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Summary Report on Scientific Integrity

Founded in 1901, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST's mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. NIST carries out its mission through four cooperative programs: the NIST Laboratories, conducting research that advances that nation's technology infrastructure and is needed by U.S. industry to continually improve products and services; the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, which promotes performance excellence among U.S. manufacturers, service companies, educational institutions, health care providers, and nonprofit organizations, conducts outreach programs, and manages the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award which recognizes performance excellence and quality achievement; the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a nationwide network of local centers offering technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers; and the Technology Innovation Program, which provides cost-shared technologies that address critical national and societal needs.

In accordance with the Memorandum of December 17, 2010, from the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, NIST is currently working to update its relevant policies, including through revision of NIST Administrative Manual (NIST Manual), to more broadly address issues of Scientific Integrity. Relevant policies currently in effect are summarized below.

I.  Foundation of Scientific Integrity in Government

NIST has in place a number of policies and procedures to ensure the integrity of the scientific and technological information it develops and disseminates to the public. Those policies and procedures include rigorous internal peer review of any published scientific and technological information.

The NIST Manual sets forth policies and defines responsibilities that apply to the communication of NIST technical program results by staff members, guest researchers, research associates, and others who participate in the performance of NIST technical programs. Those NIST Manual policies and procedures explicitly apply to technical publications in all media including (but not limited to) hardcopy print media and machine-readable media (magnetic disk, magnetic tape, electronic storage devices, CD-ROM, and other forms of optical storage of information), and photographic film, as well as to all transmittals of new findings from NIST technical programs regardless of the means of communication, e.g., communication of new findings by telephone, telefax, direct electronic data transfer, videotape, or other special means.

Thus, for example, the NIST Manual explains that all NIST technical communications are derived from the technical activities of its employees and supported by the technological records (e.g., research notebooks) they maintain. It is NIST policy that all NIST employees engaged in research and development activities are responsible for maintaining a thorough and accurate record of their work by keeping a research notebook following internal Operating Unit (OU) policies.

Recognizing that scientific data at NIST are increasingly generated, stored and reported digitally, the NIST Leadership Board established a Scientific Data Lifecycle Management Working Group in December of 2009, to study the collection, storage, use, repurposing and preservation of NIST's digital scientific data. Composed of scientists and managers from across the Institute, the NIST Working Group was formed as a response to a report by the Interagency Working Group on Digital Data (IWGDD) operating under the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The IWGDD report, entitled "Harnessing the Power of Digital Data for Science and Society,"1 called attention to the need for Federal research organizations to establish scientific data management policies, and underscored the risks of failing to do so. In carrying out its charter, the NIST Working Group also considered that the Administration has promoted a higher level of transparency, accessibility, and citizen engagement with the work products and operations of all Federal agencies. These factors served as the impetus to review and suggest improvements to NIST's management of digital data. The NIST Working Group is expected to issue its final report and recommendations in the second quarter of 2011.

All official writing (as defined in Departmental Administrative Order DAO 219-1) must be reviewed by an internal Editorial Review Board, and approved for publication in accordance with procedures defined in the NIST Manual. The Editorial Review Boards at NIST are responsible for the final review and approval of all technical manuscripts produced by NIST.

There are two NIST Editorial Review Boards, which are Standing Committees of NIST and are responsible to the Director: (1) The Washington Editorial Review Board (WERB) is responsible for the review and approval of technical manuscripts prepared by authors and coauthors at Gaithersburg; and (2) The Boulder Editorial Review Board (BERB) is responsible for the review and approval of technical manuscripts prepared by authors and coauthors at Boulder. All NIST technical manuscripts must be reviewed and approved by the responsible division chief with the originating OU before the manuscript is submitted to the appropriate NIST editorial Review Board.

According to the NIST Manual, Editorial Review Board decisions that do not approve publications are accompanied by recommendations to the author(s) that, if accepted, will result in approval; if such recommendations are not accepted, the authors may seek resolution of the issues through direct discussions with the Chairperson of the Editorial Review Board. After all other remedies have been exhausted, the Editorial Review Board decision may be appealed through the responsible OU Director to the NIST Director. If a decision by an Editorial Review Board is overruled by the NIST Director, the Editorial Review Board must be informed.

The NIST Manual also contemplates that NIST employees may publish "nonofficial" manuscripts subject to prior review to ensure that the government has neither proprietary nor regulatory interest.

The NIST Manual expresses NIST policy to strive to publish openly, widely, and promptly the results of all technical programs. Therefore, it is noted that agreements to perform technical work for other organizations (which would include other Federal agencies) must include a provision that addresses the publication of such results either by NIST or by the sponsoring organization, and that any provision for the delay of publication beyond three months after the completion of the technical work, or any provision that would otherwise limit publication, requires the approval of the responsible NIST OU Director.

Under NIST Policy, NIST reports of work sponsored by other Federal agencies, regardless of the form they take or the media used, are subject to the same quality control requirements as all other technical reports of NIST. These requirements include the procedures for review and approval specified in the NIST Manual.

NIST affirmatively encourages excellence in published research through the performance payout process of the NIST Personnel Management Demonstration Project or through the SES performance bonus process, as appropriate. NIST awards available to recognize exceptional authorship or editorship through the Incentive Awards Program include the Department of Commerce Gold and Silver Medal Awards, the NIST Edward Uhler Condon Award, the NIST Samuel W. Stratton Award, and the Special Act of Service Award.

NIST recognizes the importance attached to authorship of scientific and technical publications. Under NIST policy, the decision to include a staff member as an author (or not) is usually made at the group level and is based on a truly substantial and professional contribution. Mere administrative supervision of the work is not a sufficient qualification for authorship.   

A key element of Scientific Integrity relating to scientific and technical research has to do with statements of uncertainty associated with measurement results. As the nation's primary Federal laboratory charged with advancing measurement science, standards, and technology, NIST has long recognized the critical role of rigorously applied uncertainty principles in the credibility of reported research, and especially of research that may underpin policy.

According to long-standing published NIST policy, a measurement result is considered complete only when accompanied by a quantitative statement of its uncertainty. NIST policy requires uncertainty statements, and also requires that a uniform approach to expressing measurement uncertainty be followed. To ensure that uncertainty statements are consistent with each other and with international practice, the NIST policy adopts the approach to expressing measurement uncertainty recommended by the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM).   

In accordance with its policy regarding uncertainty statements, the NIST Manual specifically addresses Statements of Uncertainty Associated with Measurement Results. In addition, NIST's published Technical Note 1297, "Guidelines for Evaluating and Expressing the Uncertainty of NIST Measurement Results," is made available without cost for the benefit of the scientific community and the general public.

In addition, since 1959, the National Research Council (NRC) has assessed the technical merit, relevance, and quality of NIST's laboratory programs in the context of NIST's mission. The NRC review is independent, technically sophisticated, and extensive. Half of the NIST Laboratories are reviewed each year, which permits increased technical exchange between NIST scientists and the expert review panels (one for each of the NIST Laboratories). Each panel deliberates their findings in a closed session panel meeting and prepares a report summarizing its assessment findings. Panel members are selected by the NRC from leaders in industry, academia, non-profit organizations, and other federal agencies and government laboratories. The Laboratory Assessments Board of the National Academies oversees the NRC assessment activities.   

Typical reviews by NRC panels of NIST Laboratories include assessment of the degree to which NIST Laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and fulfill the mission of the NIST Operating Unit; assessment of the technical merits and scientific caliber of the current NIST Laboratory programs relative to comparable programs worldwide; and assessment of the alignment between NIST Laboratory R&D efforts and those services and other mission critical deliverables for which that Laboratory is responsible.

II. Public Communications

It is the policy of NIST to comply with Departmental Administrative Order, DAO 219-1, with respect to its Public Communications. DAO 219-1 is available on the Department of Commerce's website at, and incorporated into the corresponding NIST Manual subchapter on Public Communications.

III. Use of Federal Advisory Committees

NIST has nine Federal Advisory Committees (FACs), of which five are tasked with giving technical and scientific advice. NIST's primary advisory committee, the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT), is charged to "review and make recommendations regarding general policy for [NIST], its organization, its Budget, and its programs, within the framework of applicable national policies as set forth by the President and the Congress."

The Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board (ISPAB), advises NIST, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget "on information security and privacy issues pertaining to Federal government information systems, including thorough review of proposed standards and guidelines developed by NIST."

The Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction (ACEHR) acts in the public interest to advise NIST on trends and developments in the science and engineering of earthquake hazards reduction, the effectiveness of the NIST program in carrying out NIST's activities under section 103(a)(2) of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2004, the need to revise the program, and the management, coordination, implementation, and activities of the Program.

NIST's newest FAC, the NIST Smart Grid Advisory Committee (SGAP), provides input to NIST on Smart Grid "standards, priorities and gaps," and on the overall direction, status and health of the Smart Grid implementation by the Smart Grid industry, including identification of issues and needs. SGAP input is used to help guide Smart Grid Interoperability Panel activities and also assist NIST in directing research and standards activities.

NIST makes the recruitment process transparent for all of its FACs, soliciting public recommendations through its web site and through notice in the Federal Register2. NIST FAC member biographies are made available to the public through the pertinent NIST FAC web site (see, e.g.,, which presents biographies for current VCAT members, and also lists all VCAT members since 1901).

NIST FAC members are selected on a clear, standardized basis, in accordance with applicable Department of Commence guidance. Members of NIST FACs are selected on the basis of established records of distinguished service in their professional community and their knowledge of issues relevant to the FAC. Further, NIST makes every effort to selected FAC members such that the FAC will reflect the wide diversity of technical disciplines and competencies involved, and will come from a cross section of organizations.

NIST will make Conflict of Interest waivers granted to NIST FAC members publicly available except when prohibited by law, and no NIST FAC reports, recommendations or products are subject to revision by NIST or any other agency of the Federal government.

IV. Professional Development of Government Scientists and Engineers

The concept of professional development is part of the very fabric of NIST, reflected in everything from the agency's name, to the provisions of its enabling statute, to the NIST statement of Core Values:


  • People: We value and support an inclusive, engaged, and diverse workforce capable of fulfilling the NIST mission.
  • Integrity: We are objective, ethical, and honest.
  • Customer focus: We anticipate the needs of our customers and are committed to meeting or exceeding their expectations.
  • Excellence: We expect world-class performance and continuous improvement in all we do.

NIST's Guest Researcher program brings literally thousands of scientists and engineers, from academia, industry and government, to the Institute to work side-by-side with NIST employees on cutting edge science. The NIST Graduate and Post-Doctoral Fellowship programs have brought many hundreds of young scientists, at the start of their careers, to the Gaithersburg and Boulder campuses. The NIST culture is, in large part, a culture premised on professional development.

Publication in NIST technical publications and peer-reviewed scientific journals is considered in yearly performance evaluations of NIST scientists, who are encouraged to present the results of their research at professional meetings of their peers. NIST actively supports the participation of its scientists and engineers as members of editorial boards of professional and scholarly journals.

NIST, consistent with Department of Commerce policy, allows its scientists and engineers to receive honors and awards for their research, counting among its ranks three Nobel Laureates in Physics3, a MacArthur Fellowship "Genius Grant" winner, a National Medal of Science winner, a number of members of the National Academies, and recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. NIST actively supports its employees' participation in professional societies, committees, and task forces. Through its collaborations with academic institutions, NIST encourages its scientists and engineers to work actively with their professional colleagues, and NIST employees hold joint academic appointments through, for example, JILA with the University of Colorado, and the Joint Quantum Institute with the University of Maryland.

NIST, along with NOAA, is working with the Department of Commerce to find ways, consistent with applicable laws, to reduce and remove barriers for its scientists and engineers to serve as officers or on governing boards of non-governmental non-profit organizations. 


2 See, e.g., NIST's July, 2010 "Request for Nominations of Individuals for Appointment to Nine Existing NIST Federal Advisory Committees."

3 In 2006, NIST's Nobel Prize Winners converged on the Hill to express to Congress their views on the importance to the nation of Science Policy: Dr. John Hall, Dr. William Phillips and Dr. Eric Cornell.

Created June 3, 2016, Updated November 21, 2019