Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

October 2010 VCAT Meeting Minutes





Visiting Committee Members Attending

Baer, Tom*
Bajcsy, Ruzena
Cerf, Vinton
Chand, Sujeet
Chowdry, Uma
Fleury, Paul
Haymet, Tony
Kheradpir, Shaygan
Romig, Alton
Solomon, Darlene
Taub, Alan

Ehrlich, Gail,
VCAT Exec. Dir.

NIST Leadership Board

Boehm, Jason
Brockett, Del
Celotta, Robert 
Culpepper, Michael
Dimeo, Robert,
Furlani, Cita
Gallagher, Patrick
Gebbie, Katharine
Hertz, Harry
Kayser, Rich
Kilmer, Roger
Kimball, Kevin
Porter, Gail
Robinson, David
Stanley, Marc
Sunder, Shyam
Wisniewski, Lorel
Wixon, Henry

NIST Staff

Briggman, Kimberly
Cavanagh, Richard
Coalmon, Barbara
Collica, Leslie
Courtois, Jeremie
Dewey,Maynard Scott
Dodson, Donna
Dohne, Kirk
Espina, Pedro
Evans, Dave
Fasolka, Michael
Filliben, James
Fraser, Gerald
Garris, Michael
Gayle, Frank
Goldstein, Barbara
Gupte, Prasad
Harary, Howard
Hardis, Jonathan
Herman, Martin
Indovina, Michael
Jillavenkatesa, Ajit
Jurrens, Kevin 
Kaiser, Debbie
Karam, Lisa
Kauffman, Leah
Kline, Gina
Lipe, Tom
Meagher, Stephen
Nedzelnitsky, Victor
Nico, Jeffrey
Olthoff, Jim
Ott, William 
Postek, Michael
Romine, Charles 
Schiller, Susannah
Seymour, Desmond
Shaw, Stephanie 
St. Pierre, Jim
Silver, Richard
Sriram, Ram

NIST Staff Cont.

Steel, Eric 
Sutter, Jean-Sebastian
Theofanos, Mary
Thompson, Alan
Unterweger, Michael
Warren, James
Watters, Bob 
Whetstone, James 
Wise, Stephen
Wollman, Dave


Abercrombie, Kevin- Navy Primary Standards Laboratory

Chopra, Aneesh-Office of Science and Technology Policy

Murch, Randall
Virginia Tech-National Capital Region

Noveck, Beth- 
Office of Science and Technology Policy

Palfrey, Quentin- Deputy General Counsel, DoC*

Pellegrino, Joan- Energetics Incorporated

Semer, Karen-
Air Force Metrology and Calibration Program

Tarr, Larry-
U.S. Army Primary Standards Laboratory

Weiss, Rick- Office of Science and Technology Policy

Westlake,Brittany- American Chemical Society

*Attended meeting via teleconference.

Call to Order and Announcements – Dr. Vinton Cerf, VCAT Chair

Dr. Cerf called the meeting to order at 8:28 a.m., reviewed the location of the emergency exits and other meeting logistics, and welcomed new member Uma Chowdhry, the Chief Science and Technology Officer Emeritus for DuPont. The members were requested to make notes about items and issues that should be raised in the VCAT's 2010 Annual Report since this is the penultimate meeting before the Committee prepares this report due in early 2011.

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

Presentation Summary– Dr. Gallagher welcomed new member Uma Chowdhry and highlighted her career and major honors.

The NIST reorganization is now complete and includes an executive management team comprising the NIST Director and three Associate Directors.  Hiring is underway for the Associate Director for Laboratory Programs and the Associate Director for Innovation and Industrial Services.  Kevin Kimball will serve as the Chief of Staff and Michael Herman from the Navy just came on board as the Executive Officer for Administration.  The second part of the NIST realignment covered the laboratory programs which include the Material Measurement Laboratory (MML) and the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) with the core mission of supporting the U.S. measurement system through measurement services, a focus of the current VCAT meeting. The Engineering Laboratory and the Information Technology Laboratory concentrate on technology systems and deploy its work through documentary standards efforts in such areas as cyber security, Smart Grid, and model building codes. Last year, the VCAT explored how NIST carried out its mission related to documentary standards and in the future the Committee may want to examine NIST's national user facilities comprised of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the NIST Center for Neutron Research.

Regarding budget and future plans, Dr. Gallagher noted that the FY 2012 budget discussions are still confidential. Doubling the NIST budget remains an Administration priority as reflected in the COMPETES Act passed by the House which serves as the authorization bill for NIST, but the likelihood of Senate action is slim.  The Senate marked up the FY 2011 appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, and Science which includes a seven percent increase for the NIST laboratories but none of the appropriation bills have made it through the committee process in the House due to the upcoming elections.  NIST will likely be operating under a Continuing Resolution at least until the beginning of the year.  As required by Congress, NIST is working on an updated three year plan which will focus on improving NIST measurement and standards services, enhancing the facilities and equipment that enable cutting-edge research, and promoting leadership at the frontiers of science and technology.  The plan also will identify new NIST activities to address six critical national priorities.  Dr. Gallagher also reviewed the breakout of NIST Recovery Act funding totaling $610 million and remarked that the agency was very successful in obligating these funds which created a heavy burden across the entire organization. Half of the $360 million for construction will support research facilities in U.S. universities through grants and the other half will fund construction of new facilities and renovations at the NIST sites in Gaithersburg and Boulder as labeled on the respective maps.  The remaining $240 million will support high-end equipment, post doctoral fellowships, and other programs that bring a wide spectrum of individuals to NIST.  

