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February 2010 VCAT Meeting Minutes





Visiting Committee Members Attending
Baer, Tom
Bajcsy, Ruzena 
Cerf, Vinton
Fleury, Paul
Haymet, Tony
Khosla, Pradeep
Reichmanis, Elsa*
Romig, Alton
Serum, James
Solomon, Darlene Taub, Alan
Ehrlich, Gail, VCAT Exec. Dir.


NIST Leadership Board
Cavanagh, Richard
Collins, Belinda
Celotta, Robert
Dimeo, Robert
Fiotes, Stella
Furlani, Cita Gallagher, Patrick  Gebbie, Katharine
Hertz, Harry 
Kayser, Rich
Kilmer, Roger
Kimball, Kevin
May, Willie
Robinson, David
Rochford, Kent
Stanley, Marc
Sunder, Shyam
Szykman, Simon
Wisniewski, Lorel


NIST Staff
Acierto, Linda
Alderoty, Neil
Allocca, Clare
Arnold, George
Balicao, Francisco
Boehm, Jason
Boettinger, Bill
Canning, Alicia
Cherny, Paul
Culpepper, Mike
Donmez, Alkan
Espina, Pedro
Fasolka, Mike
French, Judson
Gayle, Frank
Gillerman, Gordon
Graham, Adrienne
Hardis, Jonathan
Herbert, Denise
Holland, Diane
Ivester, Rob
Janezic, Mike
Jillavenkatesa, Ajit
Jones, Al
Kaiser, Debbie
Kunze, Steve
Mattson, Bruce
Olthoff, Jim
Ott, William
Porter, Gail
Romine, Chuck
Salah, Lucy
Saundry, Claire
Scarfone, Karen
Schiller, Susannah

NIST Staff Cont.
Selepak, Nancy
Shaw, Stephanie
St. Pierre, Jim
Steel, Eric
Wavering, Al
Whetstone, James
White, Christopher
Whitman, Lloyd
Williams, Karen

Carr, Kevin, Knowlogistics

Miller, Janet, Standards Alumni Association


Semerjian, Hratch, Council for Chemical Research

*Attended part of the meeting via audio-teleconference.

Call to Order, VCAT Elections, and Agenda Review– Dr. James Serum, VCAT Chair

Dr. Serum called the meeting to order at 8:30 a.m. and welcomed new VCAT member, Dr. Darlene Solomon, Chief Technology Officer of Agilent Laboratories.  VCAT member Dr. Peter Green is absent from the meeting due to jury duty.  The meeting's agenda calls for an update on the state of NIST and its organization structure, an ethics briefing, laboratory tours, preparation of the 2009 VCAT Annual Report, and discussion on topics for the 2010 meetings.

The VCAT elections for Chair and Vice Chair were held.  Dr. Vinton Cerf of Google was elected as the Chair and Dr. Alan Taub from General Motors was elected to serve as the Vice Chair.   Their interim terms as Chair and Vice Chair will begin on March 5, 2010 when Dr. Serum's VCAT membership expires and their regular two-year term will end on April 1, 2012.

NIST Director's Update – Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Director, NIST  

Presentation Summary – Dr. Gallagher expressed his appreciation to Dr. Elsa Reichmanis and Dr. James Serum whose membership terms on the VCAT will expire by the end of March 2010. He noted that Dr. Serum's leadership and guidance contributed to one of the strongest working relationships and partnerships between the Committee and NIST since his tenure at the agency.  In welcoming Dr. Solomon to the VCAT, Dr. Gallagher stated that Agilent's by-line as the premier measurement company is a good match to NIST as the premier measurement agency in the federal government.  With expertise in both electronic and biological measurements, Dr. Solomon has also served on the National Research Council review panel for NIST.

