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The State of the Laboratories

This volume is the product of a process of assessment that began in December 2001 and ended with the finalization of this report. The Board on Assessment of NIST Programs met twice in fiscal year 2002; the agendas of those meetings are reproduced in Appendix B. The meetings gave the Board an opportunity to receive briefings and have discussions with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) managers and to deliberate and reach findings in executive sessions. In addition to information obtained from these meetings, this report is also based on the reports of the seven major panels and one ad hoc panel operating under the Board. Each panel met with the managers and staff of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories (MSL). Prior to those meetings, subgroups of the panels had spent 1 to 2 days reviewing in detail ongoing programs in their areas of expertise.

This chapter represents the Board’s judgments regarding the overall state of the NIST MSL. It offers findings that the Board hopes can be used to further increase the merit and impact of NIST MSL programs. Chapters 2 through 8 offer in-depth reviews of each of the seven laboratories of the MSL and provide findings aimed at their specific programmatic areas. Chapter 9 reviews MSL programs in one technical area (measurement services) that spans the NIST organizational structure. Appendixes C and D give information on NIST functions and organization, respectively. The acronyms and abbreviations used in this report are defined in Appendix E.

This chapter reflects the Board’s assessment of the general state of the seven NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories as a whole, and it presents issues that are common across the laboratories. The Board’s assessment is divided into three sections: Technical Merit of Laboratory Programs, Program Relevance and Effectiveness, and Impact of Resources on Technical Programs. These sections provide the basis for the following observations:

  • Overall the technical merit of the laboratories’ work remains high, with instances of work that is outstanding in its excellence.

  • The breadth and depth of the laboratories’ technical talent allow NIST to respond to customer needs, whether anticipated or unanticipated.



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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 1 The State of the Laboratories This volume is the product of a process of assessment that began in December 2001 and ended with the finalization of this report. The Board on Assessment of NIST Programs met twice in fiscal year 2002; the agendas of those meetings are reproduced in Appendix B. The meetings gave the Board an opportunity to receive briefings and have discussions with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) managers and to deliberate and reach findings in executive sessions. In addition to information obtained from these meetings, this report is also based on the reports of the seven major panels and one ad hoc panel operating under the Board. Each panel met with the managers and staff of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories (MSL). Prior to those meetings, subgroups of the panels had spent 1 to 2 days reviewing in detail ongoing programs in their areas of expertise. This chapter represents the Board’s judgments regarding the overall state of the NIST MSL. It offers findings that the Board hopes can be used to further increase the merit and impact of NIST MSL programs. Chapters 2 through 8 offer in-depth reviews of each of the seven laboratories of the MSL and provide findings aimed at their specific programmatic areas. Chapter 9 reviews MSL programs in one technical area (measurement services) that spans the NIST organizational structure. Appendixes C and D give information on NIST functions and organization, respectively. The acronyms and abbreviations used in this report are defined in Appendix E. This chapter reflects the Board’s assessment of the general state of the seven NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories as a whole, and it presents issues that are common across the laboratories. The Board’s assessment is divided into three sections: Technical Merit of Laboratory Programs, Program Relevance and Effectiveness, and Impact of Resources on Technical Programs. These sections provide the basis for the following observations: Overall the technical merit of the laboratories’ work remains high, with instances of work that is outstanding in its excellence. The breadth and depth of the laboratories’ technical talent allow NIST to respond to customer needs, whether anticipated or unanticipated.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 NIST’s responsiveness was demonstrated in its ability to direct resources to technical investigations required by the terrorist attacks of fall 2001. Strategic planning across the laboratories is in various stages of maturity. While use of strategic planning at NIST continues to mature, there is still significant room for improvement overall. Better resource planning, particularly planning for human resources and equipment, is required to ensure that the laboratories have the skills and equipment needed to meet future customer needs. Resource planning needs to be tied to strategic planning. NIST’s newly defined Strategic Focus Areas (SFAs) represent a solid basis for NIST-wide strategic planning. Some of the SFAs require better definition and must be more aggressively pursued to achieve the critical mass necessary to have an impact in these areas. TECHNICAL MERIT OF LABORATORY PROGRAMS Each