Turning to other topics, Dr. Gallagher provided a status report on the Department of Commerce's (DoC) policy regarding requirements for escorting and vetting foreign national guest researchers and noted that a performance based implementation policy is under consideration. In the area of safety management, Dr. Gallagher reported that the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) II held the first of two meetings at NIST on October 12 to examine the Institute's progress in addressing the findings of the original BRC and that NIST was continuing to make progress in this area.  The VCAT meeting agenda calls for Tony Haymet to provide a summary on the BRC II. With regard to Smart Grid activities, Dr. Gallagher summarized NIST's current efforts in identifying model standards for regulators to consider in their rulemaking activities.  Dr. Gallagher also described NIST's key convening role between Federal Chief Information Officers, industry, and standards developing organizations in support of cloud computing. Several examples of how NIST staff continue to achieve very strong recognition in their field were provided, including the 2010 CO-LABS Governor's Award for High-Impact Research, a 2010 GreenGov Presidential Award, Arthur S. Flemming awards, a 2010 R&D 100 award, and an Environmental Protection Agency Silver Medal for NIST efforts in the Economy, Energy, and Environmental (E3) initiative. In closing, Dr. Gallagher reviewed the meeting agenda and introduced Del Brockett, the new NIST Chief Information Officer. 

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • The VCAT's 2010 Annual Report could include a statement of support for continuing plans to double the NIST budget by 2016 and a reference to significant consequences to NIST from its Recovery Act investment choices;
  • Comparison of the NIST budget and capabilities with other National Metrology Institutes (NMIs);
  • The need for the construction of a proposed liquid helium recovery system for both Gaithersburg and Boulder sites; The need to combine security with safety when looking at management systems;
  • The involvement of  information technologies in the Smart Grid;
  • The need for standards in private, public, and hybrid cloud environments; and 
  • A summary of the National Research Council Assessment Panels for NIST.

For more details on the NIST Director's Update, see Dr. Gallagher's presentation.

Strengthening Planning and Performance Evaluation for NIST Measurement Services Session

Breakout Groups – To set the stage for this session, the VCAT members convened concurrent breakout groups in three selected NIST measurement service areas with the respective division or deputy division chief and continued their deep-dive explorations in these areas which began at the June 2010 meeting. The breakout groups focused on measurement services in 1) analytical chemistry with Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) impacting multiple sectors including food, healthcare, and environmental monitoring; 2) ionizing radiation with calibration services impacting healthcare and medical imaging; and 3) mechanical metrology with calibration services related to mass, force, vibration, and acoustical measurements. Each of these breakout groups included an overview of the measurement service including information on how NIST manages and prioritizes work in this area to meet its customer's needs.  Dr. Stephen Wise of the MML provided the overview for analytical chemistry, Dr. Lisa Karam of the PML presented the overview for ionizing radiation, and Mr. Kevin Jurrens of the Engineering Laboratory spoke about mechanical metrology.  

Strengthening Planning and Performance for NIST Measurement Services – Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Director, NIST

Presentation Summary– To provide the framework for the VCAT's discussions, Dr. Gallagher noted that NIST is taking a much more systematic and strategic look at its critically important metrology role which has its roots in the U. S. Constitution.  Reliable measurements are important to the health, safety, and well-being of the country and NIST provides the basic measurement infrastructure for the U.S. consistent with its founding legislation that makes the measurement role the heart of the NIST mission.

Furthermore, the NIST metrology role is critically important to other agencies and to the supply chain.  Under the NIST realignment, the new MML and the PML were established as the metrology laboratories with direct management responsibility for optimizing the effectiveness of the research and the supporting measurement services.  Dr. Gallagher requested that the VCAT focus its discussion on how the NIST metrology laboratories deliver their mission, not necessarily on a specific set of measurement services. A key issue is where does NIST participate in the measurement chain and who are the other participants.  To further demonstrate the leverage of NIST's unique measurement role, Dr. Gallagher provided examples of the high impact of NIST measurement services to U.S. industry and the consumer, to Federal agencies, and to State agencies. 

In closing, Dr. Gallagher described seven areas of concern that NIST identified relating to the management of NIST measurement services.  These areas cover needs assessment and analysis; program design; program execution; pricing, delivery, and other service contributions; staffing; performance metrics; and assessment.  Key issues include how does NIST determine when to develop a research program to offer a particular measurement service and how does NIST review its impact and effectiveness of its programs?  These issues and the Operating Unit's preliminary plans to address them were discussed in more detail by PML and MML leadership.

