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Blog Entries from 2014

Defining Operational Excellence One Person at a Time

Defining Operational Excellence One Person at a Time

When you’re striving for excellence, it helps to have an example. It’s much easier to work hard on something when you’ve seen others succeed despite obstacles. A highlight each year at the National Institute of Standards and Technology is the annual awards ceremony. This is where NIST celebrates operational excellence through the many achievements of its scientific, engineering, administrative and other support staff members. 

This year the agency was honored to have U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker provide remarks at the event.

As NIST employees left the ceremony Wednesday, they had almost 200 examples of operational excellence to pick from for role models—people who had done amazing things. Since NIST is a research agency, many were technical stars who had:

USPTO Open Data Roundtable – An Awesome Beginning

USPTO Seal

Guest blog post by Thomas Beach, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary and Director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Scott Beliveau, Open Data Team Lead, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Nobody doubts the value of data today, and the Obama Administration has taken many important steps towards making government data more open and accessible to the public. As Secretary Pritzker likes to remind us, the Department of Commerce is “America’s Data Agency,” and has a unique and central role in that transformation.   Although open data feels like the flavor of the month for every government agency to tout, this is especially meaningful for the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO. The agency houses a treasure trove of data, and now has crystalized a path forward to better sharing it with the world.

Disclosing and disseminating data supports our broader mission of advancing American innovation.  After all, the patent system rests on the trade-off between the disclosure of an invention and the right to exclude others from using it.  From that perspective, the USPTO has been in the business of open data for a very long time.  If we were going to live up to our mission in this interconnected, digital world of disseminating information about patents and trademarks, we knew we needed an agency-wide commitment to improve our data delivery on all fronts.  And that was the spirit in which we hosted the USPTO Open Data Roundtable with NYU’s GovLab on December 8th.

The roundtable brought together diverse members of our user community, including industry representatives, prior art searchers, and academics, with USPTO’s data team.

Staff-Led Groups Create Change Within the International Trade Administration

This year, the International Trade Administration’s Industry and Analysis (I&A) team launched the “Renaissance Project.” The initiative aims to create a system of turning ideas into actions, and it has helped increase our team’s productivity and boost morale.

Through the project, we challenged a series of staff working groups to develop ideas to not only make I&A a better place to work, but also come up with tangible, actionable steps to put those ideas into motion.

Every three to four months, a new group of interested volunteers discussed a particular theme, and then identified the concrete steps necessary to make improvements to I&A under their theme. Most importantly, after putting together a proposal to senior I&A management, each group actually took the steps to make to the recommended improvements.

Throughout the course of the past year, five groups have met as part of the Renaissance Project to work on their particular “theme” of issues, ranging from post-reorganization cohesion to long-standing issues:

1. Getting to Know the New I&A

2. Improving Communication

3. Training and Mentoring

4. Identity, Branding, and Image

5. Employee Recognition and Retention<--break->

Secretary Pritzker Visits Montgomery College to Discuss Importance of Training America’s Workforce

Secretary Pritzker Visits Montgomery College to Discuss Importance of Training America’s Workforce

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez visited Montgomery College in Germantown, Maryland, which recently received a federal grant to lead a consortium of 14 Maryland community colleges, in partnership with 37 employers, to build career pathways for cybersecurity and information technology jobs. The $15 million dollar Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant is one of 70 awards – totaling $450 million – that the Department of Labor announced in September. To learn first-hand how the grant is helping equip students for cybersecurity jobs that are locally available, Secretary Pritzker toured the school’s cyber laboratory with Montgomery College’s President Dr. DeRionne Pollard before participating in a roundtable discussion with representatives from Maryland’s community colleges, state and local officials, and employers serving as partners through this consortium. 

During the roundtable, Secretary Pritzker emphasized that skills development is an important issue for America’s workforce and businesses. Since taking office, Secretary Pritzker has spoken to more than 1,400 business leaders and one-third of the Fortune 500 CEOs, and almost every one of them has raised this as an issue that is critical to their future. This is why Secretary Pritzker has made job-driven training a top priority for the Department of Commerce for the very first time. Across many different industries, from manufacturing to cybersecurity, jobs are going unfilled because employers can’t find workers with the skills they are seeking. In fact, there are currently about 210,000 open and unfilled cybersecurity jobs across the country.
 
Cybersecurity is a threat not just to national security, but to America’s businesses and economy at–large. During the roundtable, Secretary Pritzker emphasized the Commerce Department’s key role in addressing the threat of cybersecurity. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is one of Commerce’s bureaus, advances cutting-edge technology and industry standards and has conducted cybersecurity research for as long as there has been cyberspace. NIST has worked with the State of Maryland and Montgomery County on projects designed to secure electronic health information; protect assets in the financial services sector; and defend our energy infrastructure.

U.S.-China Relations: Great for TV, but Greater for the U.S. Economy

U.S.-China Relations: Great for TV, but Greater for the U.S. Economy

Frank Underwood doesn’t understand the purpose of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT).

Maybe you know of Frank Underwood, the main character on the show House of Cards, played by Kevin Spacey. If so, you may remember how he conspired with colleagues in the White House and State Department to orchestrate a trade war with China. 

