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Blog Entries from September 2011

Spotlight on Commerce: Alejandra Castillo, Deputy Director of the Minority Business Development Agency

Alejandra Y. Castillo is the National Deputy Director of the Minority Business Development Agency

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.

Alejandra Y. Castillo is the National Deputy Director of the Minority Business Development Agency.

Since joining the Minority Business Development Agency in April 2010, I serve as the principal advisor to the MBDA National Director and manage the day-to-day activities of the Agency’s 5 Regional Offices and 48 Minority Business Centers. These Offices and Business Centers are vital centers of economic growth and job creation. Under the Obama Administration, MBDA has assisted minority-owned firms in obtaining nearly $7 billion in contracts and capital, creating nearly 11,000 during the last two years.  As the National Deputy Director, I am also responsible for executing the Agency’s mission to help Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) grow and succeed through access to capital, access to contract and access to business opportunities both domestically and abroad.

Prior to MBDA, I served as Special Advisor to the Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) where I was responsible for business outreach and development of policy initiatives geared at trade promotion and enforcement of U.S. trade laws. Before coming to the Department of Commerce, I was a practicing attorney for several years, working in the private, government and non-profit sector.  I also served as the Interim Executive Director of the Hispanic National Bar Association working with the White House and non-profit organization, such as the Latinos for a Fair Judiciary, in support of the nomination and confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.

Accurate Measures: Foundation for a Strong Economy

NIST logo [outdated]

Every day we consciously buy products whose performance depends on one or more measured quantities — the wattage and lumens of light bulbs, that 12-ounce cup of coffee, the fill up at the gas station. Many of us take for granted that we are getting our money’s worth, and in large part we are, because the accuracy of these measurements traces back to calibrations and standards from the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

But measurement and other precise specifications also play a much broader, largely invisible economic role. All the sophisticated technologies we depend on daily require equally sophisticated measurement capabilities to ensure performance, quality, and safety. The diameters of optical fibers as thin human hair must match up perfectly to carry telecommunications data and video over thousands of miles. CAT scan machines must deliver the minimum X-ray dose for clear images while protecting patients from unnecessary radiation. The frequencies of cell phone systems must be finely tuned so that you receive clear reception of your calls, and only your calls, without crosstalk from stray signals.

Moreover, virtually every product or service one buys today is a complex technology system (computers, automobiles, even clothes washers). The components of these “systems” can only work together if the physical and functional dimensions of the interfaces between them are precisely specified.

NIST provides the precision measurement and interoperability tools industry needs now while pushing the boundaries of the underlying science to create the enabling infrastructure for the technologies of tomorrow.

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank Visits University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to Highlight the American Jobs Act

Acting Secretary Blank watches researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus demonstrate some of their work on medical innovations.

Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank visited the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, which houses both the University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado, as well as the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy and Public Health accompanied by Governor John Hickenlooper. While at the Anschutz Medical Campus, she toured the facilities and observed some researchers working on their innovations in the medical field.

At Anschutz, Blank discussed details of President Obama’s American Jobs Act.  Blank highlighted the different ways the plan could make an immediate impact on job creation: cutting taxes for small businesses, putting more money in the pockets of consumers through an expanded payroll tax cut, and preventing the layoffs of teachers, firefighters and policemen, while putting construction workers to work through much-needed renovations to school, roads, rail and airports renovations. Blank underlined the need for Congress to act quickly on the bipartisan measures in the Jobs Act.

The plan would:

  • Slash the payroll tax in half for 98 percent of businesses, benefitting 130,000 Colorado companies;
  • Allow localities to avoid laying off teachers, firefighters and cops – 7,000 in Colorado alone;
  • Modernize at least 35,000 public schools, supporting renovations across the country and as many as 3,400 jobs in Colorado;
  • Put the long-term unemployed – a group that totals 98,000 in Colorado – back to work by making the most innovative reforms to unemployment insurance in 40 years;
  • Extend unemployment insurance, preventing 5 million Americans, including 33,700 in Colorado, from losing their benefits; and,
  • Cut payroll taxes in half for 160 million workers next year, giving the typical Colorado family a $1,740 tax cut.