Dr. Gallagher provided an update on topics to be covered in the Committee's Annual Report, including NIST's planning and direction, budget, role in documentary standards, safety, and organization structure, as well as suggestions for the VCAT focus in 2010.  Items of note include:

  • The major drivers for NIST planning and direction from the highest to the lowest levels are:  1) economic recovery and critical national priorities as called for in the President's Innovation Strategy; 2) a subset of science and technology areas (e.g., innovation and entrepreneurship) covered by ongoing policy discussions in the government; and 3) many other areas where NIST has a specific agency role, and in most cases, larger than its particular mission focus.   

  • Version 2.0 of the President's Innovation Strategy is expected to explicitly include the importance of standards.

  • Unlike most federal agencies with a very specific mission, NIST's measurement mission runs horizontally through many areas which makes strategic planning more difficult. 

  • Due to the variety of NIST drivers and inputs that are occurring dynamically, effective strategic management is essential.  NIST is committed to making improvements in its strategic planning process; however, there are some activities that go beyond the actual planning process. 

  • With its unique programmatic span, NIST is exceedingly well-positioned to play a central role in the nation's innovation agenda. No other R&D or technical agency has a portfolio of programs which span from basic R&D to business practices.

  • The NIST 3-year programmatic plan required for Congress is not a strategic plan, as stated in the beginning of the document.  This plan includes a matrix of NIST Programs by Investment Priority Area (IPA).

  • For FY2010, NIST changed its internal planning to program plans instead of initiatives and is improving its stakeholder input process.  For example, in FY 2010 NIST will hold workshops with stakeholders in the areas of energy and climate. 

  • NIST's strategic and programmatic planning process is still under development. The VCAT's comments and recommendations on the improvements and progress, especially towards the goal of effective strategic management, are welcomed.

  • NIST is receiving support for its budget increases.  For FY 2010, NIST's appropriations included $34.2M for new initiatives in its laboratory programs focused on national priorities.  The FY 2011 budget initiatives for the NIST laboratories total $69.4M and include a significant increase of $20M for "Competitive Manufacturing and Construction in a Clean Energy Economy." For the first year in a decade, the FY 2011 budget reflects the Administration's willingness to fund uncontrollable inflationary adjustments. 

  • Although NIST is spending its Recovery Act funds according to its plans, this activity has placed considerable stress on both the research and service parts of the organization.

  • Improving safety management at NIST is, and must remain, a top management priority. The safety focus for FY2010 is to use, assess, and improve the OU hazard management and management observation programs begun last year.  NIST will also continue to improve the safety office, develop key metrics and improve safety information sharing, and improve its emergency preparedness. A safety dashboard for NIST will be released soon.  Dr. Gallagher welcomed VCAT recommendations in support of improving safety management.

  • A top-level reorganization of NIST's management structure is currently under review by the White House.

  • The NIST Director suggested that the VCAT focus in FY2010 could include: 1) NIST measurement services, a unique mission activity for the agency, as a lens to view agency programs in specific areas; 2) NIST innovation and industrial programs (e.g., MEP, TIP, and Baldrige); and/or 3) NIST facilities that provide unique services.


  • The group provided feedback on the tagline that "NIST is the nation's Innovation agency" and Dr. Gallagher agreed that it requires a few disclaimers. He noted that the intent is not  to position NIST to take over the innovation agenda, but to position NIST to be at the table when other agencies are discussing national priority programs so that the breadth of its programs are understood.

  • The group discussed the rational for including standards activities under the laboratory programs. 

  • In regard to the matrix of NIST Programs by IPA as shown in the 3-year programmatic plan, a VCAT member suggested that for internal planning purposes, NIST should consider mapping its entire portfolio against its priorities. Another member recommended that the IPAs be replaced with resources, such as each of the NIST laboratories and staffing.  The group also noted that this matrix was missing some of the crosscuts associated with cybersecurity and information technology.

  • While discussing the FY2010 budget initiatives for the laboratories, it was noted that NIST's funding for core programs is eroding and that funding for basic measurement services functions remain flat. The NIST Director indicated that he was pleased with the level of funding for the FY 2010 laboratory initiatives which will help ensure base support for these programs in the outyears, particularly in Smart Grid and Healthcare IT where funding has almost exclusively been supported by other agencies. 

