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Blog Entries from 2013

NIST: Iris Biometric Identifiers for Agency Security

Image of  iris identification

Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a new publication that broadens agency security options for Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards. Biometric Data Specifications for Personal Identity Verification (Special Publication 800-76-2) adds iris images as biometric identifiers and on-card fingerprint comparison as options for the cards.

A PIV card is a government-issued smart card used by federal employees and contractors to access government facilities and computer networks. The PIV card carries a photo, fingerprint information, personal identification number (PIN) and a cryptographic credential–random computer-generated data that are recognized only by the PIV card–all of which serve to bind the card to the card holder.

To assist agencies seeking stronger security and greater operational flexibility, NIST made several modifications to the previous version of Biometric Data Specification for Personal Identity Verification. Full release

Secretary Pritzker Joins Secretary Lew at the Fifth Round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue

Secretary Pritzker Joins the Fifth Round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue

This week, Secretary Penny Pritzker joined Secretary Jacob J. Lew at the fifth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). Secretary Lew led discussions with the Chinese delegation, headed by Vice Premier Wang Yang. They were joined by a high-level delegation of Cabinet members, ministers, agency heads, and senior officials from both countries. This year’s S&ED provided an opportunity to demonstrate the tangible benefits of strategic engagement by making concrete progress on our priority issues and creating a more level playing field for American companies and workers.

Secretary Pritzker spoke during the Trade and Investment Session about the importance of ensuring American companies have equal and fair treatment when competing with Chinese companies. She also attended the Joint Session on Climate Change, Promoting Economic Growth Session and the CEO roundtable, where she heard from American companies about the opportunities and challenges of doing in business in China.

The United States and China emphasized the importance of promoting a comprehensive U.S.‑China economic relationship based on mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation. The two countries reaffirmed the important commitments made by both countries in previous Strategic and Economic Dialogues. The two sides announced further concrete measures to support strong domestic and global growth, promote open trade and investment, enhance international rules and global economic governance, and foster financial market stability and reform. The two countries reached consensus to work expeditiously to implement the commitments made and, as the Special Representatives of the Economic Track, directed their respective economic teams to take concrete steps before the next Strategic and Economic Dialogue to do so.

PHOTO: Secretary Pritzker speaks with Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard during one of the meetings of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

NIST Workshop Gets a 'Grip' on Robotics Challenge

Image of a seven degree-of-freedom highly dexterous robot and a seven degree-of-freedom, three fingered robotic hand.

Even though modern industrial robots are becoming nimbler and more capable, they still need to get a good grip on things—the equivalent of hands that are as agile and dexterous as the human variety.

How to tackle the thorny challenge, known in robotics speak as dexterous manipulation, was the aim of a recent workshop hosted by Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The workshop featured speakers from manufacturing companies (end users), along with developers of robot arms and of advanced robot "hands." Proceedings of the workshop, which NIST is using as it crafts a technology roadmap to guide measurement science research in the field, are summarized in a new report.

Factors driving the quest for human-like robot arms and grippers are quality control, cost, throughput and worker safety. According to one manufacturer at the workshop, two-thirds of his company's worker compensation cases are ergonomic disorders, mostly due to repetitive strain, over-extension and over-exertion.

Robotic arms are now starting to come in pairs, mounted to either a fixed or rotary torso with each arm having seven joints instead of the conventional six. This option boosts the dexterity of a robot and allows it to move its elbow around obstacles while maintaining precise placement at its working point.  Read more

Top 50 Metropolitan Area Exports Contribute More Than $1 Trillion to U.S. Economy

2012 Merchandise Exports - Top 50 Metro Area Exporters

Great news out of the Department of Commerce today! New data was released on the top 50 metropolitan areas for exports in 2012, which shows a combined contribution of exports from these communities to the U.S. economy of $1.04 trillion dollars.

In fact, America’s metropolitan areas continue to strengthen the U.S. economy each year. Cities committed to increasing their export potential are making it easier for local businesses to sell their goods and services overseas and increasing manufacturing here at home. These exports are helping to support jobs all across the country.