of the seven panels assessing the individual Measurement and Standards Laboratories found that the technical quality of the ongoing work remains quite high overall. In addition, each laboratory had instances of work that was outstanding in its excellence, in its creativity, or in the level of technical skill demonstrated. Each of the seven laboratory reviews in Chapters 2 through 8 cites examples of outstanding technical merit. Several such examples are highlighted here. In the past year, NIST researchers passed a major milestone in the drive to further improve the accuracy and stability of fundamental frequency standards. Frequency standards have long been based on atomic transitions in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Measurements of transitions at optical frequencies are more stable than measurements of microwave transitions; however, it is not possible to do as precise a cycle count of optical transitions as of microwave transitions, a necessary condition for making high-precision clocks. NIST scientists demonstrated a frequency standard based on an optical transition in mercury 199, using frequency combs to translate the optical frequency into a microwave output for cycle counting.1 This standard has already demonstrated frequency stability on the order of 1015 and has the potential to achieve uncertainties better by a factor of 1,000 than current frequency standards. This work made world headlines in 2001.2 NIST researchers have demonstrated the use of nanoscale “quantum dots” composed of indium arsenide as single-photon detectors. Existing staff expertise in single-electron counting was used to couple an electrometer to these quantum dots, generating a single-electron electrical signal with each single-photon event. This technical tour de force has the potential for significant use in quantum computation and communications research. NIST researchers are developing new gas pressure standards that are based on measurements of the dielectric constant of helium rather than on the current dead-weight methods. The new method will reduce the uncertainty of intercomparisons of pressure measurements. NIST has demonstrated the new method to within a factor of 10 of the currently accepted pressure-sensing uncertainty standard. 1   Diddams, S.A., et al., “An Optical Clock Based on a Single Trapped 199Hg+ Ion,” Science 293, 825-829, 2001. 2   Chang, K., “A New Atomic Clock May Push Precision to the Next Level,” New York Times, July 31, page F4, column 2, 2001. See also <abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/CuttingEdge/opticalclock010713.html>.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 Finally, although this honor was for work performed several years ago, the Board must note the awarding of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics to NIST researcher Eric Cornell and his collaborator Carl Wieman of the University of Colorado. Cornell and Wieman shared the prize with Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The prize was awarded for their demonstration of Bose-Einstein condensation, a long-predicted state of matter never before seen in the laboratory. This discovery has opened up new avenues in basic physics and holds the potential for application to improved frequency standards and atomic clocks (both basic to NIST’s mission to keep and disseminate basic standards of measurement such as time) and to quantum computation. PROGRAM RELEVANCE AND EFFECTIVENESS Examples of Program Responsiveness The underpinning of the relevance and effectiveness of the laboratories’ programs is their technical excellence and technical innovation. The laboratories generally maintain a good balance between excellent basic research and efforts directed at specific customer applications. This balance enables the laboratories to maintain a long-term perspective while addressing current needs. The quality of its programs enables NIST to attract and retain a high-quality technical staff. The breadth and depth of this talent provide the laboratories with the flexibility required to respond to both known and unanticipated needs. Many examples could be cited that show how NIST can respond quickly to unanticipated customer needs. Because of their particular importance, the Board highlights several outstanding examples of NIST responsiveness to the terrorist attacks in the fall of 2001. With support from the National Institute of Justice and in collaboration with university researchers, NIST has for several years maintained a program in the development of DNA forensics tools and standards. NIST researchers had made substantial progress in developing mass spectroscopic measurements for performing short tandem repeat DNA typing on DNA samples of lengths shorter than those that can be probed by existing methods. The ability to utilize shorter and shorter lengths of DNA sample enhances the chances of achieving an identification based on a degraded DNA sample. In response to a request from the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, NIST quickly developed and supplied assay kits based on its latest research for use in forensics laboratories involved in identifying the remains of victims of the World Trade Center attack. As part of its ongoing research in building safety, NIST has developed computer programs to simulate the flow of smoke and other contaminants through building ventilation systems. Owing to this expertise, NIST staff were called upon to model the likely routes of anthrax dispersal after this biological agent was released in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. NIST researchers helped to determine the sites of potentially greatest contamination and the most likely means of dispersal, which played a role in the design and implementation of the decontamination process. Because a model of the building did not already exist and because access to the building was limited, researchers had to make many assumptions in order to create a model of the ventilation systems that could be used with the group’s contaminant flow prediction tools. However, despite these constraints, the project was successful and demonstrated the importance of this type of analysis. NIST has long maintained expertise in quantifying radiation doses. A major customer for this work is the medical industry, which uses NIST measurement techniques, standards, and services to ensure that patients receive the proper dose of ionizing radiation used for medical purposes, such as

