NIST has been conducting economic impact studies on a regular basis since 1992, as a means to 1) provide management with information on the nature and magnitude of NIST research projects; 2) inform the policy and budget communities of the economic returns to society from NIST projects; and 3) fulfill GPRA requirements for performance evaluation data. NIST also uses these studies to evaluate completed and ongoing research and related projects, as well as to support strategic planning processes. In general, economic impact measures such as the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) and social rate of return (SRR) provide rigorous, useful and informative outcome data. However, they do not provide a comprehensive measure of all economic consequences associated with NIST research and services. Moreover, BCR and SRR outcomes cannot be compared across different impact assessments. For a number of fundamental reasons, each study is unique to the project, technologies, and industrial effects it seeks to illuminate:
Infratechnologies and services provided by NIST typically affect a broad array of industries, and often influence many layers of activity within a given industry (from R&D through production and marketing). Variation across industries, combined with the diverse and often diffuse effects of infratechnologies, create empirical challenges unique to each impact assessment.
In most cases, it is virtually impossible to measure all of the downstream effects of NIST research and services. Most of NIST's impact analyses have focused on firms and/or industries in the supply chain that benefits most directly from NIST output. Even at that level, unique data-gathering challenges arise from differences in the number of firms, the distribution of firm size, and the relationships between supplier and user firms.
Data collection and methodological choices also are affected by variations in the character of NIST infratechnologies as well as by differences in how those technologies are delivered over time.
Collectively, the entire set of economic impact studies conducted to date demonstrates that the rates of return on NIST infratechnologies consistently match or exceed rates of return to private investment in technology. In addition, these studies and other economic analyses suggest that public investment in infratechnologies complements private investment in proprietary technologies, which in turn generates higher rates of economic growth.