National Institute of Standards and Technology
Previously known as the National Bureau of Standards, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is "a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Commerce Department's Technology Administration. NIST's mission is to develop and promote measurement, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life." NIST was founded in 1901.
NIST has a $771 million budget, offices in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Boulder, Colorado, and 3,000 "scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel. About 1,800 guest researchers complement the staff. In addition, NIST partners with 2,000 manufacturing specialists and staff at affiliated centers around the country."
NIST and Cigarette ignition propensity
Cigarette makers add sodium citrate, potassium citrate or other ingredients to the rolling paper to keep cigarettes burning, even when left unattended. that accellerates burning. This design feature has rendered cigarettes a serious cause of fatal fires in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarettes are the number one cause of fire deaths in the United States.
Congress attempted to remedy this problem in 1990 by passing the Fire Safe Cigarette Act of 1990, which directed the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to research the development of a performance standard to reduce cigarette ignition propensity. The CPSC in turn contracted with NIST to develop a standard test to determine cigarette ignition propensity and evaluate the potential health effects of reduced ignition cigarettes.
Cigarette makers feared mandated design changes in their products and fought government efforts to set cigarette ignition propensity standards. 
A 1997 report by R.J. Reynolds shows RJR adopted a strategy to "block official acceptance" of the test process being developed by the NIST to determine the ignition propensity of cigarettes.
...a cigarette ignition propensity test method was developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology several years ago, but remains hotly contested by the tobacco industry...NIST is attempting to obtain official recognition of the method. If and when that occurs, federal and state regulators will no longer be able to claim that they do not know how to evaluate the fire safety potential of cigarette brands...
Our objectives should remain the same as in 1996:
--No fire-related federal, state or local regulatory authorities over cigarettes or smokers involved in fires.
--No official recognition of the NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology] test method.
--Maintenance of positive working relationships with fire officials whose views continue to define this issue...
CURRENT ASSESSMENT/RECOMMENDATIONS FOR 1997:
...Aggressively challenge the integrity of the NIST method. Block official acceptance of the process.
Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), NIST has "a key role in helping to realize nationwide improvements in voting systems by January 2006." NIST's Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) is coordinating the agency's HAVA efforts through its expertise in areas such as computer security and usability. NIST supports the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) as chair of the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC). The TGDC makes recommendations to the EAC on voluntary standards and guidelines related to voting machines." Note that the standards developed by federal institutions for electronic voting machines will be voluntary.
NIST's "key role" in implementing HAVA has not been reflected in the funding provided this aspect of the agency's work. Congress provided NIST with $500,000 for its voting program in fiscal year 2003. But "NIST funds appropriated for help America Vote (HAVA) activities ran out at the end of December 2003," it reported in a March 2004 press release. After scrambling for funds, NIST dedicated $375,000 of the agency's "base funding" for "limited" HAVA work for fiscal year 2004, including "outreach to the election community, deliver[y of] the final Human Factors Report to Congress and [the] start a new voting standards accreditation program." That report, titled "Usability and Accessibility of Voting Systems and Products," was submitted by the EAC to Congress on April 30, 2004.
Public Inquiries Unit
NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 3460, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-3460
Phone: (301) 975-NIST (6478) or TTY (301) 975-8295
- Information Technology Association Of America
- voting machine
- Diebold Election Systems
- Help America Vote Act
- undermining elections
- electoral fraud
- U.S. presidential election, 2004
- Election Technology Council
- Election Assistance Commission
- Kim Zetter, "Group Seeks E-Voting Standards," Wired News, December 16, 2003.
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