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NIST: A National Resource for the Forensics Community

MS: Dr. Patrick Gallagher was confirmed as the 14th Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, on November 5, 2009. Dr. Gallagher provides high-level oversight and direction for NIST. The agency promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology. NIST's fiscal year 2010 resources include $856.6 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, $49.9 million in service fees, and $101.5 million from other agencies.

The agency employs about 2,900 scientists, engineers, researchers, technicians, support staff, and administrative personnel at two main locations in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Boulder Colorado, in addition to other locations. Dr. Gallagher had served as Deputy Director since 2008. Prior to that he served for four years as the Director of the NIST Center for Neutron Research, NCNR--a national user facility for neutron scattering on the NIST Gaithersburg campus. The NCNR provides a broad range of neutron diffraction and spectroscopy capability with thermal and cold neutron beams, and is presently the nation's most-used facility of this type.

Dr. Gallagher received his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Pittsburgh in 1991. In addition to his recently acquired enthusiasm for forensic science, his research interests include neutron and X-ray instrumentation and studies of soft, condensed matter systems such as liquid, polymers, and gels. In 2000, Dr. Gallagher was a NIST agency representative at the National Science and Technology Council, NSTC. He's been active in the area of U.S. policy for scientific user facilities and was a chair of the Interagency Working Group on Neutron and Light Source Facilities under the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Currently, he serves as co-chair of the Standards Subcommittee under the White House National Science and Technology Council. It's a pleasure for me to introduce our Director. In addition to being a nice guy, he's also very capable at what he does, so it's a pleasure to have a boss who knows what he's doing. And on that note I'd like to introduce to you Dr. Pat Gallagher. (APPLAUSE)

Pat Gallagher: Good morning, everybody. I can tell it's a Monday morning. It's also a distinct pleasure for me to join you this morning and kick off, I like the brave tone of the first annual, this shows the intention to keep this going, but this is actually a remarkable event to get two long-standing collaborators, the National Institutes of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to have a joint symposium, a conference to share information and to build the deep research ties that we need to work closely together. And so it's a pleasure for me to join you today, both as co-host and as a participant this morning to kick this off.

NIST and NIJ, in fact, have a long tradition of working together, going back as John [Laub] pointed out, nearly 40 years now. And I think that you're going to hear through the next three days a lot of highlights, progress reports, and hopefully deep discussions about these many areas. I think it's actually no surprise that we would find ourselves in such strong collaboration--NIJ with its mission to foster science that advances the practice of law enforcement, and NIST, which is the nation's measurement laboratory--it would be natural for us to find a deep set of issues to work closely on together. And I think you're going to hear a lot of this interesting work over the next three days.

In fact, I find it interesting, the history with NIST in forensic science actually goes back nearly to our founding. NIST is one of the nation's oldest national laboratories, founded in 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards, which many folks still remember us by the previous name. And in fact, going back at that time, it actually started to function immediately by 1912 as the nation's first criminal crime laboratory.

In particular, Wilmer Souder was the scientist with the National Bureau of Standards and became one of the early scientists doing forensic science, in fact, I guess his real claim to fame, his most famous case was helping to identify and convict Bruno Hauptmann for the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby in 1932. Souder also then worked with the FBI to establish their crime laboratory in 1932. So it's a remarkable history going all the way back really to the roots of NIST, and again, should serve as no surprise that these two agencies work so closely together.

So my job this morning is to tell you a little bit about NIST and make a few comments hopefully to stimulate your thinking in terms of what we do and how we can work together.

NIST was founded actually as part of the Treasury Department only because it predated the founding of the Commerce Department. As soon as Commerce was founded, the National Bureau of Standards moved to the Commerce Department where we have been ever since. And as I said we are really thought of as the nation's measurement laboratory to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology.

Addressing national needs through measurement science has always been a key part of the NIST mission, whether that's forensic science as we heard about, or whether that's work on the war efforts during World War II, or whether that's work on the World Trade Center investigation after 9/11, NIST has always been called to apply its expertise in measurement science to address critical national problems. In my view this call, this recent call to address and strengthen the forensic science infrastructure of the United States is one of those needs. And that explains my renewed enthusiasm for forensic science, Mark [Stolorow].

So NIST, to think of us programmatically, the best way to do it is that we have four major program areas. The largest and most significant in terms of resources and personnel is the NIST Laboratory Program. I'll talk a little bit about that. That's what most of the people who work at NIST do. And it also explains most of the facilities that you see around us. We have two major campuses. The largest is the one you're on, here in Gaithersburg, Maryland. We also have another laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. And we also have a series of joint institutes with universities and other organizations and a few other locations around the country.

But we also have three programs that are extramural programs that work primarily through grant programs outside of the agency. The first of these is the Hollings MEP Program where NIST provides funds to a set of centers for small and midsized manufacturers across the United States. This is part of our mission to promote competitiveness. We also sponsor the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, which recognizes top performing organizations in terms of how they manage and perform. And the Technology Innovation Program, which funds high-risk, high-payoff research in areas of critical national need. And many of those calls have been in areas of advanced manufacturing.