  • Each of the FY2011 initiatives for the laboratories describe NIST's unique measurement role.

  • An unprecedented amount of reporting and oversight activities are associated with the Recovery Act projects and there has been a lot of debate in the press about the way that jobs are counted.   

  • The group discussed the external constraints involved with changing the internal organization structure.

  • Other suggestions for topics for future VCAT meetings include: 1) a portfolio analysis of the NIST role in innovation in a particular area; and 2) measurement services related to manufacturing.   NIST should consider renaming its "measurement services" to "measurement capabilities."

  • One member suggested that the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) conduct an agency crosscut of the broad programs in which NIST is engaged as an opportunity for NIST to testify about its role before PCAST.  An individual from NIST remarked that the Institute's recent testimony before PCAST during its review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative worked out well.

For more details on the NIST Update, see Dr. Gallagher's presentation, slides # 1-22.

Strengthened NIST Role in Documentary Standards – Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Director, NIST

Presentation Summary – As context for the Committee's 2009 Annual Report, Dr. Gallagher reviewed the existing framework for NIST's role in documentary standards, which was a major focus area in 2009.  NIST's coordination roles are defined in the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119.  However, in practice, this coordination role has been fairly loose.  NIST requested the VCAT to focus on three high-profile standards related activities in Smart Grid, healthcare Information Technology (IT), and cybersecurity in 2009 as examples to demonstrate the high profile nature of these standards and the NIST role, illustrate the wide variety in approaches in addressing these standards, and identify the "common mode" issues in the NIST role.

Dr. Gallagher highlighted NIST major efforts in Smart Grid interoperability standards which have been moving extremely quickly, including pulling together the stakeholder community for the first time through the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel.  This approach is becoming a model for how NIST as a non-regulatory agency can effectively convene stakeholders with different interests.  Unlike NIST's role in Smart Grid, NIST is not the primary coordinator for standards development in the area of healthcare IT. Rather, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) serves this coordinating role with NIST support through different activities, particularly in developing conformity assessment procedures. In the third focus area, cybersecurity, NIST is assigned a specific responsibility under the Federal Information Systems Management Act (FISMA) for developing standards and guidelines for all federal, non-national security, information systems. NIST works very closely with the Intelligence community, other federal agencies, and the private sector to harmonize these standards, including involvement in addressing the recommendations in the 60-Day Cybersecurity Review.

In conclusion, Dr. Gallagher described the common issues related to the high-profile standards for Smart Grid, healthcare IT, and cybersecurity that highlight the need for strengthening federal coordination in the following areas:  1) defining the need, framework, and approach to developing standards and a conformity assessment system before it is needed;  2) providing a federal forum to develop policy recommendations for standards related issues; and 3) improving the U.S. government coordination between standards development efforts and standards promotion efforts.  As a non-regulatory agency, NIST is uniquely positioned to play a key enabling and coordination role in each of these areas.  Lastly, Dr. Gallagher requested that the VCAT report include recommendations and findings which specifically address how NIST can strengthen its role and authority in coordinating the development of national and international documentary standards in high-priority areas.  


  • A VCAT member suggested that NIST develop a software equivalent of a Universal Serial Bus (USB) which would have a tremendous impact on innovation and interoperability.

  • National Coordinator for Smart Grid Interoperability at NIST, described the large scale of the Electric Grid and the value of the policy framework and its clear goals as called for in the Energy Independence and Security Act as well as the need for partnerships.   

  • NIST has no financial incentives or regulatory clout in its coordinating standards role for Smart Grid.  However, standards play an enabling role in how the regulatory and financial issues will unfold.  With regard to appliance safety issues, several safety related standards organizations have been involved, including Underwriters Laboratories and the National Fire Protection Association. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has not been directly involved.

  • NIST does not benchmark the Smart Grid architecture for performance and interoperability.  Rather, the NIST role is to coordinate and identify the standards needs for an architectural framework which can then be managed by the private sector and standards development communities.

