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The Commerce Department’s Strategic Plan: The Value of Government Data

The Average Daily Cost, Per Person, of the Principal Statistical Agencies is Three Cents

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

Last week, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker unveiled the Department’s America is Open for Business:  Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2014-2018.  One of the plan’s five priority areas is a redefinition of how we manage, optimize and enable public access to our treasure trove of data.  The Commerce Department is fortunate to have numerous agencies that provide data that are critical to the information economy, such as:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) demographic and economic statistics;
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather, ocean and climate information; 
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientific data;
  • National Technical Information Service (NTIS) information; and
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent databases. 

Specifically, the plan pledges to “improve government, business, and community decisions and knowledge by transforming Department data capabilities and supporting a data-enabled economy.”  Success has three dimensions.  First, everyone in our country should have easy access to reliable information about their communities, about their climate, and about how these are changing.  Second, every business should have easy access to reliable information on their market, potential markets, scientific information, and changing economic conditions.  Further, new data-based businesses should be able to easily pull our data, combine it with other information, and make new products to compete in the private marketplace.  Third, and finally, every government should have easy access to the information they need to better serve their communities and to assess the efficacy of their programs.  More simply put, success is making our data accessible in ways that make our businesses more competitive, our governments smarter, and our citizens more informed.

How will that be achieved?  The first component is to transform DOC’s data capacity to make our data more accessible and usable.  The second component of the data strategic plan is for us to use data to make government smarter.  The third objective of our plan is to develop better collaboration and feedback loops with the private sector; to create timely, relevant, and accessible products and services.  Many specific initiatives are well underway.  For example, NOAA already is seeking private-sector input on new public-private partnership models to make more weather and climate data available.  NIST is spearheading the development of Big Data standards. <--break->

NOAA’s Modeling and Mapping Data Enhance Nation’s Ability to Provide Tsunami Warnings Along U.S. Coastlines

NOAA Kicks Off Tsunami Preparedness Week

As we kick off Tsunami Preparedness Week, we pause to remember the 124 Americans who prematurely lost their lives without warning 50 years ago, when a powerful earthquake sent several tsunami waves crashing into coastal towns in Alaska, Oregon and California. On March 27, 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake – the largest recorded earthquake in U.S. history and the second largest in world history – occurred in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. In addition to the lives lost, the tsunamis caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.

Since 1964, we’ve been reminded about the power and danger of tsunamis. The devastation and heartbreak of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami remains with us a decade later, and images from the Japan tsunami are still fresh in our minds three years later. These events should serve as a reminder that a powerful tsunami can strike anywhere in the world, any time of year, and the U.S. is no exception.

Coastal populations and infrastructure have increased significantly over the past 50 years, making the U.S. even more vulnerable to the impacts of a tsunami. However, the nation also has made substantial advancements in earthquake science and the ability to prepare for, detect, forecast, and warn about tsunamis. While we cannot stop a tsunami from happening, we can minimize loss of life and property through preparation.

Today, NOAA leads the U.S. Tsunami Warning System, which includes operating two, 24/7 tsunami warning centers; managing a network of tide gauges and tsunami buoys, and monitoring seismic stations throughout the world’s oceans; administering the TsunamiReady program; and leading the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, a state-federal partnership that works together to prepare America for a tsunami. 

Effective preparedness depends on accurate hazard assessments. In recent years, NOAA and its state partners have made significant progress in modeling and mapping the tsunami hazard along U.S. coastlines, which has enhanced the nation’s ability to forecast and provide warnings for tsunamis. One key aspect of a hazard assessment is the accurate prediction of where coasts will flood during a tsunami. NOAA builds and updates high-resolution coastal digital elevation models, which depict Earth’s solid surface to further the understanding of ocean processes, like tsunamis, and inform decision-making. The models are incorporated into tsunami models, which simulate tsunami movement across the ocean and the magnitude and location of coastal flooding caused when the tsunami reaches the shore. The results of these simulations enable tsunami warning centers to issue more accurate forecasts, as well as support state-level evacuation mapping, preparedness and mitigation planning. 

Innovating Our Way to a Smoother, Safer Ride

Visitors watch a Rutgers bridge repair robot go through its paces at a NIST meeting

Guest blog by Marc Stanley, National Institute of Standards and Technology (Ret.)

When someone says “innovation,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? 3D printing? Smart phones? Smart phone apps?