The Laboratory Program is probably going to be what your conference focuses on, because that's really the measurement science tie that we have in this area. And we recently reorganized at NIST, and the best way to think of our laboratory programs now is really in three major theme areas. NIST has a mission to promote and advance the state of the art in measurement science. It does that primarily through two laboratories--a physical measurement laboratory and a material measurement laboratory--that specialize in cutting-edge research at the forefront of making measurements, either physical measurements on physical quantities or in characterizing materials.

The way that research is often translated to action, a key element of NIST work, is through measurement standards. We disseminate best practices protocols, and we also provide the measurement infrastructure that underpins accurate measurements from measurement standards to traceable quantities, calibration reference materials, things of that type. And, of course, that has deep ties with the work you're going to be talking on.

NIST also has two laboratories that specialize in areas of technology. Our Information Technology Laboratory and our Engineering Laboratory focus on systems of technologies in broad areas. So, for example, the Information Technology Laboratory supports work in advancing cyber security for federal IT systems, usability research for IT, large data sets--much of the work that you're familiar with in that area: cloud computing, electronic voting, things of that type. Our Engineering Laboratory also supports technology systems in fire research, in advanced buildings, in construction, advanced manufacturing, things of that type.

One of the key areas where that research effort is disseminated is through documentary standards--working with industry consortia to develop standards that address interoperability of the performance of these technology systems. In the United States, of course, these documentary standards are the responsibility of industry not of government, so our role in that case is really to work with industry to develop strong technical and science-based documentary standards. And again, technology plays a key role in forensic science and so there's a deep involvement with those two laboratories as well.

And finally, we have a series of national user facilities. These are collections of measurement capability that are unique or hard to replicate at this scale, and when Congress appropriates funding to do this, it often comes with the mandate that we provide these measurement services nationally, usually on a merit base.

So we have two of these major facilities. One is the Center for Neutron Research, which is a reactor base facility here on this campus. It specializes in using the reactor to generate neutrons, which probe the properties, both chemical and structural properties of materials. That program, too, has had a role in forensic science in the past, in particular, trace chemical analysis. And the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, which is a collection of capabilities that we have to study nano materials. And again, these six laboratories are spanned primarily on our two campuses.

So let me just make a few final remarks on where we are in forensic science. From a policy perspective, everyone's attention was caught by the forensic report issued by the National Research Council in 2009. It's easy to catch everyone's attention when you have a harshly worded report. But it was an interesting report in the sense that it illuminated basically a call for action on how to strengthen the scientific underpinnings of forensic measurements and made a number of recommendations that Mark [Stolorow] has already talked about.

It also specifically brought NIJ and NIST into its both discussions and recommendations. So I think it's timely for us to continue to focus on this and to, in particular, look at the way that we strengthen the role of standards in disseminating and underpinning forensic measurements with the best possible methodologies and to use this first annual conference as a way of initiating this discussion and how we take strong steps to strengthen these programs, just as this report is causing us to take looks both within our two agencies and how we strengthen and realign these programs.

The other interesting thing about this from a policy perspective is the fact that the signature recommendation, which was basically to blow everything up and start over with a new agency, is likely not to happen. And what that means instead is that it calls for very strong leadership at the interagency level to come up with a series of recommendations that meet the requirements, in other words, the functional need that that report was calling for, even if the solution that was put in place isn't going to be the solution.

And one of the key ways this has being done is at the White House level through the infrastructure known as the National Science and Technology Council. The National Science and Technology Council is basically the analog of the National Security Council or the National Economic Council. These are devices used within the White House to bring together the agencies to work together on a particular problem, and the working level, the full National Science and Technology Council, is chaired by the President and is comprised of the Cabinet.

But that's not where they're discussing forensic science. It's done through a series of working groups and key among these, in fact, one of the most active has been this subcommittee on forensic science currently under way within the NSTC. And while their work is still ongoing, and this is an interagency process, so it's not a public process, this is going to play, whatever it says, is going to play a key role in framing the actions of the government in a coordinated way across multiple departments. So this is going to be very important.

Meanwhile, we're going to, at NIST one of the things that you're going to hear about is that as I alluded to earlier, the forensic science activities are really spread across all six of our laboratories; it's not housed in any one particular area. To address that, the Office of Law Enforcement Standards plays a critical role in coordinating the activities across all of our laboratories in providing both the national visibility of its program and the essential internal coordination of its efforts, and you're going to hear a lot about these particular areas over this conference over the next few days.

And so once again, let me join my colleague, [Laub], in welcoming you to this conference. I'm delighted you're here. If there's anything we can do at NIST to make your stay more enjoyable and more productive, please don't hesitate to let us know. Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE)

MS: Thank you very much Drs. Laub and Gallagher for your introductions. While we have them present on-site, we thought we would take some opportunity for questions and answers of these two distinguished guests. And this is the opportunity to ask any questions pertaining to forensic science at NIJ or at NIST. Are there any questions that you'd like to direct to Dr. Lob or Dr. Gallagher? Yes, sir?

Listen to a .mp3 of the speech

Created December 30, 2010, Updated October 1, 2016