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July/August 2010

A New Role for Standardization

Maryann Gorman,  Standardization News' Editor in ChiefIn March, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the creation of a new Subcommittee on Standards under the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology. One of the group’s two co-chairs is Patrick Gallagher, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, whom we are pleased to feature in an interview.

To Gallagher, who was confirmed as President Barack Obama’s choice to head NIST in November 2009, this development makes perfect sense. Creating this subcommittee put standardization into sharp focus as a strategic priority within the Obama administration while reinforcing the decades-long partnership in the United States between government agencies and private-sector standards developers. Gallagher, who has spent much of his early directorship of NIST planning a reorganization of the institute, understands that standards, which have for more than a century been drivers of material interoperability and technological development, have an evolving role to fill. “Technologies themselves are becoming systems of systems,” Gallagher comments in his interview, “not component-based technology like a widget that will fix something but rather technology infrastructures for health or electricity management systems. Those are complicated; there are multiple players and standards play an enormous role in defining how those systems work.”

National and cyber security, the electrical smart grid and an interoperable health information technology system are frequently noted as examples of the kind of complex webs that characterize the new role of standardization. Of course there will always be a need for component standards in the material manufacturing realm, but it is leaders like Gallagher who are ensuring that standardization meets the needs of the rapidly changing, system-based technological world that was built by those components.

We are honored to be able to share Patrick Gallagher’s thoughts on the new White House standards group, the details of the NIST reorganization and the role of U.S.-based standards in the global economy. It is a complex world we inhabit, and standardization is a key organizational principle around which we can harness technology to improve health, safety and the environment.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief