NIST logo
*

October 1, 2004

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

Dear Hratch:

The VCAT would like to commend you and your staff for another outstanding meeting held in Boulder on September 13-14, 2004. We were extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss the budget and direction of NIST with Deputy Secretary Kassinger and Arden Bement. Again, I must emphasize how much the Committee appreciates your continued openness and the breadth of information and data provided to us on the topics presented over the course of the entire meeting.

Furthermore, we were honored to be able to join in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Department of Commerce Boulder Laboratories, and we enjoyed the rededication ceremony immensely. In particular, we were very impressed with all of the speakers who praised NIST for the important scientific achievements conducted at the Boulder laboratories and NIST's contributions to the Boulder community, the state of Colorado, and the Nation.

Strategic Planning and Outreach

The VCAT applauds your strong commitment to continue the rapid implementation of the NIST 2010 Strategic Plan. With the recent formation of the remaining two Strategic Working Groups for Nanotechnology and for Information/Knowledge Management, NIST should be able to make further progress on identifying opportunities where measurements and standards are needed in the Strategic Focus Areas (SFAs) and to build competencies in these critical areas. The selection of the new FY 2005 competence projects in areas that complement the SFAs and traditional NIST measurements and standards work is commendable and further demonstrates management's commitment to the Strategic Plan. Also, the VCAT is encouraged by the proposed new budget structure that should provide NIST with more flexibility in carrying out the Strategic Plan, and more importantly, help make the budget request more understandable to members of Congress. Although outreach activities are increasing, the VCAT suggests that NIST be prospective and continue evolving the strategic plan for outreach that can better communicate the value of NIST to its key stakeholders.

Performance Evaluation

Paul Doremus' presentation on performance evaluation was very interesting and the VCAT is pleased with NIST's progress in this area. While we are supportive of the organization's three evaluation tools that involve peer review, quantitative output metrics, and impact studies, the members of the VCAT would like to see examples of how the value chain and the associated evaluation tools have been applied in specific projects and programs. In addition to carrying out prospective studies of NIST impact that could result in conservative estimates, cumulative data from five to ten years after the work is completed should continue to be collected in selected areas to measure NIST's economic impacts. Also, we appreciated Ken Keller's presentation on the NRC Board on Assessment's new biennial assessment process, sharing of the evaluation criteria, and expectations for the FY 2005 report and recognize the Board's important contribution to NIST's performance evaluation process.

Annual Report Recommendations

Your detailed responses to the VCAT's 2003 Annual Report recommendations were terrific and we applaud you for promptly addressing our observations. This new formal reporting system closes the loop between our observations, recommendations, and NIST's responses. This system enables us to better demonstrate the value of our Committee as it seeks to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of NIST. We recommend that this reporting system be updated as appropriate for each of our meetings.

Safety

The VCAT is gratified to learn that NIST has established safety as the highest concern of senior management as reflected by the successful reduction in lost workday incidents. However, more safety data and benchmarking with other organizations are needed to help further reduce injuries. I encourage you to work with Deb Grubbe and other VCAT members who have offered their expertise to help NIST continue to improve its safety management practices and results. The VCAT would like to review NIST's safety data at each quarterly meeting and NIST's safety plans and efforts twice a year, once at each site.

Technical Presentations and Laboratory Tours

The briefing on NIST's research in first responder communications and the laboratory tours that highlighted quantum computing with ions, the chip-scale atomic clock, and the Center for Mechanical Behavior of Biological Materials (CMBBM) were fascinating. These topics continue to provide the VCAT with meaningful examples of NIST's achievements in measurement sciences and in the SFAs for homeland security and for biosystems and health. Also, in spite of the time constraints, these visits provided an excellent opportunity for many of the VCAT members to engage in stimulating discussions with the researchers to learn even more about their work.

Dennis Friday's very interesting multi-media presentation on NIST's studies in first responder communications clearly illustrated how NIST's core competencies in electromagnetics and wireless communications will contribute to the improved safety of rescue workers and victims. We were extremely impressed with his research team's extensive and active participation in collecting critical emergency communications data from controlled building collapses in New Orleans and Philadelphia, in close collaboration with the private sector and state and local officials.

We were very appreciative that David Wineland, a renowned scientist, met with us to describe NIST's world-class research that has demonstrated several firsts in quantum computing and quantum state engineering. This research, which may lead to the exciting development of quantum computers vastly more powerful than today's best supercomputers, is another example where NIST is successfully addressing some of the most challenging measurement problems in the physical sciences that places NIST at the scientific forefront.

The VCAT also was impressed with the way that NIST brought together the diverse competencies needed to design, fabricate, and characterize ultraminiature atomic clocks. These atomic clocks provide an entirely new dissemination channel for NIST's ability to measure time with promising applications such as wireless telecommunications, enhanced Global Positioning Service (GPS) receivers, and communications security.

In addition, we thoroughly enjoyed visiting with the CMBBM team. The CMBBM is a well-designed suite of projects that are tackling intriguing measurement problems through creative partnerships. Through the CMBBM, NIST brings its experience in physical metrology and engineering skills to bear on critical measurements and standards challenges in the life sciences. In each area, NIST is implementing these projects through external collaborations with the Colorado research science and technology community.

Management of Remote Sites

I am glad to have received such positive feedback from you and the other NIST managers about our panel discussion on the management of organizations with remote sites. To continue this dialogue, Bob Williams has agreed to present his perspective on this topic at the December meeting. Please let me know if there are other generic subjects that you would like the VCAT to consider for another panel discussion at a future meeting.

Closing

In closing, I would like to commend the Administration for its decision to nominate Arden as the Director of the National Science Foundation. Arden's absence will be a great loss for the Department of Commerce and NIST. Please be assured that the VCAT will continue to provide you our complete support as you continue your outstanding leadership of NIST as the Acting Director.

Sincerely,

signature of April Schweighart

April Schweighart