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 xrays and gamma rays. This expertise found another application in response to the presence of anthrax in federal mail. NIST researchers quickly mobilized to test the effectiveness of electron-beam decontamination of mail, helping to design a decontamination protocol to enable resumption of mail delivery to federal sites and coordinating the interagency task force set up by the White House to address this problem. Strategic Planning Across the NIST laboratories, individual projects are generally aligned with some identified customer need. In addition, NIST has begun new efforts to obtain input and feedback from its customers, for example, through its Industrial Liaison Office. The emphasis on strategic planning in many of the laboratories and the ongoing NIST-wide strategic planning process have helped raise awareness among staff members of the importance of aligning their work with identified or anticipated customer needs. While the use of strategic planning at NIST continues to mature, significant room for improvement overall still exists. The NIST-wide strategic planning exercise has, to date, generated some important critical thinking among NIST managers about NIST’s capabilities and priorities. The Board anticipates seeing further progress on NIST-wide planning and looks forward to reviewing the resulting planning document. While each of the individual laboratories has made some efforts toward strategic planning, the results are mixed. Several laboratories have gone through meaningful planning processes, have developed sound plans, and have been effectively communicating plan priorities and developing staff commitment to them. Several laboratories have made positive planning efforts involving managers but have not yet achieved the necessary levels of staff commitment at all levels to make these planning efforts meaningful tools for guiding their organization’s activities. The remaining laboratories have produced documents entitled “Strategic Plan,” but these documents have little relevance and seem to have been produced with cursory involvement of staff in a “check the box” exercise rather than as part of a meaningful, significant effort to determine laboratory priorities and directions. Why is strategic planning necessary if the technical excellence of work in a laboratory remains high? Strategic planning is necessary to ensure that this technical expertise is applied to projects of the highest priority relative to institutional goals and objectives and that the maximum impact is obtained from programmatic investments. Strategic planning provides a tool for making tough program decisions under constrained resources in such a way that staff understand the rationale for and accept the decisions. To achieve meaningful strategic planning, it is important first to realize that the process is at least as important as the final document and then to involve staff at all levels in a discussion of priorities and objectives that aims to enunciate a vision of the organization’s current needs and future directions that is clearly understood throughout the organization. The written result, the strategic plan, serves only to document these discussions and can never replace them. The Board believes that the laboratories could benefit from the sharing of best practices, particularly in strategic planning. The Board and panels saw instances of creative responses to customer needs that the Board believes could be applied more broadly. For example, the Information System in Support of Calibrations, an excellent tool for tracking calibration services, is useful both to customers, who need to know the status of their requests for service, and to service managers, who must allocate resources to meet service requests. This system could be used for all calibration services and could be adapted for use in managing other services. As another example, Recommended Practice Guides—which detail in simple terms how to properly perform basic measurements that are used commonly but not always frequently in industry—are an excellent way of disseminating NIST’s measurement expertise and

