An Important Week for Technology Standards in the Nation’s Capitol

Posted by Craig Shank
General Manager, Interoperability 
On Wednesday night,  U.S. Chief Technology Officer  Aneesh Chopra announced the creation of an interagency Subcommittee on Standards to provide leadership on critical standards-related issues.  The Subcommittee will be co-chaired by Patrick Gallagher, Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Philip Weiser, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International, Policy and Appellate Matters, Department of Justice.   The announcement capped a big week for the standards world in Washington,  D.C.
On Tuesday, I testified on behalf of Microsoft at a House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovationhearing on the structure of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and its role coordinating standards-related issues.  On Wednesday, the same panel held another hearing to consider how the U.S. government can best support innovation in tech fields and the role of standards.  At both hearings, the need for effective coordination among government agencies and industry were discussed, with specific reference to NIST’s work around the so-called “smart grid” and e-health.

CTO Chopra’s announcement set out three important starting points for the Subcommittee on Standards: “To ensure that federal agencies work closely and effectively together to define their standards needs, define their approach to working with industry and standards organizations, and support their meaningful adoption by markets.”  We believe these are precisely the right areas to  focus on,  and we  look forward to working with the Subcommittee, standards organizations and others in the private sector as the Subcommittee advances its goals.

Ensuring that federal agencies work well together on standards to help advance  innovation goals should certainly be a top priority.  Today we can point to smart grid, e-health and cybersecurity as examples of effective agency coordination that are yielding concrete, positive outcomes. Identifying tomorrow’s critical areas of focus, and promoting the development of meaningful standards in those areas, are priorities that industry shares.

As Wednesday’s announcement also recognizes, cooperation between federal agencies,  the private sector and standards organizations is crucial.  In areas of rapidly advancing technology, the engagement of industry and standards bodies   is key to ensure that standards foster, rather than impede, further innovation.  In this area, the Subcommittee on Standards has over a decade of successful public-private-partnerships to draw on, driven by the National Technology Transfer Advancement Act of 1995.   As these success stories demonstrate, the key to success is broad stakeholder involvement at both the technical and the policy level.

Finally, “meaningful adoption by markets” is the ultimate measure of the success of not only standards, but also the devices and products that embody those standards.    A fair environment for commercializing market driven innovation needs to be a key priority.   As President Obama recently noted: “Our single greatest asset is the innovation and the ingenuity and creativity of the American people.  It is essential to our prosperity and it will only become more so in this century. ”

It is a safe bet that standards policy won’t get three days of prominent discussion in Washington again next week.  That’s fine.   This week’s developments are  positive, thoughtful steps towards optimizing the important public-private-partnerships that benefitthe entire standards ecosystem.