From Hurricanes to Patents: Examining the Department of Commerce

The United States Department of Commerce (DoC) is a regulatory authority, created in 1903, consisting of twelve bureaus.  The Secretary of Commerce serves on the President’s Cabinet as an economic advisor on all U.S. business matters.  According to its mission statement, “The Department works with businesses, universities, communities, and the Nation’s workers to promote job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, and improved standards of living for Americans.”

Twelve Bureaus

The DoC consists of twelve bureaus:

  • Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)
  • Economics and Statistics Administration
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Bureau of Industry and Security
  • International Trade Commission
  • National Technical Information Service Bureau
  • Census Bureau
  • Minority Business Development Agency
  • National Telecommunication and Information Administration
  • Economic Development Administration
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • US Patent and Trademark Office

Let’s take a few minutes to briefly describe each one.

Statistics used to gauge the economy’s performance are produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).  The most notable statistics coming out of the BEA are the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the balance of payments.  The BEA  website updates the country’s national debt every second.

The BEA and the Census Bureau are managed by the Economics and Statistics Administration.  Data they collect reflects not only statistical information, but also reveal interesting cultural tidbits.  According to the 2012 economic census, the nation’s peanut butter manufacturers shipped $1.7 billion worth of consumer size packages – that’s over 1 million pounds.  Hawaii’s car rental companies reported revenues of $728.7 million, and temporary work services employed 5.2% less workers than they did in 2007.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the DoC’s environmental service bureau.  The National Weather Service (NWS) falls under their umbrella.  Hurricanes and Cyclones are named using a procedure NOAA follows that is set by the World Meteorological Association.  Male and female names are alternated and rotate every six years.  A name is only retired if the storm is unusually deadly or extreme.  Some hurricane names we will never use again are:  Carmen (1974),  Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005).

Foreign policy and national security are at the center of the Bureau of Industry and Security.  They monitor treaty compliance and control exports as well as if and how sensitive goods and technologies are exported.  During the Cold War, it was this office (under an older name) that stopped exporting to the Soviet Bloc for economic and security reasons.

The International Trade Commission promotes trade and works to keep national industries competitive.  Did you know that the country receiving most of the United States goods exports is Canada?  In fact, Canada is our largest trading partner across the globe.   The USITC collects tariff and trade data and maintains detailed accounts of normal trade duty rates and statutory rates for countries ineligible for preferred tariff programs.

National Technical Information Service Bureau within the DoC maintains over 3 million publications for public use.  The technical and scientific publications are used by universities and businesses.

The Census Bureau is the source of data collected to gain an understanding of the people of America and its economy.  The first census was led by Thomas Jefferson in 1790 and asked only the name of the head of household and the number of people living there.  During the last census, thieves in south Florida passed themselves off as Census takers and gained easy access inside homes.  Once inside, they asked for social security numbers, financial account numbers and PINs; information that’s never requested by legitimate Census takers.  The next decennial census will take place in 2020.

Minority-owned businesses get a boost from the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA).  This bureau coordinates financing, markets, and contracts.  Firms owned by minorities employ over six million Americans.

The President is kept abreast of communication policy issues by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA). Privacy and cybersecurity are two issues under the purview of this bureau.  A presidential memorandum in February 2015 directed the NTIA to develop voluntary standards in a “multi-stakeholder process” between security professionals, vendors, and enterprises by sharing research and concerns.  Did you get a drone as a gift this holiday season?  The NTIA is guiding talks to come up with standards for personal and commercial drones as part of this process.

Areas of the nation facing economic hardships are serviced by the Economic Development Administration through grants and research.  The bureau funds University Centers across the nation which support regional business projects by harnessing the vast research capabilities of higher learning institutions.

One DoC bureau with perhaps the biggest impact on the privacy and security sector is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  They work within the “innovation ecosystem” by providing research and guiding policy.  Two hot topics within NIST are producing the NIST cloud computing definition (SP 800-145) and the NIST Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (released 2/12/14).

Rounding out the DoC bureaus is the US Patent and Trademark Office.  Ideas and discoveries are preserved and protected through patents, trademarks and intellectual property laws.  In late 2015, 74-year-old Lowell Wood broke Thomas Edison’s record for holding the most patents at 1,093.  Wood has 3,000 others awaiting approval by the office.



It is important for a privacy professional in the United States to understand how the Department of Commerce (DoC) acts as a regulatory authority.  With twelve bureaus, the department is given the goal to provide economic support in job creation and stimulating environments for businesses to grow.


CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certification Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

Department of Commerce (DoC) (I.A.D.iii.)


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