The Houston-Sugarland-Baytown area ranked number one with an impressive total of $110 billion in exports. Combined, the top 50 metropolitan areas for exports around the country totaled $1.04 trillion for the year. Not only did the Houston-Sugarland-Baytown area export the most merchandise, but it also had a record high for 2012, along with 29 other metropolitan areas in the top 50 areas for exports. Between 2011 and 2012, the Houston area had an export growth rate of 5.6 percent. The New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island area ranked second with $102 billion in exports.

Among the top 25 metropolitan areas for exports, the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria area showed the highest growth in exports between 2011 and 2012 with exports growing by 42.7 percent over this period. Other metropolitan areas that showed high growth in exports included the San Antonio-New Braunfels area (up 33.3 percent from 2011) and the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area (up 22.3 percent from 2011).

These increases in exports, even in challenging economic times, strengthen the U.S. economy and support millions of jobs here at home. Since the President’s National Export Initiative (NEI) was launched in 2010 – which seeks to double U.S. exports and support an additional two million jobs by the end of 2014 – merchandise exports from metropolitan areas have increased nearly 40 percent since 2009; while jobs supported have increased by 60 percent to 1.3 million.

The Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration is committed to helping U.S. businesses increase their exports by finding new markets, reducing trade barriers, and ensuring that U.S. companies compete on a level playing field.

Is your business interested in expanding their product overseas where 95 percent of the world’s potential consumers are? Then contact your nearest Export Assistance Center for support.

Press release

Let Freedom Ring

New Citizens of the United States of America

Guest blog post by Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Mark Doms

Last Friday, I was given the honor of speaking to about 500 people from 80 countries who took the oath to become U.S. citizens at a ceremony in Sterling, Virginia. The happiness, joy, pride, and gratitude in the room brought tears to my eyes, especially after imagining the collective hardships endured, the journeys taken, and the fears overcome by our new citizens.

Like my family, most of us owe our lives and citizenship to our ancestors who left their homes, families, and friends behind to start a new life in a land of freedom and opportunity. We remain thankful for the incredible journeys and sacrifices they made so that their children could have better lives. Likewise, the children and grandchildren of the people granted citizenship in Sterling, Virginia last Friday will also look back with special thanks to our new Americans.

And let us not forget the instrumental roles that immigrants and their descendants have played in growing America’s economy. Further, our history as a nation of immigrants has defined our culture, and the diversity of ideas and customs that immigration provides keeps us competitive in this ever-changing world.

Undoubtedly, the 500 people I spoke to have faced numerous challenges on their road to becoming U.S. citizens, including the challenge of traversing a broken immigration system. Thanks to a strong bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate, we are much closer to fixing that system. Doing so will uphold our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

As years pass, I suspect that today, July 4th, 2013, will stand out in my memory because of the 500 lives that changed in Sterling, Virginia, and the possibility that many millions more lives will change – and strengthen our nation – in the years to come.

The Fourth of July, 2013: Independence Day

Fireworks display (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The birthday of the United States of America—Independence Day—is celebrated on July 4, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress. See an image of the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives. 

As always, this most American of holidays will be marked by parades, fireworks and backyard barbecues across the nation. In 1776, the estimated number of people living in the newly-independent nation was 2.5 million. This year, the Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau estimate is 316.2 million.

The original Declaration of Independence on display at the National Archives reaches its 237th anniversary this year protected by Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) science and engineering. Read more on protecting the historic document here.

For fascinating figures on the Fourth’s fireworks, flags, fanfares, firings (grills) and more, see the Census Bureau’s Facts for Features.

Secretary Pritzker Visits NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate Prediction

Secretary Pritzker Visits NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate Prediction

On Tuesday, July 2, Secretary Penny Pritzker joined Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland; Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Administrator of NOAA; Dr. Louis Uccellini, Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s National Weather Service; and, Bryan Norcross, Senior Executive Director of Weather Content and Presentation, and Senior Hurricane Specialist at The Weather Channel for an event at NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, MD.

Earlier this year, NOAA’s National Weather Service, which is part of the Department of Commerce, received funding through the Sandy Supplemental bill to invest in supercomputing technologies that will improve weather forecasting and modeling capabilities.   
 
