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April 13, 2004

Dr. Hratch G. Semerjian
Acting NIST Director
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gaithersburg, MD 20899

Dear Hratch,

The VCAT appreciates another very informative and productive meeting held in Gaithersburg on March 15-16, 2004. In addition, the NIST orientation for new VCAT members held on March 14 was exceptionally valuable and should be continued as new members are appointed.

Impact Statements and Communications with NIST Stakeholders

We were pleased that we had the opportunity to meet with Rep.Vernon J. Ehlers, Chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards; Olwen Huxley of the House Science Subcommittee; Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, Jr; and Michael Drobac, Legislative Assistant in the office of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. These discussions enabled us to convey NIST's important contributions to the nation's science and technology base, innovation, and economic growth. We also were reminded of the urgency to seek more private sector testimonial throughout Congress on the value of NIST, especially in view of the severe budget reductions for NIST in FY 2004 and uncertainty over the FY 2005 federal budget priorities.

Our subsequent meeting with DoC General Counsel Ted Kassinger and Under Secretary for Technology Phillip Bond also was very engaging as we expressed our views on the significant role that NIST has on U.S. competitiveness, job creation, and public safety, as well as our concern over the NIST budget for FY 2004 and beyond. As discussed during our feedback session with NIST senior management, we are very enthusiastic about Mr. Kassinger's idea to establish a Commission, or other high-level review mechanism, to address the nation's measurement and standards infrastructure for innovation and economic growth and recommend that NIST further explore this proposal. Such a review has the potential to assign NIST a well-deserved and prominent role in a national technology policy.

The detailed budget information and related impacts of the reductions provided to us during the closed session were very helpful as this material set the context for our subsequent visits to the Hill and DoC leadership. However, we encourage NIST to continue to develop messages that focus more on the importance of the organization to national policy issues, such as technological innovation and the economy. These messages should include direct economic benefits from NIST's programs, examples of NIST's impacts on technology and society, and statements about the unique role that NIST's plays in supporting the nation's measurement infrastructure as the only U.S. agency with the mission of helping industry. NIST already has begun to respond to this request and we look forward to continued progress.

Performance-based Management and Implementation of NIST 2010

Although performance metrics were not part of your formal presentation, the VCAT was especially pleased to have received a copy of NIST's 2004 Balanced Scorecard so promptly and to have had the opportunity to discuss these metrics with you. We thank you for your responsiveness and willingness to share this information with us and appreciate the increased openness about NIST's performance metrics. As a result of our discussions, we encourage NIST to continue to focus on the development of performance metrics and other quantitative data that demonstrate NIST's measures of success, such as refinement of the Balanced Scorecard, and to share these metrics more openly. The committee is particularly interested in the investment goals that NIST has targeted in each of the Strategic Focus Areas and how the organization measures the progress toward achieving these goals as a way to determine successful implementation of the NIST 2010 Strategic Plan. We also are looking forward to learning more about the structural changes to the strategic plan and improved metrics at the June meeting, followed by an in-depth discussion on how the Committee possibly could assist in improving these metrics.

NIST Infrastructure/Facilities

Robert Moore's presentation on NIST facilities clearly indicated the significant additional investments that are needed to overcome remaining problems associated with deteriorated and obsolete laboratory facilities, especially in Boulder, and to equip the new Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) at a level needed to take full advantage of this building's unique capabilities. Based on the current budget environment, NIST senior management is faced with the challenge of how to carry out these needed improvements with very limited funds. The VCAT urges NIST to continue to carefully examine the cost-benefit of tearing down and replacing existing buildings compared with rehabbing those buildings, especially in Boulder, and the option of shutting older buildings down in Gaithersburg to divert these savings to the AML. Our tour of the AML was quite impressive as we noted the specialized environmental control factors in the labs. In recognition of the present austere budget climate, we suggest that NIST increase its marketing efforts to attract funding and partnerships for conducting projects in the AML related to the most critical 21st century technologies so that the Nation can take full advantage of the world's most sophisticated measurement and standards laboratory.

Other Issues

Your presentation on improving internal operations was very promising. We applaud NIST's efforts to improve administrative efficiency and effectiveness and strongly encourage the continued use of the Baldrige principles and benchmarking with the private sector, where feasible, to help determine the appropriate level of support activities throughout the organization.

Kevin Carr is to be commended for his excellent presentation on the FY 2004 reduction of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program (MEP). Since the straight line "best case scenario" projections of the impacts resulting from a two-thirds budget reduction are somewhat optimistic, the VCAT recommends that this reduction be translated into losses to the economy and perhaps lost tax revenues as well. We are deeply concerned about this reduction in a strong, well-managed, and clearly valuable program with direct impact on our nation's economy, particularly job creation and retention.

Please express our sincere gratitude to Arden Bement for attending one of our feedback sessions so that we could share our ideas for improving communications with NIST stakeholders and other constituents. Again, I would like to thank you and your staff for their valuable time and input that made our meetings so successful as we strive to provide guidance on how NIST can best continue to serve the nation's economy, and technology and science base in the current budget environment.

Sincerely,

signature of April Schweighart

April Schweighart