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 improving the quality and efficiency of industrial measurements. These guides have been produced for measurements of the properties of basic materials but seem ripe for expansion to other technical areas. It appears to the Board that many excellent examples of innovative project management and customer outreach could achieve broader use if more active communication took place among the laboratories on their successes and best practices. IMPACT OF RESOURCES ON TECHNICAL PROGRAMS Human Resources There is no doubt that NIST’s most impressive resource is its staff. The Board is continually impressed by the exceptional technical capabilities of NIST researchers, by their dedication to their work, and by the good morale generally evident throughout the institution. The Board’s previous concerns about staff retention have now faded as the private sector cuts back on new hires. NIST has also been able to attract excellent researchers into its postdoctoral program, the traditional route for eventual permanent hires. The age profile of NIST staff indicates that a significant number of retirements will occur among the technical staff in the next 5 to 10 years. The Board is concerned about loss of key skills if these retirements are not planned for. While recognizing that individual retirements cannot be predicted exactly, general personnel planning can take anticipated changes into account. These future retirements also mean that valuable potential mentors for new staff will be departing. The Board believes that NIST should act now to capture this key experience by actively promoting and utilizing a mentoring program, which should include training staff on the roles of mentors. Facilities and Equipment The equipment available to NIST research staff is adequate overall, but the situation is quite mixed. Some instances of outstanding, unique equipment exist—for example, in nanostructure assembly and characterization. NIST staff reported few problems or inadequacies with their equipment, but the panels noted instances—for example, in semiconductor manufacturing metrology—where instrumentation is not up to date compared with what is being used by NIST’s industrial customers. The Board has continuing concerns about facilities, particularly in Boulder, Colorado. Although some progress has been made in remediation of unacceptable conditions in Boulder, panels still report substandard conditions (see Chapters 2, 4, and 6). Some facilities are inadequate for the equipment that they house. The Board is concerned that these problems could become safety hazards. Facilities deficiencies in Gaithersburg, Maryland, continue to hamper the efficiency of work in many buildings. The Board has notified the NIST director that it wishes to perform a detailed review of facilities adequacy in its 2003 assessment. The geographical dispersion of NIST researchers—between Gaithersburg and Boulder, and between the main Gaithersburg campus and NIST North building in Gaithersburg—has made some research interactions difficult. Management attention can improve these interactions. For example, the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory significantly increased collaboration between its Boulder and Gaithersburg researchers by designating a small but significant travel budget that enabled collaborators to meet face-to-face. The assessment panel noted a significant improvement in both the quality and the quantity of such collaborations in the past year. Other solutions could include increased use of information technology for remote teaming, videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and so on.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 NIST should manage its geographic dispersion as an opportunity to develop communication technology and flexible organizational skills. Resources and Strategic Planning The Board and its panels noted that strategic planning is still not mature enough throughout NIST to influence resource planning significantly. Where solid strategic plans exist, they are being used to determine current program priorities and in that sense are determining where resources are being spent. But the Board and panels did not observe the use of plans and planning for prospective resource utilization. For example, anticipated retirements mean that a significant turnover in permanent staff will be occurring, but the Board and panels did not see evidence that strategic plans were being utilized to develop personnel plans to guide hiring over the next several years. The NIST facilities plan does not yet appear to be tied to the NIST strategic planning process, and the Board and panels have seen no major equipment plan. Strategic planning should help set guidelines for managing all of these resources over the intermediate and long term. Panels were particularly concerned with the lack of an equipment plan for the Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) that is currently under construction. This facility is slated for occupancy in 2004. The major equipment that will be required to take advantage of the building’s capabilities generally cannot be moved readily or acquired quickly. NIST needs a plan detailing which equipment will be moved, which will require refurbishment so that it can be moved, and which will be acquired for the new building. NIST is already behind schedule on equipment planning if it wishes to take advantage of the AML’s full capabilities upon occupancy. The panels heard much discussion of the Strategic Focus Areas delineated in the NIST strategic planning process. It is clear that the importance of these SFAs is being communicated throughout the institution and that programs are being realigned (and not just relabeled) in response. This initial progress is heartening. The Board encourages NIST management to exercise continued care to ensure that these SFAs do not devolve into “buzzwords” but remain a meaningful tool for guiding the focus of NIST programs. There is a need for NIST to define some SFA programs better and to pursue them more aggressively. For example, the homeland security SFA has some funding and draws on ongoing programs, but significantly more opportunity exists for NIST in this area. Some of the laboratories with significant homeland security activities need to market their capabilities more aggressively in order to take advantage of the current opportunity to have