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Blog Entries from 2014

Response to NOAA's data RFI - "let's get started." And we are!

National Weather Service Data Visualization

Did you know that NOAA gathers 20 terabytes of data every day - twice the data of the entire printed collection of the United States Library of Congress? This environmental intelligence comes from a wide variety of sources including: Doppler radar systems, weather satellites, buoy networks and stations, computer models, tide gauges, real-time weather stations, as well as ships and aircraft. This network provides valuable and critical data that are instrumental in protecting lives and property across the country. But only a small percentage is easily accessible to the public and, as demand increases for this data and information, NOAA recognized it needed to find ways to effectively and efficiently distribute this data to decision makers and industries.

With that in mind, this past February NOAA announced a new effort to unleash the power of its data to foster innovation, create new industries and job opportunities. NOAA issued a Request for Information, or an RFI, to engage private industry to help make NOAA's data available in a rapid, scalable manner to the public. Through this process, American companies were asked to provide possible solutions for NOAA to be able to turn this untapped information into usable products or services.

So what does this mean to the economy? According to a 2013 McKinsey Global Institute Report, open data could add more than $3 trillion in total value annually to the education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare, and consumer finance sectors worldwide. If more of this data could be efficiently released, organizations will be able to develop new and innovative products and services to help us better understand our planet and keep communities resilient from extreme events.

NOAA received more than 70 responses to the RFI that closed on March 31st.  Responses came from industry and academia and ranged from single organizations to broad, integrated teams. NOAA has reviewed the responses and is continuing to engage with industry to elicit feedback for the best way to make this data accessible and useful.

Overall, respondents to the RFI provided a clear message - get started. And we heard this again at the Open Data Roundtable last week at the White House. So NOAA is talking to other agencies and formulating a plan for implementing a new, innovative model of public-private partnership around open government data, all in support of the Obama administration’s efforts to make data more accessible. NOAA intends to incrementally implement this partnership by enabling the government and industry to work together by testing the best methods for not just making data available, but creating an ecosystem around the data that will make a meaningful and lasting impact on the economy.

Secretary Pritzker Swears in New Commercial Service Officers

Secretary Pritzker Swears in New Commercial Service Officers

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker today swore in 24 new Foreign Commercial Service Officers and one Intellectual Property Attachè at the Commerce Department. . The ceremony marked an exciting beginning to these officers’ careers in overseas and domestic markets where they will work to strengthen the American economy by supporting U.S. businesses in the global marketplace.

The administration is committed to increasing U.S. exports, which support millions of jobs.  U.S. exports have set records for four consecutive years, reaching $2.3 trillion in 2013. These exports now support 11.3 million jobs in the United States. The recent launch of the NEI/NEXT campaign by Secretary Pritzker has built on the momentum of the recent growth to encourage American companies to take their business to overseas markets.

Expanding trade and investment is a central part of the Department’s ‘Open for Business Agenda’ and having an overseas presence is one critical way to support U.S. businesses seeking to grow in foreign markets.

During a recent trip to Burma, Secretary Pritzker announced the Department of Commerce will expand its overseas resources to help U.S. businesses navigate additional global markets and sell their goods and services to customers all over the world. The Department’s International Trade Administration will add a total of 68 new positions and open offices in five new countries, including its first in Burma. The expansion is largely focused on fast-growing markets in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.  The Department of Commerce will soon add new offices in Africa and Asia in order to facilitate exports in these critical markets.

The new officers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience from their prior private or public sector service. Of the more than 3,800 candidates, these 25 men and women were chosen because of their constant resourcefulness, tenacity, and of course, diplomacy.

These new Commercial Service Officers play a vital role in the enhancement of American businesses. They support U.S. businesses in overcoming trade barriers, finding global business opportunities and partners, and attracting investment to U.S. shores. These officers will be the boots on the ground, leading the charge to open new markets and helping companies compete in the global marketplace.

