The National Taxpayer Union Foundation regularly analyzes bills to see which ones are not only the most expensive; however, which are the most wasteful to taxpayers. This week’s bill was introduced by Republican Congressman Larry Buschon of Indiana with his NIST Reauthorization Act.
The Bill: H.R. 5035, NIST Reauthorization Act of 2014
Cost Per Year: $260 million ($520 million over two years)
Article 1, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to “fix the standard of weight and measure.” However, it wasn’t until the late 1820s that Congress took any such action, which proved to be an especially difficult problem for the U.S. Mint: with no way of ensuring that each coin it created for circulation contained the same amount of gold, some coins may have in fact been worth more or less than their face value implied. Although the government was able to settle on a standard of measurement by 1828 (using a weight imported from London equal to one imperial troy pound), it needed more precise means of measurement to ensure accurate conformity to the standards.
In 1830, Congress established the Office of Standard Weights and Measures, which later became the National Bureau of Standards in 1901, in order to develop a uniform system of measurement for use in all official purposes. By the time the U.S. entered World War II, the agency was serving as a federal laboratory for support of engineering, manufacturing, and educational standards. In 1988, Congress renamed the agency again, this time as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and tasked it with providing advisory services and research that supports “U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness … in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.”
Employing more than 2,000 scientists and full-time employees, NIST develops and maintains everything from the atomic clock keeping the nation’s official time, to scales used in advanced nanotechnology. Additionally, the agency works to strengthen the U.S. manufacturing industry largely through its Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). MEP is a program carried out between federal and state governments that provides research, development, and marketing services to private manufacturing businesses. According to the NIST, the MEP program helped over 30,000 manufacturers last year and it received about $118 million in funding. The President’s latest budget has requested $141 million for the program in 2015. MEP is often cited as an example of corporate welfare by critics such as the CATO Institute and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) frequently lists the program in its annual Budget Options reports that compile policy reforms to reduce spending.
Congressman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) introduced the NIST Reauthorization Act in July, which would appropriate new funding for the NIST’s core research and development programs as well as the MEP program. In a press release, Rep. Bucshon said “NIST has had a substantial impact on our nation’s scientific and technological developments, industry, and economy for over 100 years. … This bill implements changes and updates to ensure responsible use of taxpayer funds during tight fiscal times while still maintaining a competitive edge in the United States.”
H.R. 5053 authorizes $850 million for NIST in FY 2014 and $856 million for FY 2015, an average of $260 million per year above what the agency spent in 2013 ($593 million).