an impact in this area. In biotechnology, a significant U.S. industry already exists, whereas the NIST effort is more appropriate to a fledgling technology sector. The biotechnology SFA needs greater focus and definition, and the overall program must grow if NIST is to have a significant impact in this area. In nanotechnology, NIST has world-leading researchers on its staff and has a large role to play in developing critical nanoscale measurement techniques and standards. For example, nanoscale measurement standards are needed in mask dimensional metrology and optical CD standards for semiconductor manufacturers (see Chapter 3). A major federal initiative doubled U.S. federal spending in this area in 2001, to almost $500 million total, but NIST garnered only $2 million of that increase. MAJOR OBSERVATIONS OF THE PANELS In addition to comments of the Board noted above, following are the major observations of its respective assessment panels on each of the seven NIST laboratories and on NIST measurement services. These observations are discussed in Chapters 2 through 9.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 Electronics and Electrical Engineering The work under way in the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory (EEEL) continues to be of the highest technical quality. The impact of the programs on industry and other NIST customers is significant. The panel is pleased with the progress that has been made on strategic planning in the laboratory over the past year. The next step will be strengthening of the links between the laboratory-level plan and the NIST-level plan, as well as between the plans at the laboratory and the division levels. Eventually, linkages to the strategic plan should be seen at the level of individual projects. The laboratory has clearly placed increased emphasis on interactions with NIST customers; the panel applauds this outreach effort and has seen the positive impact that these relationships have on project selection and dissemination. This work could be supplemented by adding more explicit checkpoints to project plans, thereby providing opportunities for customers to validate the appropriateness of continuing programs during the programs’ execution. As can be seen by the difficulty of obtaining funding for new or renovated buildings in Boulder, the construction of the Advanced Measurement Laboratory at NIST Gaithersburg is a very special opportunity for NIST and EEEL. To make full and effective use of this facility, a comprehensive and unified plan for utilization of the AML is needed. This plan should take into account the types of projects that should be performed in the AML, the capabilities and equipment that NIST as a whole will need to develop or purchase for the AML, and the continuing costs of supporting and maintaining the equipment and facility. Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory The panel concurs with the broadening of the Maufacturing Engineering Laboratory (MEL) mission statement to recognize manufacturing beyond that of discrete parts. MEL should consider whether its mission should state its role in information technology more explicitly and whether the mission statement should be posed in more proactive terms. MEL has made progress in its strategic and program planning efforts. More remains to be done to achieve an integrated plan for MEL efforts at all levels. In particular, the laboratory needs a resource plan that can be integrated with the strategic plan to ensure that MEL will have the skills, equipment, and facilities it needs to meet its intermediate-term goals and objectives. MEL has improved its customer focus but needs to continue to work to define its customers better. In particular, to have the impact on manufacturing that it seeks, MEL must broaden its customer focus by looking deeper into the supply chain. It should also consider customers at all levels of the companies and organizations with which it interacts, not just at the level of scientific and engineering peers. The panel agrees with MEL’s matrix management approach as a means to best utilize staff skills to accomplish laboratory objectives. Changes in the employee evaluation process may be necessary to better align evaluation with the program management structure. The panel is concerned about the decline in the number of MEL technical staff and its impact on the laboratory’s ability to meet its goals and objectives. The laboratory lacks a human resource plan that anticipates skills needed to meet goals, takes staff retirements and separations into account, and lays out a strategy to ensure that MEL has or can obtain the skills necessary to meet its highest-priority objectives. Careful consideration should also be given to the ratio of administrative support staff to technical staff and to the ratio of managers to technical staff.