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1 Charge to the Panel and the Assessment Process At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Research Council (NRC) has since 1959 annually assembled panels of experts from academia, industry, medicine, and other scientific and engineering environments to assess the quality and effectiveness of the NIST measurements and standards laboratories, of which there are now nine,1 as well as the adequacy of the laboratories’ resources. In 2009, NIST requested that five of its laboratories be assessed: the NIST Center for Neutron Research; the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL), the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, and the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory. Each of these was assessed by a separate panel of experts; the findings of the respective panels are summarized in separate reports. This report summarizes the findings of the Panel on Information Technology. For the fiscal year (FY) 2009 assessment, NIST requested that the panel consider the following criteria as part of its assessment: 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. The context of this technical assessment is the mission of NIST, which is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. The NIST laboratories conduct research to anticipate future metrology and standards needs, to enable new scientific and technological advances, and to improve and refine existing measurement methods and services. In order to accomplish the assessment, the NRC assembled a panel of 19 volunteers whose expertise matches that of the work performed by the ITL staff.2 The panel members were also assigned to six subgroups (division review teams), whose members’ expertise matched that of the work performed by staff in the six divisions in the ITL: Mathematical and Computational Sciences, Statistical Engineering, Software 1 The nine NIST laboratories are the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory, the Information Technology Laboratory, the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory, the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory, the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the Physics Laboratory. 2 See http://www.itl.nist.gov/ for more information on ITL programs. Accessed May 1, 2009. 3
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and Systems, Computer Security, Advanced Network Technologies, and Information Access. The panel met at the NIST facilities in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on April 1-3, 2009. After the full panel met for a session of overview presentations on the ITL and 11 ITL programs by the ITL management and staff, the panel divided into its six review teams, and each (led by a team leader chosen from within the panel) then visited its respective ITL division for about a day. During these visits, the review team members attended presentations, tours, demonstrations, and interactive sessions with the ITL staff. Subsequently, the entire panel assembled for about a day, during which it interacted with ITL and NIST management and also met in a closed session to deliberate on its findings and to define the contents of this assessment report. For each assessment cycle, the panel membership is composed of new members (approximately one third) and returning members (approximately two thirds) who participated in previous assessment cycles. The approach of the panel to the assessment relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members, whose backgrounds were carefully matched to the technical areas of ITL activities. The panel reviewed selected examples of the technological research covered by the ITL; because of time constraints, it was not possible to review the ITL programs and projects exhaustively. The examples reviewed by the panel were selected by the ITL. The panel’s goal was to identify and report salient examples of accomplishments and opportunities for further improvement with respect to the following: the technical merit of the ITL work, its perceived relevance to NIST’s own definition of its mission in support of national priorities, and specific elements of the ITL’s resource infrastructure that are intended to support the technical work. These examples are intended collectively to portray an overall impression of the laboratory, while preserving useful suggestions specific to projects and programs that the panel examined. The assessment is currently scheduled to be repeated biennially, which will allow, over time, exposure to the broad spectrum of ITL activity. While the panel applied a largely qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to the assessment, it is possible that future assessments will be informed by further consideration of various analytical methods that can be applied. The rest of this report is organized in two chapters. Chapter 2 discusses issues that apply broadly to several or all of the divisions or to the ITL as a whole. Chapter 3 presents observations specific to each ITL division. The comments in this report are not intended to address each program within the ITL exhaustively. Instead, this report identifies key issues and salient programs and projects relevant to those issues. Given the necessarily nonexhaustive nature of the review process, the omission of any particular ITL program or project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted program or project. 4