Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Standard Setting: Process, Politics, and the CHIPS Program

  • Sreya Vaidyanathan
  • Arya Thapa
  • Andrew Trzcinski
| June 2023

Executive Summary

The CHIPS & Science Act of 2022 outlines an expansive national strategy to preserve and bolster the United States’ national security by ensuring a pathway for a resilient supply chain for semiconductors and other critical and emerging technologies. Targeted provisions in the CHIPS and Science Act aim to advance U.S. leadership in domestic and international standards-setting processes.

Setting standards is the process by which a common set of guidelines, specifications, and/or characteristics are determined between relevant stakeholders for the design, manufacturing, or process implementation of technologies, products, and services. Fundamentally, a standards-setting process that enables inclusive participation between all relevant stakeholders and is open and transparent fosters technological innovation and interoperability. For implementers, balancing strategic national priorities related to critical and emerging technologies with the need to preserve an open, transparent, and inclusive standards-setting ecosystem is an important consideration. Upholding this model and encouraging multi-stakeholder standards-setting engagements within the United States thus becomes a critical priority under CHIPS legislation.

To reinforce the scope of standards-setting provisions within the CHIPS Act, this primer aims to identify and evaluate the critical characteristics, implications, and stakeholders of standards-setting processes, as well as forums where these activities take place. Further, it will identify critical aspects of standards-setting processes as they relate to design, production, and innovation of semiconductors and related to critical emerging technologies (i.e., information communication technologies). Finally, this primer will contextualize emerging challenges to the standards-setting ecosystem and offer potential recommendations in addressing these challenges.

For federal agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) contending with implementation of standards-related mandates within the CHIPS program presents a delicate balancing act between supporting emerging national priorities but preserving the existing industry-driven model for setting standards. Pragmatic implementation by federal agencies will require careful enactment of funding that aims to support industry-led processes by addressing gaps and existing market failures, without undermining the industry-led voluntary process. Key recommendations will strive to explain the specific actions NIST can incorporate ranging from workforce training support, visa streamline processes for international experts to engage in U.S.-hosted events, to stipulations that indicate recipients of federal funds incorporate standards engagement as a priority.

To conceptualize the process, politics and the implications, this primer is organized into the following sections:

Part 1 outlines how prioritizing standards can help the United States achieve semiconductor industry goals as outlined in the CHIPS and Science Act and the FY2021 NDAA CHIPS for America title. This section provides a brief overview of how the legislation empowers specific federal agencies toward achieving the objectives of ensuring industry-led consensus-based standards-setting processes.

Part 2 describes the standards-setting process and why they matter. This section identifies the broad stakeholders in the standards development ecosystem, evaluates the impact of standards in the global market, and touches upon the changes in standards development due to geopolitical factors.

Part 3 emphasizes the critical role of R&D in the standards development process and evaluates the role of small and medium enterprises in the development phases.

Part 4 explores implementation considerations, identifies challenges, redlines, and concludes with top recommendations for NIST as it seeks to implement the objectives set out by the legislation.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Vaidyanathan, Sreya, Arya Thapa, Andrew Trzcinski and Ariel Higuchi. “Standard Setting: Process, Politics, and the CHIPS Program.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2023.

The Authors