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory (CSTL) programs continue to have high technical merit overall. Awareness of customer needs and customer impact is increasing at all levels of CSTL staff. The panel is pleased with improvements made to CSTL use of the World Wide Web. Hiring a staff member devoted to Web utilization and Web-based dissemination is a positive step. A strategy is needed for Web-based dissemination, as databaÓis cur.. ntly exist that are not kept up to date. CSTL needs a human resources plan that can be integrated with the CSTL strategic plan to account for the training, hiring, and succession planning needed to achieve laboratory goals and objectives. CSTL should utilize industrial fellowships to learn more about its customers and to quickly gain skills necessary to achieve objectives in new and emerging areas. Any plan to place a staff member in industry for an extended period must include a plan for how that person will utilize new skills upon returning to NIST. In order to attract staff participation, industrial fellowships must be tied to advancement, reward, and recognition. More proactive training of group leaders is required to help them achieve success in the multiple roles they are called on to fill in their positions. CSTL should reexamine the rationale for its decision on building a microelectromechanical systems fabrication capacity in-house. If the decision is made to go forward with an on-campus facility, a long-term plan is necessary to provide for the cost of maintaining and utilizing it. Physics Laboratory The Physics Laboratory continues its tradition of technical excellence and leadership. The awarding of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics to one of the laboratory’s staff members is the most obvious evidence of this excellence. The Physics Laboratory reaction to the anthrax attacks of late 2001 was outstanding for its responsiveness to unanticipated national need and for its excellent utilization of established NIST skills and resources. Staff involved in this effort are deserving of the highest praise and gratitude. The panel commends the leadership role that the Physics Laboratory is taking in the NIST-wide health care initiative and the strong focus that the laboratory has brought to its efforts in this area in the past year. The Physics Laboratory must continue to develop a strategic planning and prioritization process that results in clear laboratory goals and priorities which can be used by the laboratory and its divisions to allocate resources, determine program prioritization, and produce enhanced program focus and effectiveness. The panel recommends enhanced efforts to develop interlaboratory collaborations and other partnerships that would help leverage Physics Laboratory resources while more effectively meeting NIST-wide strategic goals. Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory The Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory (MSEL) continues to field programs of high technical merit and strong relevance and effectiveness. Laboratory managers at all levels must reinforce laboratory goals and objectives in both words

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 and action in order to increase understanding of these priorities throughout the laboratory and to improve program focus. The panel is concerned that decreasing staff levels put core MSEL competencies at risk and hamper the laboratory’s ability to step up to new challenges and priorities. MSEL should seek further opportunities to leverage its human resources through appropriate collaborations. The Tissue Engineering Program is an excellent example of such leveraging. Increased staff travel between Boulder and Gaithersburg has paid off in better collaborations between the two sites. Funding for such travel should be continued. Building and Fire Research Laboratory The panel continues to be impressed by the high quality of scientific and technical work produced in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BRFL). Commendable efforts are made to reach out to a broad variety of laboratory customers, ranging from large construction companies to local firefighting units, from code makers to academic researchers, and from standards committees to the public. BFRL staff take advantage of the special tools and expertise that exist in the laboratory to provide their customers with unbiased, technically excellent work focused on the measurement and testing needed to improve the quality of materials and technologies. BFRL could increase the impact of its work by focusing on the most important strategic objectives and priorities. The laboratory has taken the first step toward the development of a strategic plan. The next steps include sharpening the vision for the future of the laboratory, developing a comprehensive set of strategies and tactics to achieve this vision, and defining clear goals and metrics for success and accountability. An outside facilitator should be utilized to assist in integrating input from laboratory staff and external customers. BFRL’s existing expertise and programs have placed it in an excellent position to make many positive contributions to the nation’s homeland security efforts. The laboratory has an initial outline for how it can contribute in this area. The panel is very supportive of BFRL’s ongoing and planned activities but cautions that it is vital for the laboratory to maintain a balance between short-term investigative work and long-term programs aimed at developing research and applications that are broadly relevant. The laboratory must take care to preserve its strong relationships with existing customers, in part by demonstrating how the homeland security work will help the laboratory continue to meet those customers’ needs. Also, the laboratory will face new and complex challenges in the personnel and project management associated with a large, multiorganization project, and new skills and people will be needed for this task. Structural fire testing is both an important element of homeland security work and an appropriate long-term programmatic growth area for BFRL and its customers. The laboratory should be prepared to propose construction of a state-of-the-art facility for fire testing of structures under load as part of the homeland security effort and to make a commitment to sustaining a structural fire research program over the long term. This is an area in which BFRL is uniquely positioned to do high-quality, high-impact work. For BFRL to have an impact on the construction industry (and ultimately the public), the laboratory’s technical knowledge and results must be utilized in codes and standards and adopted as the industry’s normal practices. High-quality and important test and standards work is already occurring in BFRL, but coordination at the laboratory level is needed, as are staff expertise and time that can be devoted to the process of getting this work adopted into regulations and actual use. The planned merger of the Structures and the Building Materials Divisions is an opportunity for

