This introductory chapter describes the biennial assessment process conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board (ARLTAB). It then describes the preparation and organization of the report, the assessment criteria, and the approach taken during the report preparation.
The ARLTAB is guided by the following statement of task:
An ad hoc committee to be named the Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board (ARLTAB), to be overseen by the Laboratory Assessments Board, will be appointed to continue the function of providing biennial assessments of the scientific and technical quality of the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). These assessments will include findings and recommendations related to the quality of ARL’s research, development, and analysis programs. While the primary role of the ARLTAB is to provide peer assessment, it may offer advice on related matters when requested by the ARL Director. The ARLTAB will provide an interim assessment report at the end of Year 1 of each 2-year assessment cycle and a final assessment report biennially. The ARLTAB will be assisted by up to seven separately appointed panels that will focus on particular portions of the ARL program. Each year, up to three additional panels may be appointed to assess special topics, at the request of the ARL Director.
The charge of ARLTAB is to provide biennial assessments of the scientific and technical quality of the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). These assessments include the development of findings and recommendations related to the quality of ARL’s research, development, and analysis programs. ARLTAB is charged to review the work in ARL’s science and technology (S&T) campaigns (Materials Research, Sciences for Lethality and Protection, Information Sciences, Computational Sciences, Sciences for Maneuver, Human Sciences, and Analysis and Assessment) but not the work of the Army Research Office (ARO), a key element of the ARL organization that manages and supports basic research. However, all ARLTAB panels receive reports of how the research and development (R&D) activities of ARO and ARL are coordinated.
In addition, at the discretion of the ARL director, the ARLTAB reviews selected portions of the work conducted by the Collaborative Technology Alliances (CTAs) and Cooperative Research Alliances (CRAs). Although the ARLTAB’s primary role is to provide peer assessment, it may also offer advice on related matters when requested to do so by the ARL director; such advice focuses on technical rather than programmatic considerations. To conduct its assessments, the ARLTAB is assisted by seven National Academies panels, each of which focuses on one of ARL’s S&T campaigns. ARLTAB’s assessments are commissioned by ARL itself rather than by one of its parent organizations.
For this assessment, the ARLTAB consisted of eight leading scientists and engineers whose collective experience spans the main topics within ARL’s scope. Seven panels, each of which focuses on one or
more of ARL’s S&T campaigns, report to the ARLTAB. Seven of the ARLTAB members serve as chairs of these panels. The panels range in size from 10 to 16 members, whose expertise is carefully matched to the technical fields covered by the areas that they review. Selected members of each panel attend each annual review. In total, 91 members participated in the reviews that led to this report. All panel and ARLTAB members participate without compensation.
The National Academies appointed the ARLTAB and panel members with an eye to assembling a slate of experts without conflicts of interest and with balanced perspectives. The experts include current and former executives and research staff from industrial R&D laboratories, leading academic researchers, and staff from the Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories and federally funded R&D centers. Nineteen are members of the National Academy of Engineering, 4 are members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 4 are members of the National Academy of Medicine. A number have been leaders in relevant professional societies, and several are past members of organizations such as the Army Science Board and the Defense Science Board. ARLTAB and its panels are supported by National Academies staff, who interact with ARL on a continuing basis to ensure that ARLTAB and the panels receive the information they need to carry out their assessments. ARLTAB and panel members serve for finite terms, generally 4 to 6 years, so that viewpoints are regularly refreshed and the expertise of the ARLTAB and panel members continues to match ARL’s activities. Biographical information on ARLTAB members appears in Appendix B.
In 2017, the seven panels reviewed the following S&T campaigns of ARL:
- Panel on Materials Science and Engineering: Materials Research;
- Panel on Ballistics Science and Engineering: Sciences for Lethality and Protection;
- Panel on Information Science: Information Sciences;
- Panel on Computational Sciences: Computational Sciences;
- Panel on Mechanical Science and Engineering: Sciences for Maneuver;
- Panel on Human Factors Science: Human Sciences; and
- Panel on Assessment and Analysis: Analysis and Assessment.
The current interim report summarizes the findings of the ARLTAB from the seven reviews conducted by the panels in 2017. The remainder of the S&T campaign areas will be reviewed in 2018, and the final, biennial report, which will be written in 2018, will subsume the current interim report and will add findings from the 2018 assessment.
As with the earlier reviews, this report contains ARLTAB’s judgments about the quality of ARL’s work. (Chapters 2 through 8 focus on the individual S&T campaign areas, and Chapter 9 provides a discussion of crosscutting issues across all of ARL.) The rest of this chapter explains the rich set of interactions that supports those judgments.
The amount of information that is funneled to the ARLTAB, including the evaluations by the recognized experts who make up ARLTAB’s panels, provides a solid foundation for a thorough peer review. This review is based on a large amount of information received from ARL and on interactions between ARL staff and the ARLTAB and its panels. Most of the information exchange occurs during the annual meetings convened by the respective panels at the appropriate ARL sites. Both at scheduled meetings and in less formal interactions, ARL evinces a very healthy level of information exchange and acceptance of external comments. The assessment panels and ARLTAB engaged in many constructive interactions with ARL staff during their annual site visits in 2017. In addition, useful collegial exchanges took place between panel members and individual ARL investigators outside scheduled meetings as ARL
staff members sought clarification about panel comments or questions and drew on panel members’ contacts and sources of information.