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • The NIST realignment with its emphasis on laboratory management should help address the need for a strategic and transparent process for setting priorities for measurement services and will help assure that the needs of a particular industry are well understood by having touch points at multiple levels;
  • The NIST plan for measurement services could be more compelling by clearly showing how these services are critically important to the nation's priorities for competitiveness;    
  • Defining success of NIST measurement services could involve customer satisfaction; what new services have been created that align with the nation's priorities; and what existing services have been transitioned out;
  • Gas measurement standards in support of the Clean Air Act Amendment is an example where NIST is working closely with the specialty gas producers in a high volume need area;
  • Importance of the Mutual Recognition Agreement for assuring high integrity in international measurement systems;
  • Need to determine perceived or real boundary conditions for pricing calibration services;
  • Distinction between NIST activities in the area of documentary standards versus measurement standards and systems, especially in international interactions;  
  • Counterfeiting of original parts and replacement parts is becoming an issue in the automotive industry and traceability to the manufacturing supply chain could provide a solution;
  • DoC's International Trade Administration and the DoC's United States Trade Representative involvement in trade related issues pertaining to technical documentary standards and measurement standards; and
  • Importance of identifying an unmet need in a specific area of understaffing to gain support from the effected community or industry.

For more details, see Dr. Gallagher's presentation.

Strengthening Calibration Services through Improved Focus and Planning – Dr. James Olthoff, Deputy Director for Measurement Services, Physical Measurement Laboratory, NIST

Presentation Summary– In his introductory remarks, Dr. Olthoff highlighted the importance of NIST measurement science research and expertise in measurements as a foundation for producing NIST measurement services which represent one of NIST's primary products.  He noted that the references to calibration services throughout his presentation include the delivery as well as the supporting research which are closely related.  Dr. Olthoff described how NIST calibrations provides traceability to other organizations and provided data to illustrate how this traceability sometimes results in huge leverage in critical areas such as mammograms, power and energy, mass standards performed at State Weights and Measures Laboratories, safety and performance of instrumentation at military complexes, and the Department of Energy's nuclear arsenal, time service, and load cells for the aircraft industry.  The directors of the three main primary standards laboratories for the Department of Defense (i.e., Navy, Army, and Air Force) were introduced and were available to answer any questions about their utilization of NIST measurement services.

Turning to strategic planning, NIST has many success stories that illustrate how excellent planning, communications, and customer interactions have led to successful measurement services in such areas as oscilloscope calibrations and solid state lighting.  Dr. Olthoff also provided examples of some weaknesses related to understaffing in the areas of spectral irradiance and time services, aging equipment for greenhouse gas measurements, and the loss of a research base in electrical metrology.  Unmet needs include high dose rate brachytherapy sources, a very important medical measurement, due to significant investments needed for space and related equipment.  Significant issues for calibration were highlighted and include inconsistencies in determining the relevance and importance of NIST's calibration services relative to other programs as well as the full recovery pricing policy.  Dr. Olthoff also presented five unanswered questions related to the relative importance of large and small customers; involvement in international metrology; the relative importance of technical needs versus competitive needs of customers; the impact of dissemination with no revenue generation; and the impact of no longer supporting a service that still demonstrates customer needs.  As NIST moves forward, 99 percent of all calibration income will now be in the new PML divisions, for a total of about $5.2 million. In closing, Dr. Olthoff highlighted six activities for moving forward which cover the development of a single NIST vision for calibration services, a definition of excellence for calibration services, strategic plans for each measurement service, appropriate metrics, peer assessments, and the identification of unmet needs to support resource growth.  The anticipated results from these activities include the ability to critically evaluate programs, develop dynamic programs, improve service, improve customer interactions, and act on critical measurement needs, as well as the recognition of PML as the single-point source for calibration services. 

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Relationship between NIST and the organizations that develop standards for quality management systems such as AS9100 and ISO 9000;
  • Use of NIST Measurement Assurance Programs and the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program in verifying the accuracy of measurements traceable to NIST;
  • Challenges associated with replacing the aging primary standards for AC voltage;
  • Need for a strategic request to address weaknesses in the NIST measurement services;
  • Impact of U.S. customers relying on NMIs for calibrations due to NIST full recovery pricing and the need to consider more strategic pricing models based on the market;
  • Total amount of calibration income is a very small percentage of PML's total revenue;
  • With technology becoming more consumer driven, NIST may want to consider moving to a business to consumer model by developing a branding outreach strategy to showcase its metrology capabilities to a larger population through apps (e.g., for measuring the speed of networks);
  • Difficulty of attracting new graduates to work in areas of older measurement service areas; 
  • Importance of understanding which customer segments require the added value from NIST;
  • Much of NIST's standard reference data can be downloaded and reaches end users more directly than its other measurement services; and
  • Value of NIST having more social networking sites for viral marketing of its measurement services.

For more details, see Dr. Olthoff's presentation.