Obama Administration Announces New Approach to Strengthen Disaster Recovery Across the Nation

Cross post by Elizabeth Zimmerman, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Response & Recovery

Today, we are announcing a new multiagency effort to strengthen the way the federal family works together to support state, tribal, territorial and local communities to recover after disaster strikes.

For the first time, the National Disaster Recovery Framework defines how federal agencies will work together to best meet the needs of states and communities in their ongoing recovery, by aligning key roles and responsibilities among all our partners. The emphasis of this framework is that recovering after a disaster is a team effort – one that includes local, state, tribal, territorial and federal governments, the private sector, voluntary, faith-based and community organizations and the public.

Finalizing the National Disaster Recovery Framework was truly a collaborative process – accomplished through extensive stakeholder outreach and dialogue. The process began in Fall 2009 and has spanned across the country, gathering input from stakeholders that include professional associations, academic experts and communities recovering from disasters. In fact, some elements of the framework have already been implemented to save jobs in disaster affected areas of Tennessee in 2010, to open schools on time following the devastating tornado that tore through Joplin, MO and to support the recovery following the recent tornado outbreaks in the southeast this past Spring.   

Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge Winners Announced

The Obama Administration today announced the winners of the $37 million Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, a multi-agency competition launched in May to support the advancement of 20 high-growth, regional industry clusters. Investments from three federal agencies and technical assistance from 13 additional agencies will promote development in areas such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, aerospace and clean technology, in rural and urban regions in 21 states. Projects are driven by local communities that identify the economic strengths of their areas, with funding awarded to the best proposals.

These public-private partnerships are expected to create more than 4,800 jobs and 300 new businesses, as well as retain another 2,400 jobs and train approximately 4,000 workers for careers in high-growth industries, according to grantee estimates. Each of the 20 awards average about $1.8 million per project, and winning clusters will contribute another $13 million in total matching funds.

The winning projects of the Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge announced today include:

Maryland Governor O'Malley Urges Investment in Cybersecurity Education

Gov. Martin O'Malley on podium

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley addressed several hundred educators,  IT experts, and others at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) yesterday as part of a workshop hosted by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), a national campaign coordinated by NIST.

Calling cybersecurity an "urgent priority," O'Malley emphasized the need for government and the private sector to work together to "invest in the skills of our people" and create new jobs in the cyber field. In part, he said job creation will depend on “how quickly we move good ideas from labs to the commercial sector.”

O’Malley described a state-wide cybersecurity initiative begun three years ago that includes partnerships with Maryland-based federal labs such as NIST and the National Security Agency, enhanced technology transfer efforts, and expansion of the cybersecurity career pipeline. He also discussed several programs that the state of Maryland has implemented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), education at the college level and in career and technical education at the high school level to improve education in cybersecurity.

He noted that "a modern economy requires modern investment," and "the single most important investment is the investment in public education."

The U.S. Department of Commerce Celebrates the United States’s Entry into the Open Government Partnership

Commerce's OpenGov Banner

President Obama has made openness a high priority in his Administration, committing his Administration to an “unprecedented level of openness in Government” on his first full day in office. 

Since then, the Administration has:

  • disclosed more information requested under the Freedom of Information Act;
  • made voluminous information available on government websites;
  • used technology in innovative ways that harness government information to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

As President Obama today signs the Open Government Partnership declaration, the U.S. Department of Commerce is proud to highlight some of the ways that it has advanced America’s domestic open government agenda and created a more efficient and effective government through greater transparency, participation, and collaboration.

In 2010, the Census Bureau contributed more than 164,000 files to ensure that the Data.gov program met its first-anniversary goal of 250,000 data sets. The Census Bureau added data sets and tools including American FactFinder, the preeminent tool for accessing Census data; the intercensal Population and Housing Unit Estimates, the official numbers for non-decennial years; and the International Database, one of the most-frequently-requested pages on www.census.gov.

