Supply chain, Governance, Risk and Compliance

Feds seek industry guidance on protecting, fostering critical technologies

On Sept. 15,  2021, then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and Bavaria State Premier Markus Soeder, center, visit the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, where institute manager Immanuel Bloch explains how a quantum computer works. (Photo by Guido Bergmann/Bundesregierung via Getty Images)

The Biden administration is looking for industry help to develop an implementation plan around fostering and securing emerging technologies that are viewed as essential to U.S. national and economic security.

The effort, described in a request for information issued by the National Institute for Standards and Technology and Department of Commerce this week, will support the National Standards Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies announced in May of this year.

The strategy is designed to focus federal resources towards better investment in technologies while also building an environment for innovation and a stable of qualified domestic workers for businesses and governments to tap.

“By supporting our unrivaled innovation ecosystem and related international standards development as part of a modern industrial strategy, we can ensure that [critical emerging technologies] are developed and deployed in ways that benefit not only the United States but all who seek to promote and advance technological progress,” the White House wrote.

Many of the technologies and industries described in the strategy have been identified by multiple White House administrations and the U.S. intelligence community as critical to American competitiveness on the world stage, but policymakers are searching for ways to have a positive impact without disrupting the largely free enterprise system that has been in place.

According to the RFI, the administration is looking for a way to put this strategy in practice while still supporting “a private sector-led, open, consensus-based international standards system” of which the government is an “active stakeholder and participant.”

“The U.S. standards development system is unique because it is built upon a wide variety of processes that are open, voluntary, decentralized, and led by the private sector. These processes feature openness to participation by materially interested stakeholders with consensus-based decision making. Finalized standards are primarily published by private sector standards organizations, not the U.S. Government,” wrote Alicia Chambers, NIST’s executive secretariat.

The strategy will cover a broad range of emerging and developing technologies, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnologies, satellite/GPS, communications and networking, the blockchain and clean energy technologies. It will also cover a subset of technologies that are considered essential for national security, including cybersecurity and privacy, automated and connected infrastructure, carbon capture removal, critical minerals and automated transportation.

Fostering these technologies “demands a new and urgent level of coordination and effort” between industry and government.

The document lists 22 questions where NIST and Commerce are seeking clarity from the public. Among those questions are whether there are risks or benefits to the government becoming more involved in setting technology standards, the most important challenges facing small-, medium- and large-sized businesses, how to deploy federal spending on research and development and how to harmonize the government’s goals to promote innovation with existing laws and regulations.

Derek B. Johnson

Derek is a senior editor and reporter at SC Media, where he has spent the past three years providing award-winning coverage of cybersecurity news across the public and private sectors. Prior to that, he was a senior reporter covering cybersecurity policy at Federal Computer Week. Derek has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Hofstra University in New York and a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University in Virginia.

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