If you want to see budget fireworks in the coming months, keep your eye on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This lesser known
science agency has long surfed under the radar of budget watchers, in part because its budget of less than $1 billion made it small by Washington
standards, and because it supports research on scientific and industrial standards. Not terribly sexy stuff.
That could soon change. In its newly released budget for 2012, the Obama Administration recommends boosting NIST's overall budget above $1 billion for
the first time, a nearly 17% increase from NIST's FY 2010 $857 million figure. The big bump up includes nearly $160 million in new funds for NIST's
core laboratory budget, including support for programs in nanoscale manufacturing, advanced energy materials, and novel time and electrical measurement
The proposal also recommends spending nearly $23 million on "interoperability standards" for emerging technologies, such as health information
standards, cloud computing, and smart grid technologies. Some of those efforts were launched with Stimulus Act funding. Moving them into the core labs
budget "is a key transition request to get those on a stable appropriations footing," says NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.
Elsewhere in NIST's budget, the Administration proposes spending $12.3 million on a new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program, aimed at
backing precompetitive industrial research, much as SEMATECH did among computer electronics companies.
Gallagher says NIST won the suggested budget increase because its mission is in sync with the Administration's priorities of using innovation to spur
economic growth. "It is particularly gratifying for NIST to find itself with a mission so central to top presidential priorities," says Gallagher.
But that happy alliance is likely to smack into budget backlash from Congress. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives recently proposed
slashing NIST's budget to $733 million. If that proposal goes through, it's likely to wipe out not only all of the Obama Administration's new programs
but also many existing ones.
See our complete coverage of Budget 2012.