Creating More Options to Improve Privacy and Security Online

Creating more options to improve privacy and security online

Guest blog post by Jeremy Grant, Senior Executive Advisor for Identity Management, National Institute of Standards and Technology

It’s well established that diversity of thought and backgrounds strengthens organizations of all kinds and that diversity is a key component of a strong economy. At the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) National Program Office (NPO), we believe diversity is also the key to establishing a vibrant marketplace of options to replace outdated passwords with reliably secure, privacy-enhancing and convenient ways to prove who you are online.

The Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG) was launched under the auspices of the NPO but is a privately led group laying the groundwork for that marketplace through policy and standards development. The group held its ninth plenary meeting this week at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. The meeting brought together a broad coalition of individuals and representatives from industry, privacy and civil liberties advocacy groups, consumer advocates, government agencies, and more, focused on giving people choices when they conduct secure transactions online.

Instead of giving up lots of personal information every time you go online, you could choose who gets what information about you by allowing a trusted third-party to verify your online identity and then assert specific attributes on your behalf—only as needed for a transaction.

At the IDESG meeting, we heard from pilot participant ID.me, which is collaborating with vendors such as Under Armour to provide discounts to military families and first responders. ID.me is in the process of receiving higher level certification for its solution so that users can access government services and medical records.

Listening to Our Data Customers at the Open Data Roundtable

Joel Gurin, Senior Advisor at The GovLab (left) and Acting Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews

Guest Blog Post by Acting Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews

It is not hyperbole to call the Department of Commerce,“America’s Data Agency.” Other departments may house major statistical agencies. But none can rival the reach, depth, and breadth of the Commerce Department’s data programs. Our data collection literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun.

As a key pillar of our “Open for Business” agenda, bureaus and leaders across the Department of Commerce are determined to maximize the return on our data investments for businesses, government, taxpayers, and communities.

As Ginni Rometty of IBM has said, “Information will be to the 21st century what steam, electricity and fossil fuels were to prior centuries.” The entire team at our Department agrees.

For the first time, Secretary Pritzker has made data a top priority for Commerce – part of the heart and soul for our strategy to strengthen our economy and deliver the tools and information needed to bolster our businesses.

The Secretary knows, as we all do, that gatherings like today’s Open Data Roundtable are essential to building bridges with the private sector, gaining input and feedback, improving our data infrastructure, and developing a system that will outlast any single Administration.

Our goal is to unleash even more government data to help business leaders make the best possible decisions, while creating fertile ground for more startups. The best way to do that is to listen to suggestions from those already using our data – and to get the private sector’s guidance on where the federal government can unlock the greatest value in our data sets.

NOAA Harnesses Digital Technology to Empower Commercial Innovation in Nautical Charts

NOAA harnesses digital technology to empower commercial innovation in nautical charts

The nautical chart – that simple and so very complex map that enables safe navigation over millions of miles of coastal waters – is undergoing a revolution. For two hundred years, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has gathered ocean measurements and created the Nation’s nautical charts – on paper. NOAA pioneered digital charts in the 1990s, and demand has grown steadily since then. This year, NOAA decided to shift the focus of chart production to digital products, while still supporting an important (but declining) demand for paper. Using digital technology, cartographers can now use more data at a higher spatial resolution and richer attribution than was possible on paper nautical charts, giving the maritime industry greater navigational intelligence to manage risks.

Last year, Coast Survey beta tested MyNOAACharts, an app for Android tablets that allowed users to download NOAA nautical charts. Users could find their positions on updated charts; they could zoom in on any location, or zoom out for the big picture to plan a day of sailing. Hundreds of users commented during the beta test, providing essential insights, and Coast Survey listened. One key project insight was that Coast Survey’s distribution formats for nautical charts are not well suited to mobile apps. Coast Survey also recognized that there is an innovative and growing commercial market for mobile navigation apps.

With input from the user community in mind, Coast Survey decided to cancel further development of the app and instead refocused efforts on improving the distribution system for charts and other navigation data. This summer, for instance, Coast Survey will make it easier for app developers to use NOAA charts in their products by breaking charts into much smaller “tiles,” which are used widely in mobile apps, web maps, and commercial chart plotters. This will empower the next generation of app developers, chart redistributors and software entrepreneurs to create new navigation products, and speed updated chart information to U.S. boaters.

Secretary Pritzker Discusses Strategic Benefits of Reshoring at Inaugural SelectUSA Summer Forum

Secretary Pritzker speaks at the SelectUSA Summer Forum

Today, Secretary Pritzker co-hosted the first ever SelectUSA Summer Forum with U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (VA-10) at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Over 200 business leaders across a multitude of industries attended the Summer Forum to discuss how bringing manufacturing and other services back to the United States – a process called “reshoring” – makes practical and economic sense.

At the SelectUSA Summer Forum, Secretary Pritzker remarked that America’s greatest strengths – its hardworking, diverse, and educated workforce, strong protection of intellectual property rights, predictable and transparent legal system, relatively low taxes, highly developed infrastructure, and access to the world's most lucrative consumer market – have led to a strong trend of reshoring and reinvestment in America. Additionally, Secretary Pritzker praised the Commerce Department’s primary vehicle for attracting job creating investment into the U.S. – SelectUSA – for its achievements in promoting, attracting, retaining, and expanding investment to and within the United States. Attendees also heard from U.S. Representative Frank Wolf, an advocate for exporting and reshoring, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and Jeff Fettig, CEO of the Whirlpool Corporation, who spoke about his company’s experiences moving jobs back to the United States and the resulting creation of jobs in the local economy.

An initiative established in 2011 by President Obama, SelectUSA acts as an advocate for business investment in the United States as well as a single point of contact for investors ready and looking to create jobs and establish production in America. Since its inception just two years ago, SelectUSA has facilitated over $18 billion in new investments for the United States and serviced over 1,000 potential investors this past year alone, bolstering America’s long-standing position as the world’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Talks About Training a Modern Manufacturing Workforce

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Talks About Training a Modern Manufacturing Workforce

A skilled manufacturing workforce is central to America’s future economic success. In order to best equip workers for 21st century jobs, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has for the first time made skills development a top priority for the Department of Commerce. As part of these efforts, Secretary Pritzker spoke today about the importance of industry-driven skills training at a conference titled “Skills Training for a Modern Manufacturing Workforce: Does the German Model Have Lessons for the United States?” Sponsored by the Aspen Institute, the German Embassy, the Representative of German Industry and Trade (RGIT), and the German Center for Research and Innovation, the conference highlighted successful U.S. and German approaches to workforce development and how the two countries can collaborate to strengthen the competiveness of both economies.

Skilled workers make businesses more productive, and expanded training opportunities boost workers’ average lifetime earnings. But matching training initiatives to industry needs can be a challenge. Germany’s “dual track” vocational training tradition successfully addresses the needs of both workers and businesses. Pairing classroom instruction with hands-on apprenticeship opportunities, the dual track system gives students the opportunity to gain real-life experience and supplies a pipeline of talent for businesses. In May 2012, the German Embassy launched its “Skills Initiative” to introduce Germany’s dual system of training to U.S. companies. The program brings together German companies with U.S. state and local government officials, education leaders, training providers, and other stakeholders to create workforce development programs best suited to German business needs in the U.S. market.

Assess Costs Everywhere – Now Even Better!

Under Secretary Doms (far right), leads a panel discussion with Chief Economist Sue Helper (from left to right), Hal Sirkin, Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group, and Katy George, Director, McKinsey & Co.

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

Where to locate your business or a new facility for your business is a complicated decision. Many variables are involved, and if you are considering a location outside of the U.S., there are many factors that may not be obvious. At Commerce, we have been focused on making this decision and all of its moving parts easier to digest, and a major part of that is Commerce’s ACE Tool.

First released in April 2013, the Assess Costs Everywhere (ACE) tool outlines the wide range of costs and risks associated with offshore production, and provides links to important public and private resources, so that firms can more accurately assess the total cost of operating overseas.