The forecasts that NOAA’s National Weather Service provide to entities like The Weather Channel, Accuweather, and more than 300 other partners around the country not only help to save lives and property, but they help businesses operate and move goods as smoothly as possible through our airports and ports.  In many ways, their work is crucial to keeping our economy moving and growing.

Exporting to Africa: The Success of the DBIA Campaign

President Obama and Senegal President Sall at press conference. Photo by White House, Pete Souza.

President Obama believes sub-Saharan Africa could be the world’s next major economic success story. That is why in June 2012, he issued the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa (PDF) to escalate the U.S. efforts to stimulate economic growth, trade, and investment in the region. One year later, the President is in Africa to highlight our success under this strategy.

A key component of the President’s strategy is the Doing Business in Africa (DBIA) Campaign, which was launched by the U.S. Department of Commerce in Johannesburg, South Africa last November. Its main objective is to bolster federal trade promotion and financing capabilities in order to help U.S. businesses obtain trade and investment opportunities. With these opportunities, the United States’ commercial relationship with Africa will continue to grow.  

Since its unveiling, Commerce has been working alongside other federal agencies to encourage U.S. companies–with a focus on small- and medium- sized businesses and African Diaspora-owned business–to trade and invest in the region. A little more than six months into the Doing Business in Africa Campaign, we wanted to share some of successes with you.

Spotlight on Commerce: Frederick Steckler, Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Frederick Steckler, Chief Administrative Officer, USPTO

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 Frederick Steckler, Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

As the Chief Administrative Officer for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) I am responsible for the delivery of all administrative service support functions for the USPTO including human capital strategy, human resource management, telework policy and programs, facilities management, safety and security, transportation, asset and records management.  I am fortunate to work with a team of nearly 200 professionals in the delivery of these vital services to our colleagues at the USPTO.  My team and I pride ourselves on being a customer-centric and service-oriented team.  

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and when I was nine years old, after one particularly bad Cleveland winter, my mother, grandmother and I moved to Boca Raton, Florida. So I really grew up there.  I am a proud graduate of Boca Raton Community High School.  

After high school, I attended Duke University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in economics. Growing up near the water led to being interested in a career with the U.S. Navy. I was a member of the Duke Navy ROTC battalion and upon graduation was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. My first station was as part of the commissioning crew of the USS Vandegrift (FFG-48). I later went on to serve as Second Company Officer at the U.S. Naval Academy and Executive Assistant to The Commandant of Midshipmen. I left the Navy in 1989 and went to work as a junior consultant for Coopers & Lybrand and while working earned a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University. Today, I am married to my partner of 20 years, Robert Murphy, and we live in the District of Columbia with our black lab, Sammi Jo.

Penny Pritzker Sworn in as 38th U.S. Secretary of Commerce

Pritzker greeted employees as they entered the Herbert C. Hoover Building

Penny Pritzker was sworn in yesterday as the nation’s 38th Commerce Secretary. As a key member of President Obama’s economic team, Secretary Pritzker will lead the U.S. Department of Commerce in carrying out the important work that gives entrepreneurs and businesses the tools they need to create jobs and keep the American economy growing, two of the administration’s highest priorities. She will also work extensively with the business community, bringing their concerns and ideas to the forefront.  

“I am pleased the Senate took bipartisan action to confirm Penny Pritzker as our next Commerce Secretary,” said President Obama. “Penny is a proven leader, a successful entrepreneur, and one of the most accomplished and highly-respected women in business today. She knows what it takes to build companies from the ground up, and she shares my belief in doing everything we can to help businesses and workers succeed and make America a magnet for good jobs. Penny will be a key member of my economic team as we continue to work to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.” 

“It is an honor to join President Obama’s economic team as Secretary of Commerce,” said Secretary Pritzker. “The Department of Commerce provides many unique assets that are critical to strengthening our economy, creating jobs, and ensuring America’s competitiveness–from support for manufacturing and exports, to the promotion of innovation, to the economic data that startups and businesses rely on. Our Department stands ready to serve as an active partner to the business community as we work together to continue building a 21st century American economy.”  Background