At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Research Council (NRC)1 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 seven,2 as well as the adequacy of the laboratories’ resources.
At the request of the Director of NIST, in 2015 the NRC formed the Panel on Review of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and established the following statement of task for the panel:
The National Research Council [National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine] shall appoint a panel to assess the scientific and technical work performed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Information Technology Laboratory. This panel will review technical reports and technical program descriptions prepared by NIST staff and will visit the facilities at the Information Technology Laboratory. Visits will include technical presentations by NIST staff, demonstrations of NIST projects, tours of NIST facilities, and discussions with NIST staff. The panel will prepare a report summarizing its assessment findings.
The NIST Director requested that the panel focus its assessment on the following factors:
- Assess the organization’s technical programs.
- How does the quality of the research compare to similar world class research in the technical program areas?
- Is the quality of the technical programs adequate for the organization to reach its stated technical objectives? How could it be improved?
- Assess the portfolio of scientific expertise within the organization.
- Does the organization have world-class scientific expertise in the areas of the organization’s mission and program objectives? If not, what areas should be improved?
- How well does the organization’s scientific expertise support the organization’s technical programs and the organization’s ability to achieve its stated objectives?
- Assess the adequacy of the organization’s facilities, equipment, and human resources
- How well do the facilities, equipment, and human resources support the organization’s technical programs and its ability to achieve its stated objectives? How could they be improved?
1 Effective July 1, 2015, the institution is called the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. References in this report to the National Research Council are used in an historical context identifying programs prior to July 1.
2 The seven NIST laboratories are the Engineering Laboratory, the Physical Measurement Laboratory, the Information Technology Laboratory, the Material Measurement Laboratory, the Communication Technology Laboratory, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, and the NIST Center for Neutron Research.
- 4. Assess the effectiveness by which the organization disseminates its program outputs.
- How well are the organization’s research programs driven by stakeholder needs?
- How effective are the technology transfer mechanisms used by the organization? Are these mechanisms sufficiently comprehensive?
- How well is the organization monitoring stakeholder use and impact of program outputs? How could this be improved?
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, enable new scientific and technological advances, and improve and refine existing measurement methods and services.
NIST specified that three of the six divisions of the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) would be reviewed: the Information Access Division, the Software and Systems Division, and the Statistical Engineering Division. The following ITL divisions were not reviewed because they had recently been reorganized (NIST plans to request their review in the future): the Applied and Computational Mathematics Division, the Computer Security Division, and the Advanced Networking Technologies Division. In order to accomplish the assessment, the NRC assembled a panel of 22 volunteers, whose expertise matches that of the work performed by ITL staff.3
On June 9-11, 2015, the panel assembled for two and a half days at the NIST facility, during which it received, in a plenary session, welcoming remarks from the NIST Associate Director for Laboratory Programs, heard an overview presentation by ITL management, and attended an interactive session with ITL management. Each panel member was assigned to one of the three division review teams whose expertise matched that of the work performed in three divisions of ITL: the Information Access Division, the Software and Systems Division, and the Statistical Engineering Division. The division review teams separately attended division-level presentations and visited division laboratories. The panel also met in a closed session to deliberate on its findings and to define the contents of this assessment report.
The panel’s approach to the assessment relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members. The panel reviewed selected examples of the technical research performed at ITL; because of time constraints, it was not possible to review ITL programs and projects exhaustively. The examples reviewed by the panel were selected by ITL. The panel’s goal was to identify and report salient examples of accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities for improvement with respect to the factors suggested above by the Director of NIST. These examples are intended collectively to portray an overall impression of the laboratory, while preserving useful suggestions specific to the projects and programs that the panel examined. The panel applied a largely qualitative rather than quantitative approach to the assessment.
Given the necessarily broad and nonexhaustive nature of the review, omission in this report of any particular ITL program or project should not be interpreted as implying any negative reflection on the omitted program or project.