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Blog Entries from 2014

Challenging Mission, Strong Team

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Our country – the public, businesses, NGOs, non-profits, academic institutions and governments at all levels – relies on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic & Statistics Administration (ESA) to provide timely, relevant, and high-quality data about our population and economy so they can make better decisions. This is no easy task given the sheer magnitude of our nation – we have over 7 million employer- businesses, 320 million people, a Gross Domestic Product of over $17 trillion, and trillions of dollars in international trade. It can make your head spin.  Additionally, keeping track of our economy and population is made all the more difficult because of the dynamism of our country: hundreds of thousands of new businesses start every year; tens of millions of people move; and new industries arise while others decline. On top of all of this, we are in the midst of a data revolution, with rapid advances in private-sector data availability, new data analysis tools, and ever more and changing ways to disseminate data. 

As the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, I ensure our people, programs, and policies are properly aligned and resourced to successfully perform our mission in this rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment. ESA’s three operating units; Commerce’s Office of the Chief Economist, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Bureau of Census include a workforce of more than 10,000 dedicated professionals. In addition to our duties and challenges, ESA has been given another mission: to take the lead in achieving goals under the Data Pillar of the Department of Commerce’s Strategic Plan, working across all bureaus in Commerce to fulfill the imperative to “maximize the positive impacts of Commerce data on society.”

To be successful in both my traditional job as ESA Under Secretary and as a leader of the Data Pillar, I need a capable, nimble, leadership team with a diverse set of skills.  None of us can be successful alone; instead we need to be members of strong teams committed to excellence. This post focuses on just one ESA team, that of my immediate office, which has been revamped in the past year. Team members were chosen and the positions created to meet a specific and diverse list of challenges, the most important being continuity, communication, coordination, and planning.

Presidential Task Force Issues Recommendations to Level Playing Field for U.S. Fishermen

Seafood on ice

Earlier today, the U.S. government took additional steps to level the playing field for legitimate U.S. fishermen, and ensure the vitality of marine fish stocks. The Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of State and Commerce, released 15 recommendations to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud and increase consumer confidence in the sustainability of seafood sold in the U.S. 

The recommendations released today include:

  • International: Work with international governments, Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, and others to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud at the international level.
  • Enforcement: Strengthen enforcement tools to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
  • Partnerships: Create and expand partnerships with U.S. state and local governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations to identify and eliminate seafood fraud and IUU seafood in U.S. commerce.
  • Traceability: Create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into the U.S. market to prevent entry of illegal product into the supply chain and better inform retailers and consumers. 

Tech Week 2014: Optimizing Patent Examiner Training through Volunteer Experts

Tech Week 2014: Optimizing Patent Examiner Training through Volunteer Experts

The first week in December, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held Tech Week, an opportunity for representatives from corporations, universities, and other organizations to showcase innovations in their field for its patent examiners. Such training, part of its Patent Examiner Technical Training Program, (PETTP) helps ensure patent examiners truly understand the state of the art in the technologies and disciplines in which they consider granting patents.  The technologists, scientists, engineers, and other experts in the PETTP volunteer their assistance. 

PETTP responds to one of several executive actions issued by the White House earlier this year aimed, in part, at strengthening the quality and accessibility of our patent system. One of these initiatives focused on the critical need for examiners to stay up-to-date in their technical fields of expertise through more robust technical training, enabling them to perform the best examination possible. PETTP improves the patent process by ensuring patent examiners are aware of emerging trends, maturing technologies, and recent innovation. 

Topics during USPTO Tech Week included technology advancements and trends in the areas of stem cells, petroleum, regenerative medicine, pharmaceuticals, robotics, financial trading, wireless communication technology, and more. Among the many presenters were representatives from Qualcomm, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, iRobot, Google, Seiko Epson, Sun Chemical, Verizon, and NASA. 

Program Manager Ray Taylor of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) discussed the innovative technologies developed for this large, infrared telescope slated for launch in 2018. JWST will observe some of the most distant objects in the universe, the formation of stars and planets, and give insight into the Big Bang, the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, and the evolution of our own solar system. Taylor explained the unique challenges JWST faces, such as developing a strong yet lightweight primary mirror 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Telescope. This was accomplished by building mirror segments out of ultra-lightweight beryllium, in a way that folds up to fit into a spacecraft and adjusts to shape after launch. Overcoming operational challenges related to temperature, such as mirror deformation and alignment, were also outlined for patent examiners. Taylor received a multitude of questions, leading to a robust discussion on the telescope’s development. 

Operational Excellence in Federal Spectrum Management

Operational Excellence in Federal Spectrum Management

One of the core functions of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is to manage federal uses of wireless spectrum to make the most efficient use of this precious resource. It’s complex, technical work performed by a team of resourceful engineers who labor behind the scenes to ensure that federal agencies have the radio spectrum they need to perform all sorts of mission-critical functions. 

