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VISITING COMMITTEE ON ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY (VCAT)
Note: Each of the presentations summarized below are available from the February 2009 meeting agenda on the VCAT website.
Call to Order and VCAT Agenda Review
Dr. James Serum, the VCAT Chair, called the meeting to order at 9:05 a.m. He reviewed the meeting agenda and asked the members to think about specific recommendations to include in the VCAT 2008 Annual Report for the afternoon discussion. VCAT Vice Chair, Dr. Vinton Cerf, volunteered to prepare these set of draft recommendations for Wednesday’s session.
Dr. Serum thanked outgoing VCAT members, Lou Ann Heimbrook and Robert Williams, for their service on the Committee for the past six years. NIST Director, Dr. Pat Gallagher, also expressed his appreciation to these two members and presented them with a plaque in recognition of their service. For more details, see the presentation.
Update and Priorities
Presentation Summary – Dr. Gallagher highlighted the strong alignment between NIST investment priority areas and the President’s agenda for promoting science and technology. NIST had close interactions with members of the transition team. Regarding recent news items, Dr. Gallagher spoke about the NIST annual awards ceremony, the new cost-shared awards to U.S. universities for constructing research facilities related to the mission of DoC agencies, the three recipients of the 2008 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the new nine awards from the first Technology Innovation Program (TIP) competition, and JILA’s work on ultracold molecules which was named as one of the Top Ten Physics Stories in 2008 by the American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society.
Dr. Gallagher also provided an update on the three NIST management priorities that he established in September – Leadership, Safety, and Positioning NIST. A proposed organizational structure was discussed intended to improve the management of NIST. The budget outlook for FY 2009-FY 2011 was characterized as unusually complex, fluid, and dynamic. Lastly, Dr. Gallagher presented his proposed charge to the VCAT for 2009, which includes 1) exploring several programs with a major documentary standards component and providing input on key NIST roles in health care, smart grid, and other areas; and 2) providing input on the role of NIST in fostering and developing documentary standards. This is a critical issue for NIST since documentary standards are included in many of the President’s priority areas, such as health care IT, and NIST’s role in supporting these standards is not well understood by many of its stakeholders. For more details, see Dr. Gallagher’s presentation.
Safety – Two VCAT members commented about crowded conditions in some JILA laboratories and suggested that this situation could be used to leverage new construction funds. They also expressed the need for safety-related performance metrics. Dr. Gallagher acknowledged the importance of conducting work safely in sub-optimal facilities and reported that a hazard identification and assessment of the laboratories is planned for this summer.
Documentary Standards – The group discussed the definition of documentary standards and the difference between measurement standards and documentary standards. Dr. Gallagher noted that measurement standards and documentary standards are closely related to each other. Although Federal law calls for NIST to have a “coordinating” role in developing consensus standards for the Federal government, it does not clearly define what is meant by coordination. A VCAT member summarized the problems associated with the Government Open Systems Interconnection Profile (GOSIP) as an example where agreement on the responsibility and coordination of voluntary standards is important.
Dr. Gallagher also described NIST’s “complicated” role in developing a framework for documentary standards for Smart Grid, including its role specified by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the short timeframe for this mandate. TIP Director Marc Stanley commented on TIP’s potential introduction of a new, critical national need competition in energy in areas which are not currently being addressed by other federal agencies but will have a natural linkage to standards.
To further explore this topic, a VCAT member suggested that it would be valuable to have key stakeholders present their views to the Committee on NIST’s role in standards-setting activities. Steve Widergren, Administrator of the GridWise Architecture Council, is planning to speak about Smart Grid at the June VCAT meeting. NIST may consider having a speaker from the Department of Transportation address standards for the interoperability of the Smart Transportation System as well as an ANSI representative.
Dr. Gallagher agreed to share with the VCAT the next layer down of programs on the matrix of NIST investment priority areas where the role of documentary standards is an issue. Smart Grid and health care IT have enormous political urgency since they are high on the President’s agenda and are associated with very short timeframes. NIST needs to look at defining its role very carefully so that it can be positioned correctly. Based on its technical excellence, impartiality as a non-regulatory agency, and its mandate to work closely with industry on carrying out its role as coordinator, Dr. Gallagher believes that NIST is in a unique position to foster and develop documentary standards.
The VCAT Chair and other members commented on the importance of NIST having enough critical mass to make an impact in these areas. As a coordinator, NIST will need to have convening authority to achieve a critical mass by drawing on other interested stakeholders.