Strengthening NIST's Standard Reference Materials Programs – Dr. Robert Watters, Jr., Associate Director for Measurement Services, Material Measurement Laboratory, NIST 

Presentation Summary– As an introduction to this presentation, Dr. Gallagher noted that MML has the responsibility for carrying out the Standard Reference Materials (SRM) program mission on behalf of NIST with the other laboratories providing supporting activities.  Dr. Watters provided a brief overview of the NIST SRM program which offers 1,300 products in three major categories:  chemical composition, physical properties, and engineering products. Approximately 32,000 SRM units are sold per year with $12.6 million in cost recovery income. He described the two different types of SRMs used for instrument calibrations or for verification and noted that it was more difficult to attract private sector involvement in making complex matrix reference materials for verification.  To illustrate the importance of NIST SRMs, Dr. Watters highlighted the NIST SRMs for sulfur in fossil fuels based on a very specialized high accuracy measurement developed at NIST which resulted in a benefit-cost ratio of 113.

Turning to the current status of the program, Dr. Watters provided several on-target examples of  NIST's planning and program implementation for SRMs as a result of assessing national priorities and measurement accuracy needs; convening important stakeholders; considering the need for NIST involvement and SRMs; measuring success with transactional surveys, sales, and economic impact; and measuring service delivery quality.  However, with the exception of service delivery, the approach to planning and implementation for SRMs is uneven across the Institute with little or no coordination at the NIST level.  The on-target examples included the development of the Gas-Mixture NIST traceable reference materials program in response to the Clean Air Act Amendment which resulted in a benefit-cost ratio of 21, the development of SRM 972 Vitamin D in Human Serum with nearly 1000 units sold since July 2009, and the development of the "C-30 Carotenoid Column" through laboratory research which gave rise to a set of SRMs for certification of carotenoids used as a dietary component. Sometimes NIST misses the mark as illustrated in two graphs which show the excess stock for some of the new and renewal SRMs introduced between fiscal years 2006 and 2008.  As an example, NIST's reference materials for three-dimensional tissue scaffolds missed the mark although there was good stakeholder input, a solid research foundation connected to the measurement service delivery, and a high-quality reference material produced.   

In closing, Dr. Watters presented ideas to improve the SRM program in the post realignment including adoption of a NIST-wide SRM planning process; stakeholder input with performance measures; consistent evaluation of "Why NIST?" and "Why SRM?;" documentation of both technical and business cases in SRM project submissions; and a measurement service perpetuation plan.  As an example of stakeholder input, the Association for Molecular Pathology recently requested NIST to develop 21 SRM types and NIST is in the process of analyzing this input. NIST also needs improvements in program flexibility so that it can be more market-driven in meeting the needs of its stakeholders.  In addition, NIST is questioning if it has the right mix of personnel and looking into a hybrid of science and service quality assessments for performance evaluation.    

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Impact of increasing the cost of specialty gas cylinders and the process for certifying their accuracy;
  • Possible reasons for missing the mark of selling new and renewal SRMs, such as pricing and market assumptions;
  • Suggestion for a six to 12-month pilot introduction of SRMs to better understand market dynamics;
  • Different ways to determine true consumers, such as creating a marketing department with help from business development individuals; setting up a stage gate process followed by Customer Councils; and combining domain knowledge from inside NIST with that of its partners.
  • Process for lowering the price of an SRM;
  • Need for NIST to take more ownership of pricing and marketing assumptions and then validating these assumptions;
  • Solicit advice on investment returns from Chief Technology Officers in industry; and
  • Importance of the right mixture of personnel, including business development individuals.

For more details, see Dr. Watters' presentation.

Administration's Priorities in Innovation – Mr. Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer and Associate Director for Technology, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Executive Office of the President 

Presentation Summary– In his introductory remarks, Dr. Gallagher noted Mr. Chopra is the Associate Director for Technology at OSTP and the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the Administration. Confirmed in May 2009, Mr. Chopra, who has been instrumental in NIST's role in standards and its role in key technical platforms, was invited to the VCAT meeting to share the Administration's perspective on how it views NIST. 

Mr. Chopra conveyed how important NIST is to him personally and how much he believes that NIST can be a critical player in some of the large issues confronting the President.  He also made the observation that as the President has elevated the concept of a CTO, the importance of NIST has elevated as a policy lever.  Mr. Chopra described how the President recognizes the importance of understanding the role of technology, data, and innovation in transforming the nation's health care system, energy systems, and the manufacturing base and the need for his technology team to review all policy documents to ensure that there has been a thoughtful approach to technology, data, and innovation in the overall strategy for that fundamental transformation.  NIST serves as resource to help think about the innovative ways to move a particular agenda item.  Turning to the President's strategy for American innovation, Mr. Chopra reviewed the important role of NIST in each of the three layers of the pyramid, including examples of NIST's standards activities in Smart Grid and health IT.  Mr. Chopra also described the five investment platforms of a technology vision strategy in support of the President's innovation strategy and highlighted the NIST role in these areas.  These platforms include connectivity for the President's spectrum initiative, the cloud computing initiative and consensus driven standards.  Additional information about the President's innovation strategy is available online. In closing, Mr. Chopra reiterated that NIST is an asset and its role has been elevated to help think through the Administration's technology policy framework in order to achieve the President's ambitious goals.  He also confirmed that the proposal to double the base budget of NIST was still supported by the administration but that fiscal prudence may involve austerity measures still to be determined.

