February 13, 2004
Budget cuts curtail NIST cybersecurity work, other programs
By Teri Rucker, National Journal's Technology Daily
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will have to curtail its work on cybersecurity, terminate all its work with a law designed to improve the elections process and go to month-to-month funding for manufacturing programs because of its $22 million budget cut in fiscal 2004, according to the agency's acting chief of staff.
"Labs are really impacted by the most recent appropriation," NIST's Mat Heyman said.
The list of cuts is long, but cybersecurity efforts will be reduced "substantially," he said, noting that NIST researchers do a lot of work to ensure that control systems that manage power plants, water-supply systems and utilities are safe from cyber attack.
"You would think that would be something we wouldn't want to cut back," Heyman said.
The $22 million shortfall also took a toll on NIST's other information technology work, such as helping other agencies with their IT issues. And it will cause the agency to issue fewer grants to universities and nonprofit groups that do research on microelectronics, material science and fire protection, among other things, he noted.
"We have terminated all our activities under the Help America Vote Act for lack of funding," Heyman said. Under that law, NIST had a prominent role in helping state and local election officials implement new voting systems. The law was implemented to improve the voting system after the recount confusion in the 2000 presidential election.
Changes also will have to be made to the way the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is run, he said. Congress allocated less than $39 million for the program in fiscal 2004, down from the nearly $107 million it received in fiscal 2003.
To compensate for that two-thirds cut, the MEP headquarters staff will be cut in half and cease to produce new materials and tools to help manufacturers, Heyman said. The MEP centers around the country, which receive one-third of their funding from NIST, also will be put on month-to-month renewals rather than annual renewals.
The Commerce Department proposed reopening the contracts for the manufacturing centers to competition, a function that will have to be performed by the reduced headquarters staff.
The House Science Committee is concerned about the cuts and is looking for ways to mitigate them.
"We have to reverse the bad decisions on NIST that this Congress ratified in the omnibus spending bill and move forward," committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said at a hearing on the budget this week. "I'd like to see the Advanced Technology Program [ATP] and the Manufacturing Extension Program ... be part of that moving forward."
There is some good news in the $422 million budget request for NIST, which would be $85 million more than the fiscal 2004 allocation, but Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., noted that the amount should be considered a bare minimum.
And that proposed budget increases might not be all it seems, one House source said. No money would be allocated to close ATP, a cost estimated at $35 million.
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