Today we have updated the data and deepened the analysis, but the original conclusions remain as fresh as ever. Multiple costs and risks--some visible and some hidden--accompany firms' decisions about where to set up a factory and the supply chain.

I have had the pleasure of meeting frequently with business owners from across the country. They talk about where their challenges are in growing and sustaining their businesses, and they also talk about how locating production abroad hasn’t always turned out as well as they had hoped. Not surprisingly, during our current economic recovery and expansion, news reports and private consultants have repeatedly echoed that thinking. Increasingly we hear that U.S. companies that previously took their operations or supply chains overseas are now reshoring, or insourcing, bringing operations and supply chains back home to America.

The ACE Tool is intended to help businesses think through this complicated decision, and provide easy access to innovative research and thinking on issues related to site selection and supply chains. The ACE Tool is grounded in the forward-thinking work of Harry Moser of ReshoreNow.org and Rep. Frank Wolf, who called on Commerce to bring this effort to fruition. The Department of Commerce developed ACE in response to Rep. Wolf's call to help achieve our shared goals of boosting U.S. economic growth and ensuring that America remains competitive in manufacturing.

ACE explores 10 costs and risks:

Commerce in the Community: Watershed Capital Utilizes Impact Investing as an Innovative Approach to Sustainable Community Development

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.

Below is an interview with Shawn Lesser and Michael Whelchel, Co-founders and Partners at Watershed Capital Group. Prior to starting Watershed, Shawn sold institutional equities to European banks and Michael co-managed two private equity funds in the U.S.

Question 1: Tell us about Watershed Capital. What is your mission and main focus?
 
Watershed Capital Group (www.watershedcapital.com) is a boutique investment bank focused on the area of impact investments. Our mission is to scale impact investing with a specific emphasis on helping companies and funds raise capital and execute mergers and acquisitions. Over the past seven years, we've worked with over 20 sustainable companies and over 60 private equity funds.

Question 2: How is Watershed Capital Group working with the Department of Commerce to expand its impact?

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce around the Obama Administration's impact initiative, last October we organized the first impact and sustainable trade mission to Europe. Specifically, we brought together 10 US-based impact funds and introduced them to close to 90 European investors in London, Zurich and Amsterdam. The trade mission included high-level conversations about the impact investing space and was capped with a policy roundtable in London which brought together stakeholders both from the US and the UK.

Following up on the success of the first trade mission, last month we organized the second impact and sustainable trade mission to Nordic region with delegations meetings in Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki.  This October we will be returning to Europe the week of October 20th for the third impact and sustainable trade mission with delegation meetings in London, Zurich and Amsterdam.

International Statistical Update: Health- and Education-Related Travel Now Part of Travel Services

Cross-post, Bureau of Economic Analysis

You may have noticed some data on international travel services look a little bit different. With the release of the monthly trade report on June 4, spending on health- and education-related travel are now counted in the travel services category. Previously, both were included in a category called “other personal services.”

Expenditures on goods and services by border, seasonal, and other short-term workers, which were also previously included in other private services, are reclassified to travel as well.

While this change alone will not affect the overall trade balance, the category measuring travel services – both imports and exports – will be larger. However, BEA will also report quarterly on health- and education-related travel separately from other more traditional business and personal travel so that users can track travel spending in several ways. You can see the new travel services category as well as the subcategories in a new table that will be available on June 18. A template is available now.

This change is part of the Comprehensive Restructuring of BEA’s International Economic Accounts, which we discussed in a recent blog post.

An example of health-related travel is when a foreign person travels to the United States for surgery. In this case, health-related travel exports would include the cost of medical procedures the person receives, in addition to any accommodations and other expenses he or she incurs in the United States.

An example of education-related travel is when a foreign person travels to the U.S. to attend school here. In this case, education-related travel exports would include all costs the foreign student incurs in the United States, including tuition at a U.S. institution. Like other changes to BEA’s international accounts, moving health- and education-related travel to the travel services category brings the U.S. international accounts into closer harmony with data produced by our trading partners and was a recommendation of the International Monetary Fund’s Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual, 6th edition.