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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

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

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

NIST MEP helps U.S. Manufacturers Create Jobs and Expand their Businesses

NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership - Make It In America

National Small Business Week, which is taking place June 17-21, recognizes the contributions of America’s entrepreneurs to job creation and economic growth. One way that the Commerce Department works to support small- and medium-sized enterprises is through the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a public-private partnership designed to encourage innovation in American manufacturing.

NIST MEP is a nationwide network of technical experts and business advisers who work with small- and mid-sized U.S. manufacturers, helping these businesses identify growth opportunities. MEP focuses its resources on five critical areas: technology acceleration, supplier development, sustainability, workforce and continuous improvement of manufacturing processes, products, and services.

For every one dollar of federal investment, MEP generates nearly $20 in new sales growth, which amounts to about $2.5 billion in new sales annually. And for every $2,100 of federal investment in the program, MEP creates or retains one manufacturing job. These investments support the administration’s commitment to helping U.S. manufacturers innovate, grow, and create good jobs.

NIST MEP has successfully helped manufacturers across the country grow their businesses. For example:

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


Obama Administration Seeks Applicants for First Phase of ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities’ Partnership

Effort will encourage an improved approach to economic development around the country

The Obama Administration today announced that it is accepting applications for the first phase of the “Investing in Manufacturing Communities” Partnership, a new initiative outlined in the President’s fiscal year 2014 budget that will help accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing and create jobs across the country.

Phase One of the “Investing in Manufacturing Communities” Partnership: In the first phase of this effort, the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture as well as the Small Business Administration and Environmental Protection Agency will award at least 25 grants of up to $200,000 each to help regions develop long-term economic development strategies intended to create a globally competitive environment that will attract, retain and expand investment and spur international trade and exports. These “Implementation Strategies” will encourage collaboration at the local level to identify the region’s comparative advantages and assets, and plan investments to expand the area’s appeal to manufacturers.  In addition, these grants can be used to help communities prepare for the second phase of this initiative, IMCP “Challenge” grants. 

Phase Two of the “Investing in Manufacturing Communities” Partnership: President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget includes funds for the Department of Commerce to award five to six IMCP “Challenge” grants, expected to be up to $25 million each.  These funds are intended to be supplemented by coordinated investments from several other federal departments and agencies. The 2014 challenge will reward communities for having the best long-term strategies for attracting private investment and increasing exports, and should combine many of the elements companies seek when they are deciding where to locate or expand, such as: specialized research centers at local universities; business incubators focused on targeted technology sectors; community college programs to train workers in targeted industries; public works projects to upgrade infrastructure or enhance energy efficiency; viable export promotion plans; well-integrated supply chains; and an engaged community of local government, education, workforce, and business leaders.  Full release

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank Honors Four Organizations for Excellence in Performance and Innovation

Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank presenting the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest Presidential honor for organizational performance excellence and innovation

Today, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank presented four U.S. organizations with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest Presidential honor for organizational performance excellence and innovation. The recipients of the award, which is commemorating its 25th anniversary, will share their best practices as part of a national effort to improve America’s performance and competitive standing in the world. 

Deputy Secretary Blank lauded the Baldrige Award winners for being leaders in their fields and committed to the value of performance and quality. Studies have shown that Baldrige winners grow their revenues, create jobs, maintain healthy finances, and produce superior results.

At the awards ceremony, President Obama also delivered a video message to the recipients, saying that the United States’ “free market is the greatest engine of prosperity the world has ever known, and that engine is powered by our dreamers, our risk takers and our innovators.” Further, he said, “These honorees exhibit the kind of job creating innovation that’s always kept our economy growing and vibrant and prosperous.”

A Chance to Comment on Commerce’s Report on Cybersecurity Incentives

Cybersecurity (keyboard with a key silhouette on it)

As part of the Executive Order  signed by President Obama last month directing agencies to use their existing authorities and work with the private sector to better protect our nation’s power, water, and other critical systems, the Commerce Department is preparing a report on ways to incentivize companies and organizations to improve their cybersecurity.  To better understand what stakeholders –  such as companies, trade associations, academics and others – believe would best serve as incentives, the Department has released a series of questions to gather  public comments in a Notice of Inquiry published today.

The national and economic security of the United States depends on the strength of our nation’s critical infrastructure. The cyber threat to critical infrastructure is growing, and represents one of the most serious national security challenges that the United States must confront. As the President stated in the Executive Order, “repeated cyber intrusions into America’s critical infrastructure demonstrate a need for improved cybersecurity.”

As a first step toward protecting critical infrastructure, the Executive Order tasks the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to identify the systems that could be affected by a cybersecurity incident which could in catastrophic regional or national effects on public health or safety, economic security, or national security.  Second, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will develop a framework consisting of a set of standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks. This Cybersecurity Framework will provide a prioritized, flexible, repeatable, performance-based, and cost-effective approach to improving cybersecurity, which will help owners and operators of critical infrastructure identify, assess and mange cyber risk. Third, DHS will work with sector-specific agencies to develop the Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Program to promote voluntary adoption of the Framework.

Spotlight on Commerce: Mary Saunders, Associate Director of Management Resources, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Mary Saunders, Associate Director for Management Resources, National Institute of Standards and Technology

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 Mary Saunders, Associate Director of Management Resources, National Institute of Standards and Technology

In my 26-year career at the Department of Commerce, I’ve found that the most interesting things in life generally happen at the intersections. It’s the connections between people, places, and things where true forward progress is often made.

I was born in Washington, D.C. and have lived in Northern Virginia most of my life. I guess given my beginnings, it’s not surprising that I chose to study politics, economics, and public policy. What’s more surprising is that I’ve ended up using that knowledge to support the nation’s scientific infrastructure.

Some background helps explain the links that led me to my current position as the Associate Director of Management Resources, one of three deputies to NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.

NIST, DOJ Form Commission to Develop Guidelines for Forensic Labs

Image of fingerprint

Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Patrick Gallagher today addressed a group of forensics experts at the American Academy of Forensic Science’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. 

Gallagher was there with Elana Tyrangiel, acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice, to explain each agency’s role in a new National Commission on Forensic Science, announced Friday, Feb. 15.

The National Commission on Forensic Science will be composed of approximately 30 members, bringing together forensic science service practitioners, academic researchers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and other relevant stakeholders to develop policy recommendations for the Attorney General. The commission will consider guidance on practices for federal, state and local forensic science laboratories developed by groups of forensic science practitioners and academic researchers administered by NIST. 

The Department of Commerce's Role in Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity

Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank at Cybersecurity announcement

Last week, President Obama signed an Executive Order to strengthen the cybersecurity of this nation’s critical infrastructure. Threats from cyber attacks that could disrupt our power, water, and other critical systems are one of the most pressing risks facing both our nation’s security and our nation’s economy in the 21st century. So, in the absence of legislation to mitigate these threats to our infrastructure, the Executive Order directs federal agencies to use their existing authorities and work with the private sector to better protect our nation’s critical systems. 

We at the Commerce Department have an important role to play when it comes to strengthening the nation’s cybersecurity. In accordance with the president’s Executive Order, Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be leading the development of one of the Executive Order’s principle outcomes: a voluntary Cybersecurity Framework to reduce cyber risks.