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Response to June 2004 VCAT Report to NIST Director

July 28, 2004

Ms. April Schweighart
Chair, Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology
National Institute of Standards and Technology
3205 Barker Hollow Pass
Austin, TX 78739

Dear April,

Thank you for your feedback on the June 8 - 9, 2004 Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) meeting. As usual, the VCAT helps NIST see both our strengths and the areas where we can improve to ensure that we are maximizing our ability to foster innovation, trade, security, and jobs. NIST continues to evolve to higher levels of performance as of result of your valuable feedback.

Strategic Planning
I share your enthusiasm for the NIST 2010 Strategic Plan and associated management and outreach efforts. I expect that the revised NIST 2010 Strategic Plan and heightened emphasis on NIST outreach efforts will continue to move us toward being a more focused and responsive organization. You made a number of important recommendations to help improve our strategic planning efforts, and we will respond to each as detailed below.

Strategic Focus Areas
You ask that we share with you the specific funding levels associated with each SFA and how much of that funding is dedicated to new projects started in response to the plan relative to pre-existing research programs. As I noted in my presentation on NIST 2010 implementation, at the outset of each fiscal year the NIST Director reviews OU Operating Plans for alignment to NIST 2010 and other purposes. We will be entering the next review cycle this fall, and look forward to sharing more details about the SFA and other funding trends at the December VCAT meeting. .

Performance Metrics
You ask that we include improved metrics, both short- and long- term that are consistent with the Baldrige framework and aid in performance evaluation and transparency. Currently we are working on the next generation of the NIST Balanced Scorecard and plan to include implementation metrics of the type you suggest. Our Senior Management Board is scheduled to review these and other aspects of our revised Scorecard later this summer, and we anticipate discussing our overall approach to the Scorecard with you during the September meeting in Boulder.

You also ask that we consider, as a performance measure for implementation of NIST 2010, an evaluation of progress in meeting target investment levels for each objective (including other agency funding). As discussed above, we evaluate internal investment decisions on an annual basis and will present the net results on our OU-level spending data in December. In addition, we use the NIST 2010 Strategic Plan to guide our requests for new appropriations through the annual budget cycle. To date, we have not set specific total investment targets for each component of the Strategic Plan, in large measure because adding this type of information would make our plan subject to the considerably more formal and restricted processes required to manage the federal budget. Within the context of these restrictions, we will seek to improve our ability to specify and convey future investment scenarios associated with our next generation strategic plan (which we have referred to as "version 2").

Other Agency Funding
You have asked that we develop a strategy for obtaining and managing other agency funding, particularly in such areas as the Homeland Security and Biosystems SFAs. To date, NIST has managed OA funding and programmatic relationships at the OU level, with general NIST criteria used as boundaries for acceptable levels and types of OA support. We will present these criteria and related OA funding trends to you during the September meeting, and will continue our customary practice of providing OA funding data in our total funding portfolio for the current and most recent fiscal year

You made a number of recommendations to improve NIST external collaborations. As we have discussed, NIST views external partnerships as a key implementation channel for realizing NIST's long-term goals, and we have put considerable management effort into identifying and building strategic partnerships. We will continue to update the VCAT on the direction and level of success of these efforts on a regular basis. We also will seek to improve, as you suggest, our methods for evaluating the relative success of these efforts over time.

Human Resources
You asked that the strategic plan include human resource goals that identify the specific talents and skills needed in each SFA along with measures of success, such as the number of external staff awards in each SFA. Over time, we anticipate building a NIST-wide capacity to improve our long-term strategic management of human resources. To this end, each of NIST's OUs currently is evaluating the skill sets needed for their SFA research efforts.

Organizational Excellence
You recommend that we place more emphasis on the "organizational excellence" goal in the NIST 2010 Plan, particularly as a means for implementing the Plan's programmatic goals. The objectives specified under this goal focus on people, customers, and IT resources; each of these areas is embedded in the NIST-wide Balanced Scorecard, which we will present to you in September.

You have suggested that NIST provide more specific downstream impacts for each of the SFA tables in the strategic plan. We look forward to presenting our entire performance evaluation system at the September meeting in Boulder and we will include a discussion of SFA specific metrics at that time.

Globalization and the National Measurement System (NMS)
You recommend that the NIST strategic plan be more explicit about globalization as a new context for both NIST and other national measurement institutes, including possible changes to their roles and impacts on U.S. competitiveness in global markets. Currently these concerns are being addressed through the development of a white paper on the National Measurement System.

We agree with your recommendations to be more proactive in our outreach efforts, including providing learning opportunities to members of Congress who may be unaware of NIST's impacts. It is imperative that we continue to focus on outreach activities with industry leaders, and continue to host laboratory tours for as many of our stakeholders and business leaders as possible. Also, we are taking seriously your recommendation to expand our key message to capture our "quality of life" mission and activities. We agree that we should bring the message we are using for external outreach closer into alignment with our current mission statement.

You have asked for regular presentations on budget trend data and in particular, other agency funding levels for the NIST laboratories by Program area. Also, you show interest in learning more about the budget process, reprogramming requirements, and related budget topics. Your interest is greatly appreciated and welcomed. We will provide the updates that you have requested at the VCAT quarterly meetings and we agree that these are topics that should be part of the new VCAT member orientation.

NIST Extramural Programs
Your recommendation that NIST explore opportunities to leverage ATP's assessment process of promising innovative technologies by providing some type of rating system for unfunded proposals will be taken under consideration. However, ATP cannot endorse proposals and we would have to determine if there is a way to add value to unfunded applicants while staying within the boundaries of ATP's current and well-designed proposal evaluation and selection processes.

We agree that MEP should continue to explore strategic partnerships with other agencies. We anticipate discussing the MEP Program's future business plans and opportunities once the funding outlook for FY 2005 is clarified.

Other Observations
Your positive comments help to confirm that NIST is responding to your recommendations and your feedback continues to help us sharpen our analysis and planning of programs.

We share your views about NIST continuing to focus on outreach activities with industry leaders in lieu of pursuing a high-level commission. Certainly, NIST is building greater awareness, appreciation, and support for the organization as a result of purposeful outreach efforts. I sincerely appreciate all of the time and efforts that the VCAT has given to spreading the word about the importance of NIST's programs.

We also are very proud of the Baldrige National Quality Program and its impact on the success of U.S. organizations in achieving organizational excellence. Sister Mary Jean Ryan's presentation was an excellent testimony illustrating the far reaching impacts of Baldrige.

We appreciate all of your suggestions and ask that you continue to help NIST by monitoring our progress on these initiatives and helping us to set priorities. Your open and constructive input is critical to NIST's success and we value your commitment to helping NIST become a stronger organization with an ever-expanding impact on innovation, trade, security, and jobs.

I also look forward to another productive meeting and your participation in the rededication ceremony in September in Boulder!



Hratch G. Semerjian
Acting Director

Created August 18, 2009, Updated September 9, 2021