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Dr. Patrick Gallagher
Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director
World Standards Day Reception/Dinner, Opening Remarks
October 13, 2011, Washington, D.C. , The Fairmont Hotel


FINAL –As Delivered

Thank you very much. Now let me tell you what you signed up for.

It's a real pleasure to be back here again for World Standards Day, so happy World Standards Day everybody.

It seems very fitting that today, we're recognizing the signing of three major trade agreements. I think that's a very tangible expression of what we all know. This is now a global economy— that we trade and work together really across a planet that seems smaller every day. And to a large extent, as this room knows very well, one of the things that makes that global economy tick is the hard work of establishing agreed-upon standards that allow for us to work and trade.

And so it is very timely that we're celebrating World Standards Day today. I'd like to start by acknowledging my co-chair. Joe, it's always great to join you up here. Somehow they turned the order around this year. Usually Joe kicks this off with an energetic speech and I come after that.

I also want to thank our administrating organization, IAPMO (International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials), for your organization's assistance this year. It was actually a very interesting session we had in Albuquerque.  Congressman Bart Gordon played a key role in setting that up, and we had a very interesting discussion about the role of advanced technology and water. And if there's a topic that brings together safety and sustainability more directly than water, I don't know what it is. So I'm delighted to see such a large contingent here today representing that area.

Today, this year's theme of World Standards Day is Advancing Safety and Sustainability Standards Worldwide. This is, of course, very timely and fits perfectly with this year's recipient of the Ron Brown Standards Leadership Award. So, Jim, let me, early on, congratulate you on behalf of everyone for this great recognition. Jim was one of the first people I met as I became Acting Director at NIST, and his input and advice to me was, and has remained very important, and it's a real pleasure that we're going to honor him today.

I find it very interesting, the role of standards in safety has a very long tradition. In fact, I think FDA and NIST probably can trace their roots back to a shared history to some extent, because it was in the realm of fire safety standards that NIST, very early in its history—only three years old at that time in 1904—began to move beyond simply measurement standards, which was its founding idea to looking at commercial standards. And one of the stories that every young NIST employee learns when they join NIST, as I did 20 years ago, is the story about the great Baltimore fire of 1904 and the fact that the lack of interoperability in fire hydrant threads prevented an effective response as firefighters from the region tried to support the firefighting efforts. That's a story we all learned at the knee at NIST. One of the things that we were not told was that that actually happened at NIST the same year. That autumn in 1904, there was a small fire at the NIST site, and it turned out that the threads on two of the buildings on the site didn't even have the same hose couplings. So we all understand the role of standards and codes and the critical role they play in protecting our safety.

The fact that we've combined safety and sustainability, though, in my view, is exactly right, because the place where these two ideas really come together is in our buildings and structures. And the same codes and standards that we rely on to protect public safety and health are, in fact, the very same codes and standards that we're going to rely upon to drive and improve the quality of our building structures and address the sustainability and energy efficiency goals that we have as a country.

I happen to believe that sustainability is one of the great challenges facing us. You cannot talk to a major industry in the United States today and not have them list sustainability as their number one or number two or number three priority. It's very high on the list. I believe it's one of the key enablers of our nation's manufacturing base. Manufacturing has always been about the efficient use of resources to produce goods and services, and it is really in the notion of sustainability where we are managing increasingly scarce resources where this concept will be brought together. And the work that we do in supporting that through standards is going to be absolutely insurmountable. And so I applaud the organizers for selecting the theme this year; I think it's exactly right.

I want to finish my brief comments with a little bit of news.

As many of you know, we've been working very hard within the Administration to raise the visibility of standards setting. For a very long time in federal agencies this has, frankly, been a…not been a very visible activity. It has operated well below the radar. And, in fact, that doesn't make any sense, because technology plays such a critical role in achieving many of the goals we share as a society—whether it's tackling energy efficiency and sustainability like we're talking today, whether it's protecting the life and safety of its citizens, whether it's enhancing the security of the United States—we all know that technology plays a critical role, and therefore, the standards beneath those technologies play a critical role. And so we've been working very hard to raise the visibility of government participation in the standards-setting process. Because in the United States, standards setting has belonged to the private sector. It's an industry-led activity. That's what we believe is the right approach. The question is, when the government is representing key public interests, national priorities, how do we engage productively?

As many of you know—in fact, many of you have been working with us throughout the last year and a half on this—we solicited public input. We've been asking for your advice and guidance on this, and tomorrow, the White House will be releasing a report from the National Science and Technology Council on strategic federal engagement in standards setting, and I hope you will all see your work in that effort in the report tomorrow. It's a report that I hope sets the stage for articulating both the premise of how we work together to set standards as we all do this—industry-led standards—in reinforcing the principles of standards setting that we all believe in, and it also lays out some guidance to the federal agencies for when there's large national priorities, when and how do they participate in a leadership or in a strong competing role, as we've been doing with you over the last couple of years in some key areas like Smart Grid and other key technologies. So, I hope you see your hard work in tomorrow's report, and we're delighted that it continues to raise the elevation of this.

So with that, let me thank everybody for being here, wish you a happy Standards Day, and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Thank you.