  • The group discussed NIST role in representing U.S. interests in setting international standards.  NIST role in coordinating U.S. interests in global standards is implicit in the NTTAA.  A VCAT member advocated that NIST should have the authority to convene interagency discussions to help facilitate consensus on how particular issues will be addressed, including international standards.  Dr. Gallagher stated that it was unrealistic to expect NIST to represent the U.S. government in the international standards arena.  Instead, NIST could serve the key federal coordination role for defining the government involvement in particular standards issues. 

  • The need to strengthen the NIST coordination role in documentary standards was elaborated.  As the technical agency with standards expertise, NIST is in the unique position to interpret the major policy drivers and play a key role in convening and coordinating the interactions between the various agencies and the private sector.  Although the NTTAA clearly assigns NIST a coordination role, the language needs to be better defined.   The House Science and Technology Committee's current focus on reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act provides an opportunity to strengthen NIST role and authority in coordinating the development of national and international documentary standards.

For more details on NIST role in documentary standards, see Dr. Gallagher's presentation, slides # 24-31.

NIST Organization Structure – Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Director, NIST

Presentation Summary – Dr. Gallagher described NIST's management challenges; the management agenda, assessment, and process related to proposed changes in the NIST organization structure; the three scenarios for a laboratory realignment; the next steps in the process; and the desired input from the VCAT. 

Dr. Gallagher reviewed the list of NIST management challenges that he presented to the NIST leadership several days after his confirmation which were designed to better position NIST to respond to expanded responsibilities. The decision for NIST to now seek changes to its organization structure is motivated by opportunity and a new management agenda aimed at clarifying the NIST mission, improving program planning and external engagement, integrating services and operations, fostering a strong client-service model for its internal support services, and improving decision-making and execution.

About a year ago, Dr. Gallagher used his delegation authority to redefine existing positions to create a new key executive team in the Director's office to make it more effective and help define the agency's direction.  In this new top-level directorate, Katharine Gebbie, the Director of the Physics Laboratory, is serving as the Acting Coordinator for Laboratory Programs; Marc Stanley, the NIST Acting Deputy Director, is serving as the Coordinator for Extramural Programs; and David Robinson, the Chief Financial Officer, is serving as the Coordinator for Administrative Programs. NIST has begun the formal process of requesting a top-line reorganization of the Director's Office which will establish an Associate Director for Laboratory Programs, an Associate Director for Innovation and Industrial Services, and an Associate Director for Management Resources.  Dr. Gallagher intends to compete these three Associate Director positions at the national level. 

In the first phase of the organization change, the roles and responsibilities were defined vertically through the organization at the Associate Directorate level and at the next management level down, the Operating Unit (OU)/Chief level.  The Associate Directorate level will be responsible for agency level policy and program planning as well as and evaluation and oversight. The OU level will be responsible for program execution, operations, and services over a major program or service element of the agency. 

The second phase is a horizontal assessment of the OU level to define the roles between laboratory activities and define the functions managed within and across OUs.  This on-going assessment is focused on four questions being addressed by the NIST Leadership Board: 1) Is the organization optimized with the major activities/programs?; 2) Can NIST improve the integration of measurements and standards services and functions within its programs?; 3) Can NIST increase the operational responsibility of its program organizations?; and 4) How does NIST most effectively provide services to support NIST programs?  Dr. Gallagher noted that this second phase is a realignment, not a reduction.  Since NIST now has the support to grow, this is a rare opportunity to assess its organizational structure and effectiveness.  NIST has not looked seriously at its structure for over 20 years. Dr. Gallagher wants his decision on the new structure to be based on broad input and good analysis from his management team as well as the staff.  In fact, he has already received some very thoughtful ideas from the staff which are under consideration.  The four major areas for assessment cover the laboratory alignment, the innovation and industrial programs, the relationship between program and support units, and the Director's Office function.