Last Thursday I took a break from retirement to address a small but inspiring gathering of innovators at the Civil Infrastructure Showcase hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These are people who think about distinctly unglamorous things that are not usually associated with innovation. Like filling potholes or watching bridges rust.

Unglamorous, but really important. You can't have missed coverage of the disastrous bridge failure in Minneapolis in 2007 that killed 13 people and injured over a hundred more, but headlines like that are just the lowlights of a bad situation. Roadbed deterioration — things like potholes — cost U.S. motorists an estimated $67 billion a year in car repairs and costs. California’s farmers are suffering a disastrous drought, but nationwide we lose about 6 billion gallons of clean water a day to leaky pipelines. These are failures of infrastructure maintenance.

The hard-pressed municipal, county and state transportation agencies face many challenges, not the least of which is constrained budgets. They absolutely need to prioritize repair work, but how do you best do that? The most recent U.S. Department of Transportation figures show well over 28,000 “structurally deficient” bridges currently in use.

Several of the 12 research groups that gathered at NIST last week have some ideas about that. How about small instrument packages that can be mounted around questionable bridges to monitor strain and other key values and report back wirelessly to a data monitoring system? Rural bridges usually don’t have wall outlets, so engineers from Mistras Group, Virginia Polytechnic, and the Universities of South Carolina and Miami sweated to get power requirements down to where the boards could be run by little bridge-mounted windmills—which they also developed.

Census Bureau’s API Continues Commitment to Innovation

Census Bureau’s API Continues Commitment to Innovation

By Lisa Wolfisch, U.S. Census Bureau

In July 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau launched its first-ever application programming interface, allowing developers to design Web and mobile apps to explore or learn more about America's changing population and economy. The API allows developers more direct access to statistics and easier customization of their applications.

The API serves data from across the decades from the 1990 Census through the 2012 American Community Survey.  These programs offer statistics for every neighborhood in the U.S. and delivers on the Census Bureau’s commitment to create a platform for innovation by “opening up its data.”  Just last month, the Census Bureau updated the API with 13 monthly and quarterly economic indicators.

This information-centric approach promises to be the new default for all public data. Users of all varieties will benefit by creating new ways and tools to explore the data they want, rather than through restrictive PDFs and impossible to download formats.

Developers can use the statistics available through the API to create a variety of apps and tools, such as ones that allow homebuyers to find the latest new residential construction statistics. By combining Census Bureau statistics with other data sets, developers can create tools for researchers to look at topics such as school quality, toxic waste or restaurant locations and how they affect a community.

The Census Bureau not only created the API but is using it to create tools for you to access statistics, such as Easy Stats, a Census Bureau data access program, and dwellr, a mobile app released last November and since refreshed with the latest data.  Both of these tools offer easier access to American Community Survey statistics.

Over 6 Months, NIST Zero-Energy House Gives Back to the Grid

Over 6 Months, NIST Zero-Energy House Gives Back to the Grid

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently announced results from the first six months of a virtual family of four living in an energy efficient home and how the house has performed.  During the first six months, a prototypical family of four earned about $40 by exporting 328 kilowatt hours of electricity into the local grid, while meeting all of their varied energy needs. The goal of this experiment is to demonstrate that a net-zero energy house—one that produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year—can fit into any neighborhood. Following the year-long experiment, the facility will be used to test existing and new energy efficient technologies and develop methods of test that better reflect how those technologies will perform in a real home, rather than a laboratory.  

To date, these virtual residents of the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) located on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), about 20 miles north of Washington, D.C., didn't have to skimp even a bit on any of the creature comforts of 21st century living. Their amenities ranged from indoor temperatures maintained between 21.1 and 23.8 degrees Celsius (70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) to a complete array of modern-day kitchen and laundry appliances, and from personal computers, a video gaming system, and two TVs to a pair of stereos, a hairdryer, and curling and clothes irons.

Both a laboratory and a home, the 2,700-square-foot (252-square-meter) NZERTF is a two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath house that incorporates energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as energy-generating technologies such as solar water heating and solar photovoltaic systems. There, NIST scientists and engineers and their collaborators will develop and validate measurement and test methods for evaluating energy-efficient designs, materials and technologies.

Breaking Down Silos to Foster Innovation

Regional Innovation Strategies Map

Communities understand what their needs are better than any outside organization. They understand that in order to affect real change, they need to work collaboratively with businesses, non-profits, and other government agencies. The Obama administration has been utilizing public-private partnerships in numerous initiatives, as well as promoting interagency groups and supporting collaboration across agencies. EDA is one of the agencies leading this charge, and, since fiscal year 2010, has invested in 65 collaborative investments throughout the country.

