The Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Energy have together spent $1 billion to establish 14 institutes that develop advanced manufacturing capabilities. Most of the institutes are operating under an initial 5- to 7-year period of federal financial assistance.
These institutes expect possible negative consequences once this initial assistance ends. For example, they may need to focus on short-term projects for industry use to raise revenue, rather than projects that advance U.S. manufacturing innovation as a whole.
We recommended the departments evaluate whether their institutes can sustain operations without additional federal assistance.
3D printing, an example of advanced manufacturing technology
A component of 3D printing technology
What GAO Found
Since December 2016, the Manufacturing USA network has grown from 11 to 14 manufacturing innovation institutes that are implementing a wide array of activities aimed at developing manufacturing capabilities in promising new advanced technologies, as shown in the figure. As of March 2019, most institutes were operating under an initial 5- to 7-year period of federal financial assistance.
Additive manufacturing (or 3D printing), an example of advanced manufacturing.
The Department of Commerce, through a national program office, along with the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE) have developed long-term goals for the Manufacturing USA program, such as increasing the competitiveness of U.S manufacturing, but have not developed measurable near-term goals with associated targets and time frames to assess progress over time. Prior GAO work has shown that systems of performance measures benefit from certain key practices, such as creating a hierarchy that breaks down broad, long-term goals and objectives into more specific, near-term performance goals with measurable targets and time frames. Commerce officials said that they are not in a position to set targets for the network-wide performance measures because they do not manage or fund individual institute activities. However, by developing and implementing network-wide performance goals with targets and time frames, Commerce would have better assurance that it could observe and report on progress toward Manufacturing USA long-term goals and objectives.
Commerce, DOD, and DOE have taken steps to support their institutes' sustainability planning for the years after the initial 5- to 7-year period of federal financial assistance. All 14 institutes have conducted various levels of sustainability planning and foresee generally negative impacts if baseline federal financial assistance ends, such as the need to focus more on short-term projects for industry use rather than projects that advance the manufacturing innovation ecosystem as a whole. However, as of February 2019, while the agencies had taken steps to support institute sustainability planning, they had not developed criteria to evaluate whether the institutes will be able to sustain their operations. Developing criteria for evaluating institutes' progress toward sustainability would provide Commerce, DOD, and DOE greater assurance that decisions about providing additional federal financial assistance for the institutes will be based on an analysis of the risks the institutes face in successfully carrying out the statutory purposes for the Manufacturing USA program.
Why GAO Did This Study
Manufacturing USA is a national network of manufacturing innovation institutes. Commerce, DOD, and DOE have together provided $1 billion to establish the network's institutes and to promote research, development, and commercialization of advanced manufacturing technologies.
The Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2014 includes a provision for GAO to assess the Manufacturing USA program. This is GAO's second report in response to the provision. Among other objectives, this report (1) describes the status of the Manufacturing USA network; (2) evaluates actions taken by Commerce, DOD, and DOE to assess progress of the Manufacturing USA program; and (3) examines planning for institute sustainability beyond the initial 5 to 7 years of federal financial assistance.
GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed agency and Manufacturing USA institute officials, as well as a nongeneralizable sample of seven institute members from different-sized companies and academia.
GAO is making five recommendations, including that Commerce work with DOD and DOE to develop performance goals with measurable targets and time frames, and the three agencies develop criteria to evaluate their institutes' sustainability. Commerce requested changes to the performance goals recommendations that would have altered their scope and intent. GAO maintains the recommendations are valid as stated. The three agencies generally agreed with the criteria development recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Commerce||The Secretary of Commerce should direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Director to work with other sponsoring federal agencies to develop and implement network-wide performance goals for the Manufacturing USA program with measurable targets and time frames. (Recommendation 1)|
|Department of Commerce||The Secretary of Commerce should direct the NIST Director to work with other sponsoring federal agencies to ensure that the Manufacturing USA network-wide performance measures are directly aligned with the network-wide performance goals, the Manufacturing USA strategic objectives and program goals, and the statutory purposes of the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act. (Recommendation 2)|
|Department of Commerce||The Secretary of Commerce should direct the NIST Director to develop criteria to evaluate whether the Commerce-sponsored institute can sustain its operations without additional federal financial assistance after its initial agreement. If an analysis based on such criteria indicates that additional federal financial assistance is needed to help the institute sustain its operations, then the Secretary of Commerce should consider a legislative proposal to amend relevant provisions of the RAMI Act. (Recommendation 3)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should direct the Director of DOD's Manufacturing USA institutes to develop criteria to evaluate whether DOD-sponsored institutes can sustain their operations without additional federal financial assistance after their initial agreements. (Recommendation 4)|
|Department of Energy||The Secretary of Energy should direct the Director of DOE's Manufacturing USA institutes to develop criteria to evaluate whether DOE-sponsored institutes can sustain their operations without additional federal financial assistance after their initial agreements. (Recommendation 5)|