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 the laboratory to build a unit that can lay the groundwork for a future in which materials are engineered to meet specific structural performance requirements. The panel is supportive of this ambitious goal but cautions that leadership and communication will be critical in combining groups with different cultures and different customers. Information Technology Laboratory The panel is impressed with the progress that has occurred in strategic planning in the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL), particularly in the emergence and acceptance of a framework under which laboratory activities operate. The framework includes an ITL Research Blueprint and ITL Program/Project Selection Process and Criteria. ITL has done a remarkable job of becoming more customer-oriented over the past several years. The panel applauds the laboratory’s efforts in outreach and notes that the progress reflects improvement in a whole range of areas, from gathering wider and more useful input to help with project selection to increased dissemination and planning for how customers will utilize NIST results and products. The strong customer relationships now need to be balanced by robust visibility and recognition in ITL’s external peer communities. Publications in top-tier journals, presentations at high-profile conferences, and awards from ITL’s peers will help confirm the technical merit of the work done at NIST and will add to the laboratory’s credibility with its customers. Conveying awareness of the social issues related to ITL’s technical work in areas such as biometrics is an important element of the credible presentation of ITL results to diverse audiences. In certain areas, considering the technical and social context of how the work will be used may help focus the research on the most appropriate questions. The shift of the information technology (IT) support functions to a new unit reporting directly to the NIST director is an opportunity and a challenge for NIST leadership. If this new unit can convince the NIST laboratories to embrace consistent, institutionwide standards for IT systems, it will be an important step and a major cultural shift at NIST. Appropriate emphasis is being placed on demonstrating how IT services can facilitate research and how standardizing basic applications can save time and money. The retirement of the current director of ITL is clearly a source of concern within the laboratory. The panel recommends that NIST leadership focus on communicating clearly with staff about the selection criteria for the director’s replacement and that it supply staff with frequent updates on the progress of the search and hiring process. Sharing of relevant information will certainly help the transition proceed more smoothly. Measurement Services The current system of flexible distributed management of NIST measurement services provides the capacity for positive customer relationships and responsiveness, excellent technical decision making, and structured coordination through the internal Measurement Services Advisory Group (MSAG). Excellent grassroots connection with the customers of measurement services is evident, and much information on customer needs is gathered through such channels. To extract maximum value from such information, a process is needed to gather and analyze it centrally and to disseminate it across NIST. The MSAG should develop an overall strategic plan for measurement services that is consistent with the overall NIST strategic plan being developed. This would help ensure that the services offered

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2002 are addressing the most critical customer needs and are providing those measurements that have the most leverage in the U.S. economy. The Strategic Focus Areas identified in the NIST strategic planning exercise provide a good template on which to build a measurement services strategy. The plan would also provide the basis for the needed facility and staff succession plans. While staff involved in measurement services receive significant feedback from their customers with respect to customer needs, the use of prospective marketing studies would help the MSAG better target those services that would have the greatest impact on U.S. competitiveness. Metrics for measurement services are needed to provide the MSAG with tools to assess performance and take necessary programmatic action. The panel recommends that the MSAG develop “dashboard” metrics that can also be used to give customers and staff succinct, easy-to-understand measures of NIST performance and demonstrate NIST’s commitment to continual improvement in its programs and services. The MSAG should engage in a “best practices” exercise to propagate the use of the most effective and innovative means of identifying and meeting customer needs. The MSAG should expand the NIST quality system to include a statement of voluntary compliance with the ISO/IEC 17025 quality standard where applicable and appropriate to a national measurement institute.

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