1,900 petitions granted so far, USPTO issued the program’s 350th patent for a configuration of a wind turbine housing on June 28.

By advancing a commitment to building a more sustainable energy future, USPTO is able to spur additional innovation and promote green collar jobs that provide our world with alternatives to harmful energy practices. This ensures that the U.S. is not just the world’s Chief Global Competitor, but also its Chief Global Citizen.

The ability to develop tools in the name of cause-based enterprising is an endeavor that may still require investment capital, but leaves the rest of the world inspired through human capital—and that’s an example of the sort of nuanced innovation that continues to mark excellence in American leadership.

Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative Strengthens Local Capacity to Help Spark Economic Growth

Guest blog post by John Fernandez, Assistant Secretary for Economic Development, Economic Development Administration

Mayors across the country are working hard to strengthen local economic ecosystems, given the economic challenges cities face today.

As a former Mayor myself, I understand those challenges–How do we create more jobs? How do we attract new businesses? How do we enhance our workforce? And equally as important, how do we leverage the state and federal resources that may be available to help us achieve our economic goals and objectives?

The Obama administration understands these challenges and knows that cities play a vital role in strengthening our nation’s economy.  

We are finding ways to be a better partner, and that is why today the administration launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative in Fresno, Calif., and five other cities: Chester, Pa.; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; and New Orleans, La.

We know that development happens from the bottom up - that the best ideas come from America’s communities. Whether investment comes from the federal government, states, the private sector, or ideally all of the above, resources do more good when they serve a well-developed, robust plan.

In Fresno, for example, this bottom up approach will help the region capitalize on the coming high-speed rail station to improve the downtown area and to build on a successful neighborhood development program to help create new economic opportunity and jobs.

We can’t have a strong national economy without strong cities. The 14 federal agencies participating in this effort are working to break down traditional Washington silos and identify ways to partner more effectively with cities and regions across the country.

This is an important initiative that will help to support cities across the nation, create a new framework for intergovernmental cooperation and strengthen the American economy.

Spotlight on Commerce: Bryan Erwin, Director of the Advocacy Center of the International Trade Administration

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Bryan Erwin is the Director of the Advocacy Center of the International Trade Administration.

As the Director of the Advocacy Center of the International Trade Administration, it is my duty to ensure that sales of U.S. products and services have the best possible chance competing abroad. I am constantly reaching out to exporters and letting them know that this Administration stands ready to assist them win new business. Through our efforts at the Advocacy Center, we work very hard to ensure that America’s exports are as competitive as possible. That often means talking with foreign governments and business leaders to ensure U.S. companies competing for public international contracts aren’t at a disadvantage. I firmly believe that American companies can’t be beat if they have a level playing field. This level playing field not only helps exporters win public international contracts, it also helps put Americans back to work. In fact, we have supported over 100,000 U.S. jobs this year alone.

An example of how the Advocacy Center works occurred earlier this year when we were contacted by an aerospace company from Iowa.  They were competing against Israeli and French firms for a half a billion dollar contract to supply avionics to a South American company.  Our Regional Managers worked closely with ITA colleagues, including Trade Specialists in Iowa, Commercial Service personnel in South America, colleagues at headquarters and interagency colleagues to approve the company for advocacy and begin to work on their behalf.  In addition to great efforts by the Embassy Team, we helped to facilitate both Secretary Locke and Under Secretary Sanchez’s advocacy to their counterparts, stressing the value of U.S. goods and service and urging a transparent procurement process.  The company won the procurement and estimates that 150 jobs will be retained or created as a result.