For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration relies on spectrum to safely navigate planes. The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) depends on spectrum to communicate with weather satellites tracking storms. And the Pentagon uses spectrum to operate everything from radar systems to weapons systems. 

NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management makes this possible. And while the office has performed this vital mission for years, it’s a task that is taking on added urgency and facing mounting pressure amid skyrocketing commercial-sector demand for spectrum to fuel the explosive growth of wireless broadband. 

The wild popularity of iPhones, Android devices and other mobile gadgets of all sorts – which consumers are using to upload picture to Facebook, watch videos on YouTube and devour other multimedia content – is driving unprecedented demand for bandwidth for licensed and unlicensed commercial wireless services. 

To balance the growing need for spectrum among commercial users and federal agencies alike, NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management is collaborating with the Federal Communications Commission to identify spectrum that can potentially be repurposed for commercial use and to promote spectrum sharing across the public and private sectors. Against this backdrop, NTIA’s spectrum engineers are working closely with federal agencies to ensure that they are using their assigned frequencies as efficiently as possible. 

Multiple teams in NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management support this critical work. Two that achieved “operational excellence” in fiscal 2013 – getting more done with fewer resources, while still meeting exacting engineering quality standards – are the Systems Review Branch and the Frequency Assignment Branch. 

Building Data-Driven Workforce Solutions

Building Data-Driven Workforce Solutions

Guest blog post by Chauncy Lennon, Senior Program Director, Workforce Initiatives JP Morgan Chase Foundation and Member of the Commerce Department's National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) 

Last Friday was the kickoff meeting for NACIE 2.0 – the Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I was proud to join my fellow committee members to address global competiveness. Without question, the meeting started in what can only be described as a sprint out of the blocks. We began the morning with Secretary Pritzker asking us what transformational investments and policies the Federal Government facilitate to help communities, businesses, and workers be globally competitive. By the end of the day we were presenting a list of ideas with the potential to answer this charge. Additional comments from Julie Kirk, Director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director of Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, helped frame the opportunities ahead. 

A new and welcomed feature of NACIE 2.0 is three subcommittees focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship, and workforce development. I’m looking forward to serving on the workforce subcommittee. At JPMorgan Chase, we’ve just completed the first year of New Skills at Work, a five-year, $250 million global initiative supporting the development of data-driven workforce training and education solutions to help address the mismatch between the needs of employers and the skills of current job seekers. As the subcommittee got to work on honing its list of priorities, labor market information and data quickly rose to the top. Advancing the US workforce, helping industries compete, and fostering innovation all require better data and systems to process and share it with employers, educators and workforce trainers.

The limitations government, business and educators face in understanding education pipelines, career pathways, and the different types of credentials workers currently create significant economic growth challenges. Without data, employers don’t know if the workforce in their region can meet their skill needs.  The same goes for job seekers. If education attainment is not linked to the needs of businesses, high schools, colleges and training providers struggle to know exactly what credentials and degrees students might need to find jobs in different sectors and industries. 

As a result, both employers and job seekers suffer because of insufficient data. Job seekers have a hard time knowing about current and future employment opportunities while employers lack access to the quality data informing them about the results of training and education programs.

Building stronger data systems will take time. But it is the perfect example of an idea that answers Secretary Pritzker’s charge to NACIE: With the right information, we can transform our economy to benefit everyone.  

President Obama Announces $400M for Manufacturing Hubs and Skills Training

This week President Obama made some major announcements that will help create new, 21st century job opportunities for American workers in high-demand sectors.

Specifically, President Obama launched two new competitions for manufacturing and innovation institutes, one in smart manufacturing at the Department of Energy, and one in flexible hybrid electronics at the Department of Defense. Each institute will receive $70 million or more of federal investment to be matched by at least $70 million from the private sector, for a total of more than $290 million in new investment.

This announcement fulfills the President’s 2014 State of the Union pledge to launch four new institutes this year, for a total of eight institutes launched so far, and puts the Administration past the halfway mark on the President’s original goal of creating 15 manufacturing innovation institutes supported through executive action. These institutes are critical to ensuring the United States maintains its global leadership in innovation.

The Department of Commerce is committed to the President’s vision of creating a full national network of up to 45 manufacturing institutes over the next 10 years, which will require Congress to pass legislation. Secretary Pritzker has advocated for the passage of pending bipartisan legislation that would establish NNMI. Specifically, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act would create a network of up to 15 regional institutes nationwide. The legislation will also encourage partnership and regional collaboration between communities, the private sector, academia, NGOs, and needed supply chains in order to bring ideas from the lab to market.

NNMI would play a critical role in boosting America’s industrial competitiveness by supporting innovative technology development. Support for this network of industry-driven commercialization hubs will help strengthen U.S. innovation and competitiveness, two key priorities of the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.”  

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.