EDA has teamed with ARC, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, and the Delta Region Authority on the Rural Jobs and Accelerator Challenge, which has resulted in $9 million in coordinated investments to support 13 partnership and innovation clusters across rural America. Today, the winners of the competition are providing entrepreneurs and businesses with research and development support to foster innovation, build supply chains, and hire and train workers here in the United States.

In 2012, EDA led the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, a partnership among several federal agencies, to support initiatives that strengthen advanced manufacturing and accelerate innovation in technology at the local level. Challenge winners like AMP! – The Advanced Manufacturing & Prototype Center of East Tennessee – are creating a collaborative environment where manufacturers work together with economic development resources, workforce development organizations, and research institutions. Read more about AMP! in NIST’s Manufacturing Innovation Blog.

NOAA Data Supports Coastal Resilience and Preparedness Efforts; White House to Announce Launch of Climate Data Initiative

Coastal Intelligence takes many NOAA resources

As part of the United States government’s efforts to make its data more accessible to the public, entrepreneurs, researchers and others as fuel for innovation and economic growth, today, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan will  help announce the launch of the President’s Climate Data Initiative climate.data.gov. A new climate-focused section of Data.gov, climate.data.gov will make federal data about our climate more open, accessible, and useful to citizens, decision-makers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and innovators.  It will initially focus on coastal flooding and sea level rise and aims to strengthen preparedness and resilience to the effects of climate change through new products and services.

NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce, which has also made supporting a data-enabled economy a priority, is the quintessential big data agency.  Each day, NOAA gathers billions of observations about the health of our planet and then analyzes this data to predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and our coasts. 

NOAA’s National Ocean Service is one prime example.  Whether it is the nation's nautical charts, environmental monitoring and assessment, or socioeconomic tools, NOAA’s Ocean Service turns data into actionable information. NOAA’s goal is to increase environmental intelligence that many times relates to our coasts. This term refers to the information that is used by governments, businesses, and citizens to make decisions that support healthy ecosystems, strong economies, and resilient communities along our coasts. NOAA’s Ocean Service goes beyond collecting observations, analyzing data, and conducting research to translating that science into information to support good decisions.

Views of the Trade Mission: A Learning Experience and Wealth of Opportunity

Kurt Bergman, Chief Executive Officer, Michael Baker International

Guest blog post by Kurt Bergman, Chief Executive Officer, Michael Baker International

As the CEO of Michael Baker International, I was honored when we were selected to accompany U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker on an infrastructure related trade mission to the UAE, Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After eight whirlwind days, I look back and reflect on what I learned and felt about the trip and the wealth of opportunity in our future: 

  1. The Middle East continues to be one of the most exciting infrastructure markets on the planet, with well thought, visionary initiatives across the infrastructure spectrum of water, power, surface transportation, aviation and others as well as developments of incredible forethought about the environment, including how we will live and work in the future.
  2. The U.S. and Middle East relations continue to be strong and there is a distinct desire for American companies to participate in this market.
  3. As a global company, the U.S. Embassy Commercial office staff are an incredible asset to assist you.
  4. No matter how long you have worked in the global market, there is always something new to learn.

As we traveled from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, Riyadh and Doha, I was in awe of the size, scope and magnitude of the projects that were being conceived, planned, designed and constructed. The projects we were briefed on included the Qatari Supreme Council for Legacy's FIFA World Cup 2022 program investing over $100 Billion USD to create a fan experience based on sustainability, access and enjoyment with an eye to the future. Another program was the Saudi Arabian metro initiatives in Riyadh and Jeddah where 100 of kilometers of innovative, futuristic public light rail valued at over $50 Billion USD are being installed with a four year completion goal. The Emirati Al Satiyya island development was a wonder to contemplate with over 148 square kilometers of environmentally sensitive towns centered around a world class school, entertainment and culture containing three museums being designed by different work class Pritzker prize winning architects. Nowhere else in the world is there such a desire and drive across an entire region for sustainability, cultural and environmental stewardship and quality. Michael Baker International is excited to continue our  legacy of support in the region that goes back to the 1950s and our support to the Saudi Royal Family and to supporting the U.S. State and Defense missions throughout the region today.