How did he do it? Through the JCCT negotiations. 

While Mr. Underwood is commonly known in the United States, it’s much less likely that the average American knows what the JCCT is, aside from it being some way for a fictional administration to create tension with a major U.S. international partner. 

Though it isn’t a household term, the importance of the JCCT can’t be overlooked. While Mr. Underwood used the JCCT to start a trade war, the reality is that the United States and China use it to support trade peace – resolving bilateral tensions and exploring areas of mutual cooperation. 

The United States and China established the JCCT in 1983 as the primary forum for addressing trade and investment issues, and promoting commercial opportunities between the two countries. 

The JCCT has since resulted in significant progress on issues U.S. businesses have identified as priority concerns in China, including:

* protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights;

* government procurement;

* standards, testing, and certifications; and

* issues specific to certain sectors like information technology, energy, and travel and tourism. <--break->

Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Skills Pillars in Ensuring U.S. Competitiveness

Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Skills Pillars in Ensuring U.S. Competitiveness

Guest blog post by Stephen S. Tang, Ph.D., MBA and Member of the Commerce Department's National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

It’s an honor to serve with such distinguished members of NACIE and to have a voice in this national conversation about innovation and entrepreneurship.  This is an especially personal topic to me. Innovation and entrepreneurship are in my blood – and a part of my heritage. I’m the son of international students from China who sought – and largely achieved – the American dream in Delaware, where I grew up and first discovered my love of science and technology. 

Like the children of many immigrants, I was born with high expectations from my high-achieving parents. My late father was an accomplished DuPont polymer engineer, process inventor, and NASA Lifetime Achievement Award-winner. My mother helped found the University of Delaware’s clinical chemistry department. As you can imagine, there was a lot of pressure on me and my siblings to excel.

My work at the University City Science Center has reinforced my belief that innovation and entrepreneurship define the origins and values of America. After all, as Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will remind you, Philly was home to the original American start-up, our nation. My home city’s long and storied history of innovation that began with the Founding Founders continues to this day.

Between bifocals and the lightning rod, Benjamin Franklin alone, was a one-person innovation ecosystem! However, one person alone, or even one industry alone, does not an ecosystem make! Instead, innovation thrives in a rainforest-like atmosphere when disparate, yet related groups convene, connect and have the opportunity to collaborate.

Cities and regions are poised to be the defining platform to grow innovation ecosystems. They are the rainforests where these innovation ecosystems can thrive. They also provide a hospitable environment for scalable innovation. I believe that scaling – the process of transitioning from the start-up to the manufacturing phase in a company’s early life – is the key to fulfilling the promise of innovation and creating good jobs.

BEA Operational Improvements Enable Agency to Publish More Regional Economic Statistics

Operational improvements at the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) mean the public will soon get to see more regional economic data. These improvements will safeguard businesses’ private information, while ensuring vital regional data is available to policy makers and other data users. BEA is constantly looking at ways to better provide the information that users need while protecting the confidentiality of employers’ records.

One improvement is in the area of county-level earnings. BEA, for instance, produces statistics on how much people earn in different industries for individual counties.  If there are too few employers in an industry for a given county, in order to protect employers’ privacy, BEA cannot publicly publish the data for that industry. The BEA county-level earnings by industry data are then used to calculate BEA’s gross domestic product by metropolitan area statistics. If BEA can’t publicly use certain pieces of data for an industry in the county-level earnings data set, then BEA also might not be able to publish the same data for that industry in our gross domestic product by metropolitan area statistics.

Since the 1980s, BEA has relied on a set of computer programs to identify which statistics must not be published publicly to protect the confidentiality of business records for individual companies.  This year, however, BEA is switching to a new disclosure-avoidance system that reduces processing time from five days to one, while generating fewer non-public statistics.

Our testing indicates that the new system will consistently result in 33 percent fewer unpublished values in the final public statistics on the economic activity generated by metropolitan areas.

Another improvement will affect data on how much each industry contributes to economic activity in   metro areas. Because of this improvement, BEA will increase the number of data points on industry contributions to metro area economic activity that can be published from 68.3 percent to 93.3 percent, meaning that BEA will be able to publish many more pieces of data.

These advancements are examples of how BEA delivers strong customer service through operational excellence. BEA is working harder and smarter to respond to our customers’ needs.  The Commerce Department identifies operational excellence as an important pillar in its Open for Business Agenda. That is, delivering better services, solutions and outcomes that benefit the American people.

BEA prides itself on producing timely, relevant and accurate statistics and putting its innovative thinking to work to meet both economic measurement challenges and customers’ needs. 

MBDA Making Operational Excellence a Priority in 2014

For 45 years, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) programs have focused on providing greater access to business opportunities that better equip minority business owners to create jobs, build scale and capacity, and contribute to the U.S. economy.  

In response to the President’s call to make 2014 “a year of action,” MBDA ensured that we reached many more minority-owned firms throughout the nation. In addition to reaching new heights, MBDA was active in expanding its reach and services for the rapidly growing segment of the economy we serve. We opened seven new MBDA Business Centers in Baltimore, MD, Bridgeport, CT, Houston, TX, Bronx, NY, St. Louis, MO, San Francisco, CA, and Washington, D.C. 

