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Summary The Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been assessed by a panel of experts appointed by the National Research Council (NRC). The panel visited the six divisions of the laboratory and reviewed their activities. The scope of the assessment included the following criteria: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and (3) the degree to which the laboratory programs in measurement science and standards achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. Based on its assessment using these criteria, the panel formed the following observations and recommendations, among others discussed in the report. Observations: 1. The technical merit of the programs is often excellent and is generally high. Specific examples are highlighted throughout the report. 2. There are large, temporary changes in budget levels overlaying the normal funding cycles, and at the ITL, budgeting is having more influence than it should on the progress of technical work. The issues are the benefits and potential risks of “soft money” (outside funding), the inability to hire critical staff in some areas, and questions of how best to use incoming, short-term funds. 3. Facilities and equipment were found to be adequate, with the exception that the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Division needs additional space and the Information Access Division has need of a usability laboratory. 4. There has been rapid development of the matrix structure of the laboratory, with programs cutting across the traditional divisions. There are benefits already derived from this approach, but also small risks. 5. Soft money continues to be an important aspect of laboratory operations, and it causes staff to worry about the safety of their jobs and causes other confusion that should be addressed. The use of soft money has benefits and potential risks. As long as potential risks are monitored and avoided, a policy of encouraging a search for solid external support for sound, internally vetted projects is worthwhile. Recommendations: 1. ITL staff, perhaps led by the program managers, should look for linkages with external organizations such as research universities and laboratories. The recent addition of temporary funding associated with the economic recovery can help build these connections. 1
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2. The ITL should make efforts to raise its profile through outreach (connections with major research universities and laboratories, hosting faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and other short-term visitors; and staff participation in professional service) and publication (in highly respected journals and conferences). 3. Program managers who are capable of providing technical leadership and also devote effort to promoting the interests of their programs should be regarded by the staff as positive contributors, even if they are no longer writing code or doing other technical tasks associated with individual projects. 4. There is a need for additional senior technical leadership. —The Software and Systems Division (SSD) needs to hire a strong health informatics leader. —NIST should appoint a full-time chief for the SSD, which currently has an acting chief who divides time between leading the division and working in the Office of the ITL Director. —The panel found multiple cases of the SSD’s suffering from a lack of sufficient focused leadership at a time when the SSD is being asked to be the lead in several important efforts, such as health care. 5. SSD leadership should encourage its staff toward greater innovation and redirection in keeping with developments in the broader research and scientific community. 6. Apart from the current chief, there has been no perceptible growth in the permanent staff of the Statistical Engineering Division for years. The division is short-staffed, and such growth should be pursued with urgency before the next review. 7. The ITL needs a process for sunsetting programs and encouraging bottom-up development of new programs. 2