NIST would ‘have to consider’ workforce reductions if appropriations cut goes through

Director Laurie Locascio said the agency is “fully on track” to meet its AI executive order requirements, but proposed cuts loom over its work.
NIST Director Laurie Locascio testifies during a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on May 22, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Recent reductions to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s budget have forced the agency’s chief to do some “cutting to the bone,” though the workforce has so far been protected. That could change if another proposed cut goes through. 

During a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing Wednesday, ranking member Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., asked NIST Director Laurie Locascio if a 6% cut, proposed by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, would result in staff reductions.

“We will have to look at that, for sure. Yes, we will have to consider that,” Locascio said. “It was said that we were lean and mighty, and we’re proud of that — we are lean and mighty and we’ve worked very hard to be the best bang for your buck. … But it really does cut into the bone when we have to get into these kind of deep cuts.”

In response to NIST’s fiscal year 2024 cuts, Locascio said the agency was forced to “stop hiring and filling gaps,” noting specific pauses in adding to its CORE standards program, building out new electric vehicle standards and pursuing new capacity for clinical and biological standards.


“It really put a big halt on the momentum moving forward in several critical areas,” she said.

Financial uncertainties notwithstanding, the agency has been able to push forward in its artificial intelligence work. In response to questioning from committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., about NIST’s progress on President Joe Biden’s AI executive order, Locascio said the agency is “on target to meet all” of the EO’s deadlines, pointing to recent publications on synthetic content, a draft plan for international AI standards and a vision paper for the AI Safety Institute.  

The AI Safety Institute, which last month added five members to its executive leadership team, drew plenty of interest from committee members during Wednesday’s hearing. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Gabe Amo, D-R.I., both asked Locascio how the scope of the AI Safety Institute might be scaled back if funding for the group remains low.

NIST is currently spending $6 million on the institute, Locascio said, but it will be “very, very tough” to continue its work on developing guidelines, evaluating models and engaging in research absent additional funding.

“We are fully on track to meet the president’s executive order requirements and stand up the AI Safety Institute,” Locascio added. “But so much more is asked of us and we don’t want to let down the country and we definitely are working as hard as we can to do what we can with the money that we have. We can do more with more.”


Rep. Val Foushee, D-N.C., meanwhile, expressed concerns about the “ambiguities in the scope and direction” of the AI Safety Institute, as well as whether it would focus too much on the technology’s existential threats as opposed to the “concrete tangible harms confronting us right now.”

“The AI Safety Institute is going to be focused very clearly on safety science,” Locascio said, adding that the group will also be “working with the international community and then doing testing of large language models to carry out testing and evaluation to make sure that they’re safe for use. … I can also promise you that … everything that we do will be science based.”

Matt Bracken

Written by Matt Bracken

Matt Bracken is the managing editor of FedScoop and CyberScoop, overseeing coverage of federal government technology policy and cybersecurity. Before joining Scoop News Group in 2023, Matt was a senior editor at Morning Consult, leading data-driven coverage of tech, finance, health and energy. He previously worked in various editorial roles at The Baltimore Sun and the Arizona Daily Star. You can reach him at

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