MBDA also launched a concentrated effort focused on engaging minority business enterprises in emerging industry opportunities. Our collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy helps develop access and capacity for minority-owned firms to engage in the growing energy industry. 

In October, we provided our San Francisco MBDA Business Center with supplemental funding to establish a Technology Transfer and Innovation specialty center. The Technology Transfer and Innovation specialty center is designed to engage minority-owned firms in tech transfer and “lab-to-market” initiatives.  The San Francisco MBDA Business Center’s proximity to Silicon Valley, a leading hub for high-tech innovation and development, provides a prime opportunity to help minority-owned businesses leverage “lab to market” opportunities and ensure greater participation in the growing energy sector by assisting in capacity building and market entry. 

We also provided supplemental funding to seven other MBDA Business Centers to specialize in advanced manufacturing and healthcare technology, exports to Africa, exports to Mexico and South America and aerospace supply chain mapping. 

These efforts have anchored our Agency as a critical resource for the over 5.8 million U.S. minority-owned firms. And, as MBDA marches forward in the next 45 years, we will continue the pursuit of operational excellence and focusing on maximizing its value to customers. 

To learn more about how MBDA continues to pursue operational excellence in all aspects of the Agency in order to best serve the nation’s minority-owned businesses visit www.mbda.gov.

Innovation Support is in Demand

Julie Kirk, Director, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

By Julie Kirk, Director, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship 

What do you get when you take a $15 million Regional Innovation Strategies program and add 254 applicants requesting more than $100 million in support? You get a very busy Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and compelling evidence that this program is crucial.

The Regional Innovation Strategies program was launched in September 2014 to spur innovation capacity-building activities in regions across the nation. Under this program, EDA solicited applications for three separate funding opportunities, including: the i6 Challenge, Science and Research Park Development grants, and cluster grants to support the development of Seed Capital Funds: 

  • i6 Challenge: The i6 Challenge, now in its forth iteration, is focused on accelerating the commercialization of technology. The 2014 i6 was broadened from the three previous challenges to include scaling of existing centers or programs and funding for later-stage Commercialization Centers.
  • Science/Research Parks: This new program provides funding for feasibility and planning of new or expanded Science/Research parks or renovation of existing facilities.
  • Cluster Grants for Seed Funds: Also new this year, this program provides funding for technical assistance to support feasibility, planning, formation, or launch of cluster-based seed capital funds that invest in growth-oriented, innovation-based start-up companies. Ultimately, the goal is to foster job creation. 

EDA is committed to helping foster connected, innovation-centric economic sectors which support commercialization and entrepreneurship. Working with regions across the country to develop regional innovation strategies, including regional innovation clusters, is also one of the Commerce Department’s strategic goals, and a keystone of the Secretary’s commitment to building globally competitive regions.  

This effort is also in line with the Department’s “Open for Business Agenda” priority to strengthen operational excellence: providing better services, solutions, and outcomes to better serve the American people. The overwhelming response by the application’s closing date on November 3 demonstrates that communities recognize the benefits of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem and could benefit from the kind of support offered by the Regional Innovation Strategies program. 

Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews Addresses Entertainment Software Industry on Commerce Department Initiatives to Help American Businesses and Entrepreneurs Stay Competitive​

Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews Addresses Entertainment Software Industry

Earlier today, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews delivered the keynote address at “20 Years of Excitement, Innovation, Growth & Jobs,” a briefing hosted by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) as the trade association celebrates its 20th anniversary. 

The briefing, which was co-hosted by the Congressional Caucus for Competitiveness in Entertainment Technology (E-TECH Caucus), focused on trends in the video game industry, including how digital and creative economies are driving our economic future.
 
During the event on Capitol Hill, Deputy Secretary Andrews discussed Commerce Department efforts to make American businesses and entrepreneurs more competitive by giving them the tools to succeed, including supporting job-training initiatives, strengthening innovation through public-private partnerships, and unleashing more government data.
 
Deputy Secretary Andrews attributed much of the entertainment industry’s success to its commitment to training and maintaining a skilled workforce. The Department of Commerce has made skills training a department-wide priority for the first time and, in partnership with the White House and the Department of Labor, is committed to advancing job-driven training initiatives and scaling up successful models like that of the video game industry.
 
The Department of Commerce is also committed to developing public-private partnerships with the entertainment software industry. Deputy Secretary Andrews pointed to the Louisiana Digital Media Center in Baton Rouge, LA, as proof of the value of these partnerships. The center, funded in part by a grant from Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, houses Electronic Arts’ (EA) commercial video game operations, along with Louisiana State University’s Center for Computation and Technology. EA expects to employ anywhere from 400 to 600 workers at the facility in the coming years.
 
Deputy Secretary Andrews also spoke about how technology industries are using government data in creative and unexpected ways. For example, NOAA already releases 2 terabytes daily of weather and climate data, powering a multibillion dollar weather industry. As America’s Data Agency, Commerce is committed to unleashing more of that data – the remaining 17 terabytes to be exact – so that the video game and other industries can make use of the untapped potential.