The Republican War On Standards

And I’m not referring to the usual pundit complaint about how mean and uncivil everyone is supposedly being. I mean the National Institute of Standards and Technology (‘NIST’). While it’s fun to joke about NIST being the keepers of official government Meat Homogenate, dollar testers, and official ampere measurers, it does serve a vital role in helping American industry through standardization. When NIST sets standards, it encourages business to conform to a set of, erm, standards, so things made by different companies fit and are interoperable. NIST has also done useful stuff like devising new online password standards–which are very good. It’s one of the U.S.’s best examples of ‘soft power.’

So, of course, Republicans want to cut NIST’s budget (boldface mine):

President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget request proposes to reduce funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology by 23 percent below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Currently funded at just under $1 billion, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness through the advancement of measurement science and standards….

The Scientific and Technical Research Services account, which funds the agency’s five laboratories and two user facilities, is spared from the deepest cuts, receiving a $90 million, or 13 percent, reduction. Funding for research facility construction is also shielded, with the budget providing level funding for modernization and renovation of the Radiation Physics Building in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The Industrial Technology Services account, on the other hand, would be scaled back dramatically. The budget proposes eliminating the $130 million Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership program and downsizing by $10 million NIST’s contribution to Manufacturing USA, a network of advanced manufacturing institutes launched during the Obama administration. Of the $15 million request for the program, $10 million would maintain support for a recently launched biopharmaceutical manufacturing institute and $5 million would support coordination activities for the full network.

Because if Obama did, then it must die. But wait, there’s more!

Reductions are distributed across a range of activities, including advanced networked systems; advanced materials manufacturing; semiconductor and microelectronic measurements; environmental measurements; time and fundamental measurement dissemination; and quantum science. For example, the budget would specifically eliminate certain research into the advanced material graphene, thin film photovoltaics that reduce the cost of solar energy, inorganic materials for electronics, materials for advanced battery systems, and the application of quantum sensors to detect greenhouse gases. Funding for certain extramural research contracts and grants in these fields would be eliminated or scaled back. NIST would also mothball two instruments at the Center for Neutron Research user facility…

A 35 percent, or $24 million, cut to Standards Coordination and Special Programs, also funded through the Scientific and Technical Research Services account, would fall to a large extent on basic research and scientific applications. The NIST Greenhouse Gas Measurements Program, which develops advanced tools and standards for accurately measuring greenhouse gas emissions, would be cut by $6 million, leading to the termination of urban test beds in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and the Northeast Corridor, as well as associated modeling efforts at universities. The budget also terminates support for the NIST Consortium for Semiconductor and Future Computing Research, which aims to “catalyze industry investment in use-inspired basic research.” It would also eliminate support for a centrally managed forensic science research program.

Anything that might conceivably have something to do with global warming must die.

Let’s also be clear about the larger context: this has nothing to do with a careful, program-by-program review of what NIST does. It is entirely about cutting the budget, so rich people can get tax cuts, while allowing Trump to increase the size of our internal security forces.

Like everything else Trump said during the campaign, Making America Great Again was just more bullshit, since cutting NIST will make us weaker.

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