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Administration's approach to health IT standards;
  • The President and the Hill's recognition of NIST as a strategic asset;
  • Administration's view on investments in support of international documentary standards;
  • The President's commitment to scientific and analytical integrity and rigor;
  • NIST's potential role in standards for learning technologies; and
  • Advanced manufacturing strategies is a priority of the Administration with the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) helping to frame a visionary approach.

Measurement and Standards Needs in Forensic Science Session

Introduction– NIST Director Dr. Gallagher opened this session and noted that there has been considerable interest on the issue of forensic science in the United States over the past year and a half since the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a study which was quite critical of the state of forensic science and its impact on the criminal justice system.  NIST is involved in this discussion because of its role in measurement standards as well as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other entities.  With speakers from the Committee that authored the report, the Office of Standards and Technology Policy (OSTP) that is working on the federal response, and the NIST Law Enforcement Standards Office, this session is intended to provide the context for a discussion on how to improve forensic science.  

Future of NIST in Advancing Positive Change in U.S. Forensic Enterprise: Policy Considerations – Dr. Randall Murch, Virginia Tech-National Capital Region, Former Member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States:  A Path Forward"

Presentation Summary– In his introductory remarks, Dr. Murch noted that he spent most of his career in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and is now an academic.  He reviewed five strategic questions of interest to the NAS study for examining the state of forensic science in the United States.  As further context, Dr. Murch described a brief "Systems of Systems" view in which he provided a term of reference to define forensic science and emphasized that it is not simply solving a crime but is one tool in a kit that can be used to reduce vulnerability, deal with threats, and reduce risk. Forensic science can contribute to answering all key investigative and prosecutorial questions in all phases of forensic investigations but, as called for in the NAS study, accuracy, reliability, validity, credibility, repeatability, and defensibility are key criteria that need to be addressed.  In his overview of the ideal forensic science system, Dr. Murch stressed the need for validation standards.  He also noted the goals for forensic methods and indicated that there is not enough research in these areas and NIST could be of help; described why "quality" is so important; and remarked that the forensic science enterprise comprised of many stakeholders and performers has problems and needs to be unified.  

Turning to the NAS study, Dr. Murch summarized its motivation, timeline, NAS contributions in other studies on forensic science (e.g., nuclear forensics and anthrax mailings), and the charge to the Committee.  The Committee's 13 recommendations cover the way that forensic science should evolve, and how it should be developed, tested, validated, and used and trained in a broad enterprise.  The study did not address DNA because it was not included in the charge; however, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the DNA "gold standard." Dr. Murch emphasized the important role NIST can play in addressing these recommendations.  OSTP is organizing the federal response to the NAS study and Dr. Murch hopes that their efforts will result in greater value and benefit to the forensic science enterprise, and emphasized the importance of the federal government talking to and listening to the stakeholders. 

In closing, Dr. Murch provided four key considerations on how NIST can advance U.S. forensic science going forward as one of the four agencies identified by name in the NAS recommendations. He emphasized that several of these recommendations should play in NIST's "sweet spots"  and that NIST and the other agencies should perform a systems analysis to determine what needs to be done and how to get there.  In addition, NIST should acquire, seek, demand, and negotiate the authority and resources to fully execute the near, mid-and long-term deliverables and impacts against specific NAS recommendations. In presenting the new strategic perspective on unifying the forensic science enterprise, Dr. Murch remarked that NIST can play very strongly and better than other organizations in the needed "systems approach."  He also listed four areas where he thinks NIST can really make contributions, including engaging the stakeholder base; questioned why the DOJ should be the only source of funding for external research funding; and showed the properties of a successful tool kit for strengthening U.S. forensic science. 

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Forensic science covers criminal investigations as well as counterterrorism;
  • The next great leap will be in nuclear biological forensics;
  • Shared resources and experiences between the national security community interested in attribution and the law community interested in criminal investigations;
  • Capabilities of the FBI laboratory and its interactions with NIST;
  • The rationale behind the study's first recommendation to create a National Institute of Forensic Science in the federal government and its importance in attracting attention to the issues;
  • The need for better coordination among the federal agencies;
  • Laboratories are accredited based on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards rather than the quality of the forensic science;
  • NIST could potentially have a role in standards needed for repositories and data bases;
  • NIST's future involvement in profiling contaminants could be helpful in chemical forensics;
  • NIST could add a high level of credibility which is fundamental to advancing change in the current system;
  • NIST's role as keeper of the standards for all of the processes, practices, training, and methodologies; and
  • NIST and the other federal agencies should focus on the quality of the science.

For more details, see Dr. Murch's presentation.