Each panel’s review meeting lasted about 2.5 days, during which time the panel members received a combination of overview briefings by ARL management and technical briefings by ARL staff. Prior to the meetings, panels received extensive materials for review, including selected staff publications.
The overview briefings brought the panels up to date on the broad scope of ARL’s scientific and technical work. This context-building step was needed because the panels are purposely composed of people who, while experts in the technical fields covered by ARL’s S&T campaigns that they reviewed, were not engaged in collaborative work with ARL. Technical briefings for the panels focused on R&D goals, strategies, methodologies, and results of selected projects at the laboratory. Briefings were targeted at coverage of a representative sample of each of ARL’s S&T campaigns over the 2-year assessment cycle. Briefings included poster sessions that allowed direct interaction among the panelists and staff of projects that were not covered in the briefings.1
Ample time during both the overview and the technical briefings was devoted to discussion, which enabled panel members to pose questions and ARL staff to provide additional technical and contextual information to clarify panel members’ understanding. The panels also devoted sufficient time to closed-session deliberations, during which they developed findings and identified important questions or gaps in panel understanding. Those questions or gaps were discussed during follow-up sessions with ARL staff so that the panel was confident of the accuracy and completeness of its assessments. Panel members continued to refine their findings, conclusions, and recommendations during written exchanges and teleconferences among themselves after the meetings.
In addition to the insights that they gained from the panel meetings, ARLTAB members received exposure to ARL and its staff at ARLTAB meetings each winter. The 2017 ARLTAB meetings refined elements of the assessment process focused on ARL’s S&T campaigns, including read-ahead materials, review agendas, and expertise required within the panels.
During the assessment, the ARLTAB and its panels considered the following questions posed by the ARL director:
- Is the scientific quality of the research of comparable technical quality to that executed in leading federal, university, and industrial laboratories both nationally and internationally?
- Does the research program reflect a broad understanding of the underlying science and research conducted elsewhere?
- Does the research employ the appropriate laboratory equipment and numerical models?
- Are the qualifications of the research team compatible with the research challenge?
- Are the facilities and laboratory equipment state of the art?
- Are programs crafted to employ the appropriate mix of theory, computation, and experimentation?
To assist ARL in addressing promising technical approaches, the ARLTAB also considered the following questions:
- Are there especially promising projects that, with improved direction or resources, could produce outstanding results that can be transitioned ultimately to the field?
- Are there promising outside-the-box concepts that could be pursued but are not currently in the ARL portfolio?
Within the general framework described earlier, the ARLTAB also developed, and the panels selectively applied, detailed assessment criteria organized in the following four categories (Appendix C presents the complete set of assessment criteria):
- Project goals and plans. Criteria in this category relate to the extent to which projects address ARL strategic technical goals and are planned to effectively achieve the stated objectives.
- Methodology and approach. Criteria in this category address the appropriateness of the hypotheses that drive the research, of the tools and methods applied to the collection and analysis of data, and of the judgments about future directions of the research.
- Capabilities and resources. Criteria in this category relate to whether current and projected equipment, facilities, and human resources are appropriate to achieve success of the projects.
- Scientific community. Criteria in this category relate to cognizance of and contributions to the scientific and technical community whose activities are relevant to the work performed at ARL.
This report represents ARLTAB’s consensus findings and recommendations, developed through deliberations that included consideration of the notes prepared by the panel members summarizing their assessments. ARLTAB’s aim with this report is to provide guidance to the ARL director that will help ARL sustain its process of continuous improvement. To that end, the ARLTAB examined its extensive and detailed notes from the many ARLTAB panel and individual interactions with ARL during 2017. From those notes, it distilled a shorter list of the main trends, opportunities, and challenges that merit attention at the level of the ARL director and the management team. The ARLTAB used that list as the basis for this report. Specific ARL projects are used to illustrate these points in the following chapters when it is helpful to do so, but the ARLTAB did not aim to present the director with a detailed account of interactions with bench scientists. The draft of this report was subsequently honed and reviewed according to the National Academies’ procedures before being released.
The ARLTAB applied a largely qualitative rather than quantitative approach to the assessment. The approach of ARLTAB and its panels relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members, whose backgrounds were carefully matched to the core technical competency areas in which ARL activities are conducted. The ARLTAB and its panels reviewed selected examples of the scientific and technological research performed by ARL; it was not possible to review all ARL programs and projects exhaustively. Given the necessarily nonexhaustive nature of the review process, the omission of mention of any particular program or project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted program or project.
ARLTAB’s goal was to identify and report salient examples of accomplishments and opportunities for further improvement with respect to the technical merit of ARL work and specific elements of ARL’s resource infrastructure that are intended to support the technical work. Collectively, these highlighted examples for each ARL S&T campaign are intended to portray an overall impression of the laboratory while preserving useful mention of suggestions specific to projects and programs that the ARLTAB considered to be of special note within the set of those examined.
This chapter has addressed the biennial assessment process used by the ARLTAB and its seven panels. Chapters 2 through 8 provide detailed assessments of each of the ARL S&T campaigns reviewed during 2017. Chapter 9 presents findings common across multiple S&T campaigns. The appendixes provide ARL’s S&T campaigns and their mapping to the technical areas reviewed in 2017, biographical information on the ARLTAB members, the assessment criteria used by ARLTAB and its panels, and a list of acronyms found in the report.