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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 1 The Charge to the Panel and the Assessment Process At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Research Council 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,2 as well as the adequacy of the laboratories’ resources. In 2010, NIST requested that five of its laboratories be assessed: the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory, the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory, the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the Physics 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 Building and Fire Research. For the fiscal year (FY) 2010 assessment, NIST requested that the panel consider the following criteria as part of its assessment: The technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; The adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and The degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. The panel adopted the following additional assessment criteria under each broad factor to make them more explicit: The technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide. Relative Technical Caliber: How does the technical quality of the laboratory programs compare to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide? Relevance: Do the projects reflect a broad understanding of comparable work being done elsewhere (at other government laboratories, universities, and industry)? Balance: Does the laboratory adequately balance anticipatory, longer-term research and activities that respond to immediate customer needs? 2 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.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 The adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs. Available Tools: Is the state of the equipment and facilities adequate to meet project objectives and customer needs? Critical Mass: Are the available scientific and technical competencies adequate to achieve success? Is available funding adequate to achieve success? Agility: Is the laboratory sustaining the technical competencies and capacity to respond quickly to critical issues as they arise? The degree to which the laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. Technical Planning: Are appropriate milestones identified and do they appear feasible? Dissemination: Is the laboratory regularly implementing sound and effective techniques and practices for delivering products and services to customers? Impact: Will the laboratory products have a consequential, long-term impact? Responsiveness: Are the research projects moving at a pace and in a direction that is well matched to current and emerging customer needs? 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 22 volunteers, whose expertise matches that of the work performed by the BFRL staff.3 The panel members were also assigned to five subgroups (Strategic Priority Area review teams), whose expertise matched that of the work performed in the BFRL’s five Strategic Priority Goal Areas of Measurement Science for (1) Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings; (2) Advancing Infrastructure Delivery; (3) Sustainable Infrastructure Materials; (4) Disaster-Resilient Structures and Communities; and (5) Innovative Fire Protection. The panel met at the NIST facilities in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on March 9-11, 2010. After the full panel met for a session of welcoming remarks from the NIST Director’s representative, the Acting Coordinator for Laboratory Programs, and an overview presentation on the BFRL by the BFRL management, the panel divided into its five review teams, and each (led by a team leader chosen from within the panel) then visited with the staff of its respective BFRL Strategic Priority Goal Area for about a day. During these visits, the review team members attended presentations, tours, demonstrations, and interactive sessions with the BFRL staff. Subsequently, the entire panel assembled for about a day-and-a-half meeting, during which it interacted with 3 See http://www.nist.gov/bfrl/ for more information on BFRL programs. Accessed May 1, 2010.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 BFRL and NIST management and also met in a closed session to deliberate on its findings and to define and draft the contents of this assessment report. 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 BFRL activities. The panel reviewed selected examples of the research covered by the BFRL; because of time constraints, it was not possible to review the BFRL programs and projects exhaustively. The examples reviewed by the panel were selected by the BFRL. 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 BFRL work, its perceived relevance to NIST’s own definition of its mission in support of national priorities, and specific elements of the BFRL’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 BFRL 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 comments in this report are not intended to address each program within the BFRL exhaustively. Instead, this report identifies key issues. The omission of any particular BFRL program or project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted program or project.