White House Response to the National Academy's Report on Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States – Mr. Rick Weiss, Assistant Director of Strategic Communications and Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President

Presentation Summary– NIST Director Dr. Gallagher announced that Mr. Weiss, the White House Liaison working most closely with the interagency Subcommittee on Forensic Science, cannot provide a detailed status report on this Committee due to the pre-decisional nature of many of their activities.  In his introductory material, Mr. Weiss provided an overview of OSTP which reports directly to the President and OSTP's National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) which addresses science and technology policy issues that span a number of federal agencies and chaired by Dr. John Holdren, the President's science advisor. 

The Subcommittee on Forensic Science, which falls under NSTC's Committee on Science, is very active and was created soon after the release of the NAS report on Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States to address ways to implement its recommendations. Mr. Weiss reviewed the Subcommittee's charter, leadership, membership, interagency working groups (IWGs), and noted that co-chair Mark Stolorow is from NIST and that the federal agency members are high-level subject matter experts.  To achieve its goal, the Subcommittee will inventory and analyze activities already underway aimed at addressing forensic science challenges and will develop strategic plans with particular attention to the priorities in the NAS report. Since forensics is predominantly non-federal in nature, the Subcommittee decided to solicit state and local representatives to be members of the IWGs and to get their buy in for the recommendations from the bottom up.  Approximately 50 representatives now sit on the five IWGs including academics, state and local prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and professionals from state and local crime labs. 

Mr. Weiss also highlighted some of the focus areas being addressed by the Subcommittee and the IWGs. To help identify the precise research gaps in the scientific underpinnings of several forensic disciplines, OSTP has contracted with the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) to conduct a bibliometric analysis which compares "foundational" literature underpinning current laboratory standards and practices with literature being cited by contemporary thought leaders.  The Subcommittee will convene an expert panel in early 2011 to review these findings to help target future funding to fill these gaps.  In recognition of the importance of laboratory accreditation, the Subcommittee is considering different approaches and costs to achieving a greater proportion or ideally all of the forensic laboratories accredited to the ISO standards. In describing the different challenges of increasing the accreditation rates for federal and non-federal forensic labs, Mr. Weiss remarked that this long term goal will be more difficult for the state and local labs.  He also reviewed the progress on promulgating a code for ensuring ethics and professional responsibility.  The IWGs are working on such issues as Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) Interoperability, options for reorganizing or reforming Scientific Working Groups, and human observer bias and sources of human error for which a very productive workshop was held on this topic.  Looking ahead, the Subcommittee is generating a series of white papers and formal recommendations related to the NAS report, some of which are already under consideration by OSTP and other White House Offices.  In closing, Mr. Weiss emphasized that a White House priority is to implement some of these recommendations as fast as possible.

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Weighing the importance of forensic science related to weapons of mass destruction versus criminal arrests based on bad evidence;
  • Importance of accrediting forensic labs against ISO standards;
  • Potential role of the Boards of Medical Examiners; and
  • Intellectual property stealing of planned germ plasm.

For more details, see Mr. Weiss' presentation.

Overview of Forensic Science Activities at NIST – Ms. Susan Ballou, Program Manager for Forensic Science, Law Enforcement Standards Office, NIST

Presentation Summary– Ms. Ballou's overview of forensic science activities at NIST covered a summary of the Institute's long history and reputation in this area; background on the Innocence Project; NIST contributions in computer forensics, fire investigations, drug detection, biometrics, firearms, and DNA; and NIST's participation in expert working groups.  NIST's involvement in forensic science began in 1932 during the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping when the FBI sought help from the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) due to its excellence in metrology, objective science, and integrity.  Since then, NBS/NIST has randomly received requests to assist in various areas of forensic science.  More recently, NIST's activities address some of the issues highlighted in the Innocence Project as well as the recent NAS report. 

Turning to specific activities, NIST started its computer forensic tool testing program in 1998 in response to a request for help from the Department of Defense and the FBI to ensure that the right tools are being used in its investigations.  The National Software Reference Library contains validated hash codes which help to rapidly identify files on computer systems which have reduced the investigation time from two weeks to a couple of hours. NIST technical capabilities are used also to assist fire investigators in determining arson as well as helping firefighters know when it is safe to enter a particular environment. For example, NIST supported many high profile fire investigation cases, including the World Trade Center collapse and the 2005 Station Nightclub fire. In regards to trace drug detection, NIST is involved with ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) systems as well as unobtrusive testing methods for detecting drugs of abuse. NIST has been active in biometrics since 1986 as reflected in an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/NIST-Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) standard in this field and ITL's expertise in latent fingerprint technologies.  In the area of firearms, NIST spent several years studying the viability of a national ballistic imaging database and reported its findings to the NAS.  NIST also developed SRMs for a standard bullet and casing and for additives in smokeless powder.  With regard to DNA, NIST discovered a new technology to identify the DNA in the World Trade Center powder, developed several SRM's related to DNA, and developed a new device for detecting hidden graves, such as those under concrete.  In closing, Ms. Ballou summarized the different types of NIST-developed SRMs and standard reference databases in support of the forensic community and described three expert working groups at NIST in the areas of biological evidence preservation, AFIS interoperability, and human factors on latent print analysis.  

