Senate Approves NIST Reorganization

Provision Bars Forcing Industry to Adopt NIST IT Guidance
Senate Approves NIST Reorganization
The Senate approved Friday the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which would codify the reorganization of the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced in September.

Because the Senate amended the House bill, it will require another vote in the lower chamber, which House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., says he hopes will occur next week before it can be sent to President Obama for his signature.

In May, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill - primarily a vehicle to fund an amalgam of engineering, research, science, technology and training programs - but it has been languishing in the Senate ever since, despite bipartisan support for most of its provisions. The bill outlines a NIST reorganization that reduces to six from 10 the number of laboratories - the main research and development components at NIST - and promote the NIST director to undersecretary for standards and technology in the Department of Commerce.

The legislation essentially keeps intact the Information Technology Laboratory, the NIST unit that provides IT and cybersecurity guidance to federal agencies. In fact, the restructuring of the other labs is patterned after the interdisciplinary way the IT Lab functions.

The measure also gives the director great discretion to make additional changes to the NIST laboratory structure, provided the changes are first reported to Congress.

Growing impatient with Senate inaction, NIST announced in September it was going ahead with the reorganization, citing a provision in the appropriations act that funds NIST to allow the first major restructuring of the institution in a generation. That law allows the reorganization of offices, programs or activities provided the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations are notified 15 days in advance of "reprogramming of funds." The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees' Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittees signed off on the realignment as did the White House Office of Management and Budget and the commerce secretary. The Commerce Department manages NIST.

Still, codifying the reorganization strengthens the action taken; besides, NIST Director Patrick Gallagher needs the bill's passage for him to be promoted to undersecretary and get the requisite change in pay grade.

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An earlier version of this story stated that the bill also prevents the government from ordering private companies to follow IT security guidance developed by NIST. That provision existed in an earlier version of the legislation, but is absent from the one that passed both houses.

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