The Departments of Commerce, Defense (DOD), and Energy (DOE) have established a network of innovation institutes—known as Manufacturing USA institutes—to promote research, development, and commercialization of advanced manufacturing technologies. Manufacturing USA institutes reported making progress toward achieving their technology goals. Progress on institute projects is often tracked using technology readiness levels (TRL), a standardized scale for assessing maturity and risk. GAO's analysis of institute information found that projects moved through a range of TRLs (see figure). Many moved from TRL 4 to 6, taking a manufacturing technology from a point where it could be demonstrated in a lab to a point where a prototype system could be created in a simulated production environment.
Results from a survey administered by GAO to institute members found that smaller manufacturers (those with fewer than 500 employees) were generally engaged and satisfied with their institutes' activities, such as collaborating on projects and providing input on institute priorities. Larger businesses and academic institutions reported similar levels of satisfaction. Officials noted that some factors, such as cost of membership, may limit smaller manufacturer engagement, and identified initiatives to help offset the cost.
Commerce, DOD, and DOE have implemented GAO's prior recommendations on interagency collaboration and developing sustainability criteria. However, Commerce has not fully implemented two of GAO's prior recommendations related to network-wide performance goals for the Manufacturing USA program. By not implementing these recommendations, Commerce is missing an opportunity to better observe and report on progress made toward achieving the purposes of the Manufacturing USA program.