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Use of enantiomeric composition for drug detection;
  • Funding for NIST forensic science activities consist of about five percent from NIST appropriations  and the remaining 95 percent from the DOJ and the FBI; and
  • Opportunities for engaging the forensic science community in adopting standards.

For more details, see Ms. Ballou's presentation.

NIST Forensic Science Activities: Latent Fingerprints – Mr. Michael Indovina, Computer Scientist, Information Access Division, Information Technology Laboratory, NIST

Presentation Summary– Ms. Cita Furlani, Director of the Information Technology Laboratory, introduced the speaker and noted that NIST's work in latent fingerprint identification is part of the biometrics effort being done collaboratively with the FBI for almost 40 years.  In his overview of NIST's forensic science activities in latent fingerprints, Mr. Indovina explained how these efforts relate to and actually predate the recent NAS Report and are geared towards making the science of latent fingerprints a more mature discipline.  NIST activities are focused on increasing the reliability, accuracy and validity of latent fingerprint analysis. Its work in fingerprint standards promotes data interoperability and sharing. Its recent work in interoperability latent fingerprint features and its usability project is helping to uncover the human factors which affect the accuracy and reliability of the latent examination process while its latent technology testing project is advancing the measurement of automated latent fingerprint identification technologies and promoting their continued improvement.  

Mr. Indovina described the difficulty of identifying latent fingerprints along with examples of their importance in homeland security, law enforcement, and criminal justice; summarized NIST milestones in fingerprints beginning in the 1960s; explained how NIST interacts collaboratively with its customers and the community consisting of industry, academia, government agencies, and law enforcement entities for improvement in automated latent fingerprint matching technology; and provided examples of technologies and challenges involved in a latent identification search workstation with NIST's activities in these areas.  For example, Mr. Indovina reviewed the history of the ANSI/NIST-ITL standard for the data exchange of fingerprint features used throughout the world from 1986 to the present.  Based on NIST's 40-year history in fingerprint standards and measurements, the agency is well-positioned to lead the national and international efforts in these areas.  

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Examiner's ability to manually mark-up features;
  • Accuracy of recognition systems;
  • NIST's design of the iPhone standard user interface for collecting fingerprints; and
  • Feasibility of using MapReduce tactics for parallel processing for fingerprint matching.

For more details, see Mr. Indovina's presentation.

Laboratory Tour: The Role of NIST in Forensic DNA Typing ­– Dr. Peter M. Vallone, Research Chemist, Applied Genetics Group, Biochemical Science Division, Material Measurement Laboratory, NIST

The VCAT members had the opportunity to engage directly with NIST researchers during the laboratory tour of work related to the role of NIST in forensic DNA typing.  The human identity project team at NIST conducts research to benefit the forensic DNA community, playing a vital role in creating new tools that allow DNA forensic laboratories to be more effective. For example, the team creates and certifies standard reference materials used to calibrate forensic labs for NIST traceability; conducts interlaboratory studies to help determine ways to make forensic testing more uniform in crime labs; produces new assays for improved recovery of information from degraded DNA; evaluates new loci for potential use in human identity applications; and generates standard information made available on the NIST Short Tandem Repeat DNA Internet Database (STRBase) website.  All of these activities are made possible through funding from the National Institute of Justice.

Blue Ribbon Commission on Management and Safety II, Interim Summary – Dr. Tony Haymet, Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Presentation Summary– As a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on Management and Safety II, Dr. Haymet noted that the BRC II will conduct the second half of its review next week at the Boulder campus and that this presentation is only an interim report, not an official report.  The report is expected to include a lot of good news on NIST's significant changes over the past two years.  His presentation covered a review of the following: 

  • The five core findings of the original BRC;
  • The new NIST safety goal which declares that all accidents are preventable;
  • The new organizational structure in which the Office of Safety, Health, and Environment (OSHE) reports directly to the Associate Director for Management Resources;
  • A list of safety programs developed or revised over the past two years including details on the new automated Safety Assistance Tracking System and a new program on handling dispersible engineered nanomaterials;
  • NIST success with integrating safety in its construction and renovation activities; his personal concerns regarding audit functions, knowing what success looks like, and the two Associate Director vacancies; and
  • Three recent anecdotal accidents which indicate that NIST still has a long way to go.  

In Dr. Haymet's view, NIST has made such dramatic progress in the last two years as a result of the staff's eagerness, willingness, and readiness to embrace a safety culture.  The BRC II is of the opinion that the direction of change was great and that the velocity of change was outstanding due to the new management structure which reflects that safety is a core value of NIST and the increase in the number of professional employees in OSHE. The BRC II will most likely have positive comments about the new incident reporting and investigation system.  Dr. Haymet commended Stella Fiotes, the Director of the Office of Facilities and Property Management, and her team for successfully integrating safety as a core value in NIST's large amount of new construction and renovation activities ranging from building design to selection of contractors.  The BRC II has a major concern with the audit function and will encourage NIST to seek best practices for adopting and developing metrics, and to undergo an external audit at some point.  Two other major concerns are that the Laboratory Directors could not clearly articulate what success looks like and that the two Associate Director positions vital for cultural change are still vacant. In closing, Dr. Haymet noted that the BRC II report will hopefully help NIST not only regain an average safety status but to think about the goal of being a lofty pinnacle that other organizations would like to attain. 