US Department of Commerce Middle East Trade Mission 2014 - a Startup's Perspective

Paul Doherty, President and Chief Executive Officer, the digit group, inc.

Guest blog post by Paul Doherty, President and Chief Executive Officer, the digit group, inc.

We read that the Middle East market was exploring Smart Cities as part of their strategic growth and knew our Smart Cities solutions would be a good fit there, but being a small startup technology company from Silicon Valley, we knew we needed assistance to enter the dynamic Middle East market. Being chosen to be a delegate for the 2014 Middle East Infrastructure Trade Mission led by Secretary Penny Pritzker, gave us an opportunity to showcase American innovation, explore a dynamic market and discover opportunities.

Upon arriving in the United Arab Emirates, the digit group was immediately immersed into a journey of discovery that did not stop. Secretary Pritzker and her talented staff created the environment for us to succeed by getting to know what we do, who we wanted to meet and then making it happen. The dynamic “Lightning Rounds” of meetings with decision makers and influencers for Smart City projects was thrilling and effective (including the Dubai World Expo 2020), the keynote speeches engaging and direct while the presentations and Q&A with government agencies and officials brought transparency, frank talk and paths forward for the entire delegation to consider. Both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the digit group was met with genuine interest and desire by government agencies and private companies, to not only learn what we do, but to immediately engage in pilot projects that showcase our Smart City solutions.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, our delegation was treated to clear and frank discussions on government strategy on large scale infrastructure projects and private sector aspirations, including the world’s tallest building, the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah. In fact, the digit group verbally agreed to 3D model the entire Kingdom Tower complex in our gaming engine, Orbi, during the Lightening Round in Riyadh. It was about this time during this mission that the camaraderie between the delegates roared into full swing as opportunities were shared, ideas exchanged and the mission became bigger than itself.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Wraps Up Successful Trade Mission with Visit to Qatar

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Business Delegation Wraps Up Successful Trade Mission with Visit to Qatar

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker wrapped up her Middle East trade mission in Qatar, where there are many opportunities for U.S. businesses due to the country’s growing economy as well as investments in infrastructure and transportation. As part of the National Vision 2030, Qatar’s broad strategy for growth and development, the country is focused on making meaningful advances in education, sustainability, and economic diversification. Qatar is currently preparing to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and is therefore undertaking numerous new construction projects, renovations and upgrades to prepare for the games and the influx of visitors they will bring. With more than $150 billion in infrastructure investments needed before 2022, U.S. companies are well-positioned to help Qatar meet its development goals. 

Twenty-one such companies are accompanying Secretary Pritzker on her trade mission to the Middle East, and they have been meeting with Qatari leaders to explore business opportunities. On Thursday, Secretary Pritzker and the business delegation met with His Excellency Eng. Essa Bin Hilal Al-Kuwari, President of the General Water and Electricity Corporation (Kahramaa). They discussed how U.S. companies can get more involved in future Kahramaa water, power, and smart grid projects. They also met with Nasser Al Mawlawi, President of the Public Works Authority (Ashghal), which is leading publically-funded road projects in advance of the 2022 World Cup. Ashgal has already selected several U.S. engineering and construction firms, including AECOM Technology Corporation, a member of the trade mission’s business delegation, to lead major projects. 

Secretary Pritzker also met with Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, who is in charge of preparations for the World Cup. Secretary Pritzker congratulated Al Thawadi on the successful bid to host the World Cup and highlighted the close collaboration between U.S. and Qatari companies on major infrastructure projects related to the event. 

Attracting Qatari investment to the U.S. was also a big focus of the visit. On Thursday, Secretary Pritzker met with Ahmed Al Sayed, CEO of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), founded by the Qatari government to diversify the country’s economy. She talked about the United States as an investment destination and highlighted SelectUSA, a Commerce-led federal initiative to promote business investment, as a resource for Qatar as the country seeks to expand its investment portfolio. 

Secretary Pritzker reached out to government leaders on her visit as well, notably His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, as well as Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. She emphasized the strong bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Qatar and the Commerce Department’s commitment to enhance our commercial relationship. 

Also on Thursday, Secretary Pritzker participated in an armchair discussion hosted by AmCham Doha and the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC). During the discussion, Secretary Pritzker expressed the Commerce Department’s strong support for U.S. companies working to help Qatar reach its development goals. 

This week’s trade mission has been a successful effort to connect U.S. businesses with export opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. It demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a sustained economic partnership in the Gulf region.