Unlike many of his federal government peers, Patrick Gallagher had some good news to tout in explaining the fiscal year 2012 budget proposal for his agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
While the Commerce Department overall would receive $242 million less under President Obama's budget released Monday, NIST would get an 8.9 percent increase over last year's budget plan and a 16.9 percent boost over the amount appropriated for fiscal 2010.
In an interview with Tech Daily Dose, Gallagher, director of NIST, said the $1 billion budget request is "the result of priority setting by the administration." He noted that while the administration was tough on some programs, the president also tried to "set some real priorities where we have to make investments."
Gallagher added that NIST's mission to promote innovation and industry competitiveness are "very well aligned" with the priorities Obama outlined in his State of the Union speech.
He pointed to the proposed increase in NIST's laboratory programs, which received the biggest boost, as among the "key investments" in the budget plan. He said it would help the agency to "refocus on our core mission, basic measurement science" and allow it to work closely with industry to apply science in a way "that is meaningful to industry."
"Investments in that type of activity at NIST have fallen," Gallagher said. Investments in the agency's core missions are "imperative for us to stay relevant."
Among the other new proposals in the budget is $12.3 million for an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia aimed at helping to bring industry together to tackle big technological challenges. He said it modeled after the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative and an initiative launched by the semiconductor industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"The trick is how do you get competing companies to work together," Gallagher said. "The magic sauce has to be a shared technological challenge," one dealing with a "pre-competition technology" where all the companies involved are willing to share the benefit," he added.
Other tech-related priorities in the budget request include a $43 million increase for cybersecurity-related research and a $22.8 million boost for interoperability standards for emerging technologies related to smart grid technologies, electronic health records and cloud computing. Gallagher noted that funding for smart grid and health IT standards came in recent years from economic stimulus funding allocated to the Energy and Health and Human Services departments. The budget request for this area would provide a steadier source of funding for these initiatives, he said.
The agency's budget request also includes a proposal to shift $500 million, from an estimated $27 billion in revenues from proposed spectrum auctions, to NIST between 2012 and 2016 for the Public Safety Innovation Fund, part of the Wireless Innovation Fund outlined by Obama last week. As part of the new Public Safety Innovation Fund, NIST will work with industry and public safety officials on research and development and demonstration projects aimed at helping to develop an interoperable public safety broadband communications system.