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Blog Entries from May 2013

Spotlight on Commerce: Sharon Yanagi, Chief of Staff, Bureau of Industry and Security

Photo of Sharon Yanagi, Chief of Staff, Bureau of Security and Industry

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Ms. Sharon Yanagi, Chief of Staff, Bureau of Security and Industry

For over three years, I have served as the Chief of Staff at the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the U.S. Commerce Department agency charged with administering the nation’s dual use export control system. In that capacity, I advise the Bureau Under Secretary on a range of policy, management and operations issues. I work closely with BIS leaders on Congressional and industry outreach and education designed to build support for the Bureau’s overarching policy initiative, the Export Control Reform Initiative. It is a major update of the U.S. export control system which will enhance both our national security and our economic competitiveness.  

In 2010, I was recruited back to BIS, having served there as Congressional and Public Affairs Director during the Clinton administration. At that time, we also tried to reform the U.S. export control system, which has not been comprehensively updated since the end of the Cold War. As Congressional director, I was part of a team that spent two years and hundreds of hours working to reauthorize our legislative authority–and in 1994, we failed. It’s not often that you fail to attain a major goal and are given the chance to try again. That is why I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work toward this important and long overdue policy goal in this administration.


Workshop Identifies Research Priorities to Mitigate Fires in the Wildland-Urban Interface

Image of the 2007 "Witch Fire"

Over 46 million residential structures in the United States are in areas at risk of wildfires. A new publication* from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) identifies a set of research needs aimed at preventing or managing this growing threat to about 70,000 communities located in the so-called wildland-urban interface (WUI).

Identified by experts at a 2012 workshop organized by NIST, the top three recommended topics warranting sustained research efforts focus on:

  • "hardening" buildings, so that they resist ignition—by flames, embers and heat;
  • developing standards and tests of building performance that improve the "survivability" of structures exposed to WUI fires; and
  • improving the understanding of "how vegetation, topography, climate and construction cause structure ignition and spread of fires."

On average, WUI fires destroy 3,000 buildings annually. They accounted for six of the 10 most costly fires in the United States over the last 100 years. Five of these fires occurred in California, where the incidence of wildfires currently is up 47 percent this year over last . Read more


Guest blog post: Developing Foreign Business is Easier than You Think

Portrait of Friesen

Guest blog post by Dr. Cody Friesen, founder and president of Fluidic Energy, an associate professor at Arizona State University and a member of the U.S. Manufacturing Council.

As the founder of Fluidic Energy and a member of the Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Council, I’m always mindful of the state of the economy. It’s impossible not to notice the beneficial impact of trade, and the importance of manufacturing, to the continued growth of U.S. exports.

The Manufacturing Council exists to advise Commerce leadership on the best policies to support manufacturing and U.S. exports.As great as exporting sounds in theory, the barriers to exporting can seem high to many small or medium-sized companies, but that’s really not the case.

I had the privilege of joining Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and 19 other American companies on a trade mission to Latin America, discussing infrastructure development in the region.

We were able to meet one-on-one with government officials and foreign company executives who will be shaping the growing infrastructure of these growing economies. We made crucial contacts and learned the critical facts in each country that will help us to maximize the opportunities for our company in the region.

The Department of Commerce was instrumental in pulling together the meetings most meaningful to Fluidic. The Gold Key Matching Service and the local International Trade Administration staff, especially the U.S. Commercial Service personnel, in each country made it possible to rapidly assess potential business opportunities.

Spotlight on Commerce: Peggy Leung-Dombrowski, Acting Chief Learning Officer, Office of Human Resources Management

Portrait of Peggy Leung-Dombrowski

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Ms. Peggy Leung-Dombrowski, Acting Chief Learning Officer, Office of the Secretary

I was born and raised in Hong Kong (China), also known as Pearl of the East. Fifteen years ago, I would never have dreamt of working for one of the United States Government Cabinet level agencies, serving the American people, and working side by side with the brightest professionals in the Learning and Development (L&D) field. 

My father, who was a retired language translator for the British Government in Hong Kong by day, a professor at the University of Hong Kong by night, taught me the values of integrity, working hard, and perseverance. My father’s dictum was “People may steal your money but no one can ever take knowledge away from you.” He always encouraged me to travel and see the world, which allowed me to experience life in Australia, Canada, and the United States first hand. Then, I settled down in Virginia, pursued my passion, and received my Master of Education in Instructional Technology from George Mason University, which provided me the competencies to work in the L&D arena. 