Lastly, Dr. Gallagher focused on the laboratory realignment since he is seeking specific input from the VCAT and individual VCAT members on the proposed approach or details going forward. The laboratory directors, under Katharine Gebbie's leadership, were asked to contrast and compare the benefits and disadvantages of three scenarios for a new organization structure, and to identify the organizational premise for distinguishing roles and responsibilities in each scenario.  Dr. Gallagher showed a sample schematic of the three alignment scenarios under consideration and described the pros and cons of each scenario.  One scenario is a disciplinary approach by scientific field and is closely related to NIST's current structure.  The second scenario is based on "industrial" sector according to NIST's customers and is similar to the structure of the National Institutes of Health with 22 organizations. As the most difficult to define, the third scenario is mission-based with groupings that correspond to the specific activities created by NIST's legislation and is analogous to the way NIST was structured by products and services for a large part of its history.  Dr. Gallagher reiterated the importance of an organizational principle and emphasized that although all three scenarios are important to address, choosing the right scenario is a question of optimization.  A mission-based structure drives the optimization within a single line organization by having the research program as well as the delivery of those research activities under one laboratory. 

In his closing slide, Dr. Gallagher noted that at this time he favors segregation of the laboratory operating units by mission activity which would provide a stable line structure and clearly define the mission activities and ownership. Also, the realignment must include an empowered program office in the Associate Director for Laboratory Programs to manage cross-cutting activities.  The details for the laboratory realignment still need to be worked out and a formal plan prepared and reviewed.

Discussion Topics Raised by the Committee:

Program Management:

  • The group discussed the need and plans for program management. A VCAT member noted the importance of having the ability to manage a program and to draw resources from the necessary facilities, including domain expertise in the laboratories, to carry out objectives.  Dr. Gallagher explained that program management is part of each of the scenarios. The Associate Director for Laboratory Programs may likely include a program office with ownership over specific program areas, although this function is not specifically shown on the graphics.   

Budget Implications:

  • The reorganization is not anticipated to impact the amount of other agency funding at NIST.   The reorganization requires a reprogramming request with a detailed crosswalk of activities to Congress for approval. 


  • The disciplinary-based scenario is the closest analogy to the university model. 

  • As suggested by a VCAT member, the group agreed on the need for each of the NIST laboratory directors to indicate where their laboratory resides today with a single dot on a triangle with apexes for a disciplinary, mission, and sector focus.

  • According to one of the VCAT members, another advantage to the sector scenario is that it can bring together the constituency to voice support for the budget on Capitol Hill.


  • The approval process occurs in phases and needs to unfold quickly.


  • Dr. Gallagher elaborated on the reasons for changing the laboratory structure at this time, citing that the realignment is needed to more effectively manage NIST and should fix ambiguity over ownership and provide a stronger sense of our customers. As examples, Dr. Gallagher discussed how manufacturing and bio are two programs that will benefit from the new laboratory realignment. 

Other Considerations:

  • A VCAT member remarked that John Vessey Jr., a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, noted the importance of each person understanding their job and knowing who is in charge when new organization structures are being established.   

  • A VCAT member described how industry uses a hybrid structure that works well for mission critical activities and asked the NIST Director to think about this approach.  The flow of funding in a hybrid structure was also discussed.  One VCAT member noted the importance of metrics and rewards, over budget control, in carrying out a program structure with integrity.

  • A VCAT member remarked that the final plan should pass three important tests – 1) each staff member must know their job responsibilities, who is evaluating them, and what they are accountable for; 2) people at the managerial level should be held accountable for their decisions, including budget investments; and 3) the new structure would have been robust enough five years ago to respond to growth areas. 

  • A VCAT member remarked that an organization structure based on strategic priorities is a better context for change than accountability. 

  • With regard to customer interactions, some VCAT members noted the importance of a strong coherent communications plan and the need for customers to know the correct entry points of NIST. 

  • A VCAT member cautioned that unwanted attrition could result from individuals not understanding their relationship with their first level manager and remarked that management changes should be minimal.