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Based on the earlier laboratory tour, the use of safety glasses is an area for continuous improvement;
  • Safety is a line management responsibility in many companies;
  • Need for a safety audit function including the development of metrics and data collection;
  • Safety training requirements, such as a role-based approach, are still under development;
  • Ways in which some companies require mandatory annual safety training;
  • The new incident reporting and investigation system launched on August 30, 2010, requires that every single incident be reported regardless if the individual is a NIST employee;
  • A change in the safety culture takes time;
  • The NIST NanoFab badge system which ties to instrument safety training is an example of a best practice;
  • Consequences to researchers for safety violations are known in other organizations; and
  • Need to integrate NIST's emergency planning and drilling activities with the hazard management program.

For more details, see Dr. Haymet's presentation.

External Needs Assessment Process – Ms. Clare Allocca, Director, External Needs Assessment, NIST

Presentation Summary– Ms. Allocca reviewed the motivation and approach for providing a credible identification of stakeholder needs through the external needs assessment process, the status of the three workshop topics explored in FY 2010, the criteria used for the selection of future topics, and examples of possible future topics.  She requested that the VCAT provide their input on the criteria used in considering topics for FY 2011, any specific topics needed, and any other guidance that can help NIST make even better decisions.

Ms. Allocca described how the external needs assessment workshop process is just one mechanism for NIST to achieve earlier and broader customer and stakeholder involvement in identifying future priorities and measurement challenges as well as external drivers and opportunities.  External steering committees comprised of key technology leaders were heavily involved in the workshops.  The draft workshop summaries are available for two of the FY 2010 topics:  Advancing Photovoltaics and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Quantification.  The associated Opportunities Documents are targeted for October and November 2010 respectively.  A much smaller workshop on Advanced Battery and Energy Storage Technology was held in September 2010 and the report is targeted for late October 2010.  NIST is currently exploring about 30 topics for future workshops, including forensics, broadband communications, advanced robotics, wind energy, electronic materials, and manufacturing. Ms. Allocca reviewed some of the selection criteria for these topics which include the potential impact to NIST, the potential importance to the U.S. and the world based on external trends, and the potential national impact.  

Discussion – The group discussed the following topics:

  • Context for NIST involvement in an energy technology area workshop is supported by the Situation Analysis performed by NIST which helps identify appropriate partners, leaders, and key questions;
  • Selection criteria for the measurement topics include financial, environmental, and societal impact;
  • Favorable impression from a Greenhouse Gas workshop participant on NIST leadership in identifying measurement issues and educating other federal government agencies;
  • Use of the Heilmeier questions for program planning;
  • Mechanisms for gathering input on topics from various groups within NIST;
  • Life sciences was specifically addressed in a very large conference co-hosted by NIST in 2008 with VCAT involvement in response to concerns on how NIST assesses external drivers for its programs and this conference gave rise to the idea for the external needs assessment workshops;
  • Life sciences is a strategic priority area for NIST;
  • VCAT's need for a more holistic view of NIST's priorities and gaps;
  • Selection and alignment of specific workshop topics to NIST's investment priority areas;
  • Consideration for the National Academies to conduct a scan as the basis for selecting the workshop topics;
  • Proposal for a small workshop on smart materials; and
  • Need for a heat or matrix map for all of NIST that reflects national priorities, use cases, outcomes, and the unsolved needs as a framework for its focus areas.  

For more details, see Ms. Allocca's presentation.

Wrap-Up Sessions

The VCAT Chair and Vice Chair led wrap-up sessions each day to discuss the members' ideas on possible points to cover in the 2010 VCAT Annual Report based on the topics raised during this meeting or other items of interest. The members noted the importance of targeting key messages and identifying themes for Congress, the main recipient of the report.  As context, the NIST Director described the distinction between the VCAT's advice provided during the meeting and the messages provided in the Annual Report and noted the benefits of both channels of communication.  The group agreed that the Annual Report should follow last year's structure and be brief.  The VCAT Vice Chair suggested that the February 2011 VCAT meeting should include a topic on how NIST will function assuming its demand will exceed its resources.

The main topics discussed for consideration in the Annual Report include the following:

  • Measurement services and the need for a more appropriate business model;
  • Value of the NIST realignment;
  • NIST participation in international standards and its continued progress in documentary standards;
  • Foreign national guest researcher policy;
  • The importance of NIST as a strategic player in supporting the President's priorities;
  • The need for a national strategic innovation policy framework to drive long-term public investment;
  • Forensic activities at NIST; and
  • Response to the President's budget

The NIST Director expressed his appreciation to the VCAT members for their critical input, the NIST staff for their help with the meeting logistics, and his other colleagues for their participation. 

The meeting was adjourned at 2:22 pm on Wednesday, October 14, 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 December 15, 2010, Updated September 9, 2021