Before joining public service in 2001, I worked in the private sector as a trainer, Instructional System Designer, and Training Manager. After serving the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for  eight years, I began my career in the Department of Commerce (DOC) in 2009. At Commerce, I am the Acting Chief Learning Officer, Chair of the Department’s Chief Learning Officers Council, serving all the bureaus of the Department. My responsibilities include making recommendations on training development direction, including Leadership Development, to support our workforce; managing the implementation, development, quality assurance, and extended application of the enterprise Learning Management System; and providing Department training policies, processes and procedures guidance. Throughout my Commerce career, I have been supported by many mentors and managers, including Dr. Fred Lang, and Tyra Dent Smith for their guidance and leadership. I also serve on the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council and am heavily involved in the Department’s D&I learning and retention strategies.

Spotlight on Commerce: Vikrum Aiyer, Special Adviser, USPTO

Portrait of Vikrum Aiyer

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Vikrum Aiyer, Special Adviser to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, USPTO

Some of the most disruptive solutions to the world's most pressing challenges are laid out in applications submitted to our office. And through the review of over half a million proposals for new products and technologies annually, I have the privilege to work alongside a team that helps protect those cutting-edge innovations in the global marketplace, with intellectual property rights.

We all know that the United States faces genuine economic competition in more sectors, from more companies, and from more places than ever before. But in order to write the next chapters of growth and remain the world’s chief global competitor, we must smartly and immediately invest in the very infrastructure that fosters American inventive potential. That’s why the agency has been hard at work to retool our nation’s patent laws from the ground up, making it easier, more cost effective, and more efficient for businesses of all stripes to protect their products and services. 

Being raised in Silicon Valley, and as the son of a physicist spearheading his own enterprise, I recognize that there is no shortage of great ideas in America, but there are barriers to getting those ideas off the ground. So the opportunity to serve as a Special Adviser to the Under Secretary hits especially close to home for me, as I help assess challenges start-ups and technologists face by spearheading our public partnerships with key stakeholders around the country. The role gives me the chance to advise the Under Secretary on how to connect inventors with the tools they need to protect their companies, while also empowering me to publicly frame and communicate how the administration’s intellectual property priorities drive export and manufacturing possibilities in America. 

NOAA: National Hurricane Preparedness Week, May 26 — June 1, 2013

Poster for National Hurricane Preparedness Week

National Hurricane Preparedness Week runs from May 26 through June 1 and history teaches that a lack of hurricane awareness and preparation are common threads among all major hurricane disasters. By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster.

Hurricane hazards come in many forms, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, tornadoes, and rip currents. The National Weather Service is responsible for protecting life and property through issuance of timely watches and warnings, but it is essential that your family be ready before a storm approaches. Furthermore, mariners should be aware of special safety precautions when confronted with a hurricane.

Download the Tropical Cyclone Preparedness Guide (PDF) or follow the links for more information. But remember, this is only a guide. The first and most important thing anyone should do when facing a hurricane threat is to use common sense. Additional guidance can be found on NOAA's Be Ready and Weather Ready Nation websites.


 

Obama Administration Announces Make It In America Challenge Accepting Applications Through May 31

Challenge Focused on Encouraging Businesses to Bring Production Back to the United States or Expand Domestic Operations

The Obama Administration today announced that it is accepting proposals through May 31, 2013, for the Make it in America Challenge, a $40 million competition funded by multiple federal agencies that is designed to encourage investment and job creation in the United States. Up to 15 awards will be made to challenge applicants who put forth one plan to accelerate job creation by encouraging re-shoring of productive activity by U.S. firms, fostering increased foreign direct investment, encouraging U.S. companies to keep or expand their businesses—and jobs—here at home, and training local workers to meet the needs of those businesses.

Challenge applicants must submit applications that leverages complementary Federal funding sources to support the development and implementation of a regionally driven economic development strategy. Eligible challenge applicants must demonstrate support of the development and implementation of a regionally driven economic development strategy. Applicants must provide a detailed description of all activities that will be undertaken, a summary of how these activities support the overall project’s goals, and a clear data-driven overview of anticipated impacts. Applicants will be evaluated based on their ability to meet the criteria set forth in Section VI.A of the Federal Funding Opportunity. All proposals must be submitted through www.grants.gov.  

The Make it in America Challenge builds on the Administration’s efforts to encourage companies – large and small, foreign and domestic, manufacturers and service firms – to increase their investment in the United States. The President’s initiatives include eliminating tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas and providing tax credits for companies that bring jobs back, investing in American workers to ensure they have the skills they need, modernizing our infrastructure, and taking action to ensure that American businesses and workers are competing on a level playing field.