Laboratory Directors Views:

  • The laboratory directors provided their views on the reorganization.  They agreed that the initial assessment was needed, the process was very open and participatory, the responsibility over additional resources as the NIST budget grows is a compelling justification, accountability is important for a more effective and efficient organization, better defining the roles and responsibilities will be helpful, and that NIST will become more agile and responsive to the Organic Act under a new structure. With regard to risks, the proposal could give other individuals outside of NIST an opportunity to impose a different approach, the results may take awhile, and some aggregations of laboratories could cause cultural and relationship concerns. To address this concern, NIST plans to leave the divisions and direct management intact. Staff morale and allegiance do not appear to be a problem. 

VCAT Annual Report Input:

  • The group discussed the type of input from the VCAT which would be the most helpful to NIST.  For example, some of the members suggested that they may want to focus on the measures that NIST will use to evaluate the effectiveness of the different options or focus on the key criteria to judge the effectiveness.  Other members agreed that they were not in the position to advocate a specific structure but instead could encourage the importance of this realignment, express support and confidence in the Director and leadership team to reach the right decision, and comment on the need to address program management.    

  • Dr. Gallagher stressed that before he makes a final decision on moving forward with the laboratory realignment, he is seeking the VCAT's input on potential issues with the realignment based on their experience as well as their views on NIST going forward with the realignment.  The premise and axis should be understood by the end of February and the actual detailed plan would most likely be submitted to Congress in June. 

  • The VCAT Chair praised NIST for its "open process" and thanked the group for their valuable input which will be useful in creating the appropriate statement in support of the reorganization and documenting the reasons for this change in the Committee's Annual Report.

For more details on the NIST organization structure, see Dr. Gallagher's presentation, slides # 33-42.

2009 VCAT Annual Report Preparation, Discussion, and Feedback

This session began with a review on the proposed topics for the June and October 2010 VCAT meetings.  The members are interested in focusing on NIST capabilities, measurement services, and impact using manufacturing as an example. 

The members reviewed the draft 2009 VCAT Annual Report, inserted placeholders for additional information, and discussed the recommendations.   A statement on the value of NIST will be included at the beginning of the report as part of the executive summary of recommendations. The report will cover: 1) safety at NIST; 2) NIST's overall role in documentary standards and for standards in smart grid interoperability, healthcare IT, and cybersecurity; 3) strategic planning and performance; 4) NIST's Three-Year Programmatic Plan; 4) NIST management, leadership, staffing, and organizational structure; and 5) NIST Budget and the Recovery Act.   The report will be completed by March 3 in order to be delivered to the Secretary of Commerce for submission to Congress no later than 30 days after the President's budget is submitted.

Dr. Gallagher clarified a few areas of interest as requested by the Committee.  He reviewed NIST's role and core competencies in healthcare IT standards, and its relationship with the Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare IT within HHS.  NIST's role in healthcare IT standards is different than Smart Grid and cybersecurity.  Turning to the three-year programmatic plan, Dr. Gallagher described its benefits and remarked that it should drive effective multi-year strategic planning.  He also explained the crosswalk showing "NIST Programs by Investment Priority Area" in more detail and noted that it is not all inclusive.

In regards to the NIST budget, Dr. Gallagher reviewed the construction plans for the Boulder and Gaithersburg facilities. The group agreed on the need to complete these construction projects.

The group also discussed the need for an outreach strategy for recruiting new talent and creating visibility. 

In discussing meeting logistics, suggestions were made to consider increasing the meetings to two full days with optional laboratory tours on a third day, engaging in more interactions with the laboratory directors, and creating subcommittees for certain topics.

Closing Remarks and Adjournment

Due to inclement weather, the laboratory tours were cancelled. 

The meeting was adjourned at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, February 3, 2010. 

I hereby certify that, to the best of my knowledge, the foregoing minutes are accurate and complete.

Gail Ehrlich Executive Director, NIST Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology

Dr. Vinton Cerf Chair, NIST Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology

Created July 13, 2010, Updated September 9, 2021