The Department is working to help raise awareness of existing programs and ongoing efforts that will benefit the American people in their everyday lives. One such example of these types of efforts is the NOAA Climate Services Portal. The NOAA Climate Services Portal improves access to high-value climate information to the public. The NOAA Climate Services Portal (NCSP), a collaborative cross-NOAA effort, was officially rolled out in prototype mode in February 2010. The NCSP offers a user-focused way for multiple audiences to access NOAA’s climate data, information, and services in a standards-based manner. While NOAA’s climate information is expansive, users have highlighted the need for a “one-stop-shop” that effectively organizes the information and makes it easy to find what is needed. Although in its current prototype mode the NCSP is just scratching the surface of what NOAA has to offer, plans call for continuing to add NOAA data, information, and services. Another key existing program that opens up government services to citizens is CommerceConnect.  CommerceConnect is a one-stop-shop to help U.S. businesses transform themselves into globally competitive enterprises, by connecting them with government information, counseling and services.

Acting Secretary Blank Encourages Innovation in Green Energy Technologies

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank delivered the keynote address at a green energy conference today hosted by Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Brookings Institution and the Clean Energy Group at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. The conference was held for policy makers from federal, state, and foreign governments, and industry and academia. Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos, EDA Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy also participated.

In her remarks, Blank focused on issues facing clean energy development today and ways to overcome obstacles through more strategic state and federal policy. Blank highlighted efforts by Obama administration initiatives aimed at creating jobs, increasing exports and securing America’s energy future. Topics at the forum included technology transfer and commercialization, public investment, procurement and policy, federal and state economic support for clean energy industries, and international collaboration on clean energy technologies.  Remarks

Acting Secretary Blank and USPTO Director Kappos Join President Obama at the America Invents Act Signing Ceremony

President Barack Obama signs the America Invents Act into law at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, Sept. 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

At a ceremony at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, President Obama today signed the America Invents Act into law, representing historic patent reform legislation that will help American entrepreneurs and businesses bring their inventions to market sooner, creating new businesses and new jobs. Passed with the president’s consistent leadership and strong bipartisan support, the America Invents Act represents the most significant reform of the Patent Act since 1952, and will help American companies and inventors who have suffered costly delays and unnecessary litigation focus on innovation and job creation.

Innovation is the primary source of economic growth, job creation,
and U.S. competitiveness in today’s global economy. An efficiently operating intellectual property system is critical to our ability to spur innovation and bring new services and products to the marketplace faster. For investors, patents are strong indicators of market potential for new companies; and for inventors, they are often vital to attracting investment. 

"Our success in creating the conditions that spur new ideas, and our commitment to investing in the education, research and development priorities that help shape our country’s innovation infrastructure, will determine the opportunities of future generations,” Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said. “These issues will determine whether or not America is home to the industries that will fuel economic growth–and the jobs that come with it - in the 21st century.”

Aneesh Chopra, on the White House Blog, said, "By transitioning to a simpler, more objective, and more inventor-friendly system of issuing patents, the new Act helps ensure that independent inventors and small entities have greater clarity and certainty over their property rights and will be able to navigate the patent system on a more equitable footing with large enterprises."

The Act also establishes a new in-house review process for challenging patents—a process that is faster and significantly cheaper than litigation, which too often stymies technological growth. By resolving disputes about patent rights earlier, more efficiently, and at lower cost, we can  add greater certainty to—and cultivate greater confidence it—the American patent system."

United States Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra hosted an Open for Questions event on WhiteHouse.gov at 5:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 16th. If you missed it, you can watch the entire Q&A session on the White House blog.

NOAA: Globe Had Eighth-Warmest August on Record

Image of Earth from space

The globe had its eighth-warmest August since record keeping began in 1880, while June through August was the seventh warmest such period on record. The Arctic sea ice extent was the second-smallest for August on record at 28 percent below average.

Global Temperature Highlights: August

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for August 2011 was the eighth-warmest on record.
  • Warmer-than-average conditions occurred across most of North America and the northern half of South America, southern Greenland, eastern Russia, Mongolia, most of Europe, northern Africa to Southwest Asia and southern Australia. Cooler-than-average regions included western Russia, Alaska, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
  • The August global ocean surface temperature was 0.79 F (0.44 C) above the 20th century average of 61.4 F (16.4 C), making it the 12th-warmest August on record.
  • Australia’s August 2011 average maximum temperature was the fifth-warmest August in its 62-year period of record. The state of Tasmania had its all-time warmest August maximum and minimum temperatures on record. 

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center provides a monthly analysis of global climate data for government, community and business leaders to help make informed decisions.   NOAA release  |  Graphic