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National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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Derived From: About NIST

From automated teller machines and atomic clocks to mammograms and semiconductors, innumerable products and services rely in some way on technology, measurement, and standards provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology .

Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST's mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

NIST carries out its mission in four cooperative programs:

  • the NIST Laboratories, conducting research that advances the nation's technology infrastructure and is needed by U.S. industry to continually improve products and services;

  • the Baldrige National Quality Program , which promotes performance excellence among U.S. manufacturers, service companies, educational institutions, and health care providers; conducts outreach programs and manages the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award which recognizes performance excellence and quality achievement;

  • the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership , a nationwide network of local centers offering technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers; and

  • the Technology Innovation Program , which is planned to provide cost-shared awards to industry, universities and consortia for research on potentially revolutionary technologies that address critical national and societal needs. (Note: This is a newly created program that has been authorized by Congress.)

  • Between 1990 and 2007, NIST also managed the Advanced Technology Program .

  • NIST's FY 2008 resources total $931.5 million. The agency operates in two locations: Gaithersburg, Md., (headquarters-234-hectare/578-acre campus) and Boulder , Colo., (84-hectare/208-acre campus). NIST employs about 2,800 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel. Also, NIST hosts about 2,600 associates and facility users from academia, industry, and other government agencies. In addition, NIST partners with 1,600 manufacturing specialists and staff at nearly 440 MEP service locations around the country.

    Derived From: Maureen A. Breitenberg, The ABC's of Standards Activities, NISTIR 7615 (Aug. 2009)


    NIST is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce whose mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. It was established in 1901 by an act of Congress as the U.S. measurement institute. NIST has approximately 2,900 employees, 2,600 associates and facility users, and 1,600 affiliated field agents located in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Boulder, Colorado. The measurements, standards, and technologies that are the essence of the work done by NIST's laboratories help U.S. industry and researchers to invent and manufacture superior products and to provide services reliably. In addition, NIST manages some of the world's most specialized measurement facilities in the country.

    In addition to its other responsibilities, NIST has a variety of roles in the private sector-led U.S. voluntary standards system. As the national measurement institute, NIST is frequently looked to for research and measurements that provide the technical underpinning for standards, ranging from materials test methods to standards for building performance, and for a range of technologies, from information and communications technologies to nano- and bio-technologies. NIST staff frequently participate in the preparation of the standards documents themselves, typically through their work on private sector-led standards committees. NIST staff also participate in workshops, seminars, and conferences supporting these standards activities.

    Under the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA), NIST was also given responsibility for coordinating federal, state and local activities in voluntary standards and working with industry and government to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards. In addition, NIST is responsible for chairing the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy (ICSP), which helps to ensure effective participation by the federal government in domestic and international standards and conformity assessment activities and promote the adherence to uniform policies by federal agencies in the development and use of standards and in conformity assessment activities.

    In addition, NIST is responsible for:

  • Operating the U.S. National Inquiry Point on Technical Barriers to Trade, which provides research services on standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures for non-agricultural products to assist in carrying out the U.S. government's responsibilities under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT);
  • Operating the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP), which provides third-party accreditation to testing and calibration laboratories in response to Congressional mandates or administrative actions by the Federal Government or from requests by private-sector organizations and operates in conformance with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards, including ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO/IEC 17011.
  • Maintaining the fundamental physical standards, such as length, time and frequency and units of mass, which underlie measurements contained in standards.
  • To more effectively coordinate its standards role with that of the private sector, NIST has also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).29 The MoU is intended to improve domestic communication and coordination among both private and public sector parties in the United States on voluntary standards issues and increase the effectiveness of U.S. government agency participation in the national and international voluntary standards-setting process.

    NIST Internet Time Service (ITS)

    The NIST Internet Time Service (ITS) allows users to synchronize computer clocks via the Internet. The time information provided by the service is directly traceable to UTC(NIST). The service responds to time requests from any Internet client in several formats including the DAYTIME, TIME, and NTP protocols.