NOAA Releases Hurricane Predictions for 2013 Season

Image of Hurricane from Space

NOAA expects an active Atlantic hurricane season, but below-normal Pacific hurricane season

In its 2013 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an active or extremely active season this year. For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook says there is a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). These ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center announced that a below-normal hurricane season is most likely for the Eastern Pacific this year. The outlook calls for a 55 percent probability of a below-normal season, a 35 percent probability of a near-normal season and a 10 percent probability of an above-normal season. Seasonal hurricane forecasters are calling for a 70 percent chance of 11 to 16 named storms, which includes 5 to 8 hurricanes, of which 1 to 4 are expected to become major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale).

NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center announced that climate conditions point to a below-normal season in the Central Pacific Basin this year. For 2013, the outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 5 percent chance of an above-normal season. We expect 1 to 3 tropical cyclones to affect the central Pacific this season. An average season has 4 to 5 tropical cyclones, which include tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes. The outlook for a below-normal season is based upon the continuation of neutral El Niño–Southern Oscillation conditions. The Central Pacific Basin also remains on the low activity side of a multi-decadal cycle. Historical records show that this combination of conditions tends to produce a less active hurricane season for the central Pacific.

Digital Government Strategy Brings Big Changes to the Commerce Department

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Digital Government Strategy, an effort by the Administration to transform public-facing government services in line with 21st century expectations. The Department of Commerce has made some big strides in providing better information to citizens in a timely manner through multiple formats and increasing access to services on mobile devices. The goal is to make citizen services and information available anywhere, anytime, and on any device, and in formats that facilitate additional use by public developers and entrepreneurs.

Technology is changing so rapidly that nearly 50% of American adults own a smart phone today, up from 35% only one year ago. To help keep pace with the rapid deployment of mobile technology, Commerce is working hard to ensure our services and data are available to citizens in whatever format and on whatever device they prefer. For example, earlier this week, NOAA released a mobile app to provide free nautical charts for recreational boaters to ensure safer and easier boating. NOAA is putting the finishing touches on the iOS version of their Shortfin Mako Shark Live Release app for public release next week. The success of these apps builds upon the America’s Economy app from the U.S. Census Bureau that already has more than 90,000 downloads.

We also have released the additional data for public consumption. For example, the International Trade Administration has released an application programming interface (API) for Export Trade Events so that data can be used by other organizations to pull the most relevant events for their members. The Department's Bureau of Industry and Security created the Commerce Control List Order of Review Decision Tool, a new web-based tool to assist exporters in understanding changes being made as part of the Administration's Export Control Reform Initiative. All information available for public use is on Data.gov and also on our new Developer page. The release of this data and APIs is intended to provide developers, researches, entrepreneurs and others with the ability to access government data in ways that make it easier to use and program.

Department of Commerce Helps American Company Secure $42 Million Contract With Colombia

Advocacy Center logo

Contract supports $38 million in U.S. exports

U.S. Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank today announced that L-3 Communications Corporation Warrior Systems Sector (Londonderry, New Hampshire) and its distributor Aviation Specialties Unlimited (Boise, Idaho) recently secured a contract from the Government of Colombia worth $42 million. The announcement comes on the heels of Acting Secretary Blank’s trade mission to Brazil, Colombia and Panama, which wrapped up on May 17. The trade mission included 20 U.S. firms with expertise in a wide variety of infrastructure industry sectors, and was intended to help American companies expand their business opportunities in Brazil, Colombia and Panama and promote U.S. exports.

“L-3’s export success is a concrete example of the Department of Commerce’s continued efforts to help U.S. firms be more competitive in this growing market,” said Acting Secretary Blank. “L-3 benefited from an aggressive, coordinated interagency commercial advocacy campaign spearheaded by our Advocacy Center to win a contract that will increase U.S. exports and support American jobs. With U.S. exports reaching an all-time high of $2.2 trillion in 2012, and supporting nearly 10 million American workers, the work of our Advocacy Center and U.S. embassies across the world is more important than ever. I congratulate L-3 Communications and their distributor Aviation Specialties Unlimited on winning this valuable contract.”

The contract will support $38 million in U.S. exports, as well as nearly 50 American jobs, according to L-3. Through this contract, L-3 will provide fully-assembled night-vision goggles, spare parts, tooling and test equipment to the Colombian government. Full release