Planning at NIST
Presentation Summary – In his introductory remarks, Dr. Gallagher noted that NIST responded to the VCAT’s comments on the draft three-year programmatic plan and that the Committee will be provided with an updated draft for additional feedback. NIST is committed to improving its planning activities, is making progress in strategic planning, and is looking to continue to work with the VCAT as the process evolves. Dr. Gallagher emphasized that the America COMPETES Act calls for a three-year programmatic plan, which is not a strategic plan. The major ingredients of NIST’s planning process and the three-year programmatic plan were described, including the one-page “NIST Priorities at a Glance.” A matrix illustrated how NIST’s six Investment Priority Areas align with national priorities in the President’s agenda. The set of criteria used to identify potential focus areas for the NIST Laboratories was also provided. Due to the phasing of the budget development process, the three-year plan excludes details on the programs needed to carry out the strategic direction but NIST anticipates adding a table that shows the FY 2010 and FY 2011 program structure data by the time the plan is sent to Congress. Dr. Gallagher also responded to selected comments from the VCAT’s feedback on the earlier draft three-year plan and noted that the updated draft now addresses these concerns.
NIST is exploring how to strengthen its annual planning and evaluation process. For example, a new NIST study entitled, “Measurement Challenges to Innovation in the Biosciences: Critical Roles for NIST” provides information that will enable strategic planning in this area. Lastly, Dr. Gallagher described the next steps beyond planning which include program management, strategic investments, engagement, and clarifying NIST roles. For more details, see Dr. Gallagher’s presentation.
Interagency Coordination – The group discussed the importance of interagency coordination in the NIST Investment Priority Areas and TIP where funding targets may overlap between agencies.
Stimulus Funding – The three-year plan purposely excluded references to the stimulus funding because there had been no final action on stimulus funding at the time the report was written.
Origin of NIST Investment Priority Areas – The updated draft three-year plan includes a new section that describes the origin of the NIST Investment Priority Areas.
Focus on Growth Areas in Three-Year Plan – The group discussed the rationale for the three-year plan focusing on only the new activities in support of national critical priorities. Dr. Gallagher recognizes that the NIST mission is much broader than the national priority areas and NIST must address many measurement challenges that lie outside of these areas. Since the plan will accompany the budget request, it is centered around new activities and responsive to Congressional interest in the areas to be funded by growth in the NIST budget as called for in the America COMPETES Act. The NIST base programs are described in the budget request. By focusing on growth areas, the plan sets the context for the need for new funding or reprogramming of internal funding. The plan does not address program reductions to support new activities. Dr. Harry Hertz described how NIST is similar to many other organizations that describe their budget in two components: running the business and changing the business. Running the business is reflected as NIST’s base budget; changing the business is reflected by either new initiatives or internal reprogramming.
Standards Omitted from Three-year Programmatic Plan – In response to earlier comments from the VCAT, “standards” is now included but always referenced as either “measurement standards” or “documentary standards.” The NIST role in international standards setting is addressed in the fourth priority – enhancing support of other Federal agencies in meeting U.S. Government needs for voluntary consensus standards. NIST’s engagement in international activities related to each of the six critical national priorities is important and was intended to be implicit. Several of the NIST managers provided examples of extensive on-going international activities, including involvement with the Global Excellence Network in the area of Baldrige; Bureau of International Legal Metrology, OIML, ISO, and IEC for measurement standards; and IEEE, IETF, and WCCC for documentary standards.
Annual Report Comments - The VCAT Chair reminded the Committee that it was not their role to reinvent the definition of the three-year plan. Instead the VCAT report should include one sentence that recognizes that the three-year plan is not a strategic plan. Their comments should also include a separate statement on the importance of NIST developing a strategic plan.
Process Wrapped in Culture Leads PRO-TEC’s Quest for Performance Excellence and Innovation
Dr. Harry Hertz, Director of the Baldrige National Quality Program, introduced guest speaker, Mr. Eric Franks, Manager, Technology and Quality Assurance, PRO-TEC Coating Company. Mr. Franks joined PRO-TEC in 1991 after 18 years in industry and is also a Baldrige Examiner. PRO-TEC, located in Leipsic, Ohio, was established in 1990 as a joint venture between United States Steel Corporation and Kobe Steel of Japan. As a 2007 recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the small business category, PRO-TEC is the industry leader in advanced, high-strength steel and ultra high-strength steel coating.
Presentation Summary – Mr. Franks described how PRO-TEC began using the Baldrige criteria as their continuous improvement business model to help integrate its new processes to meet new automotive and environmental standards. The Baldrige criteria help the company with its external validation by asking tough questions and provides for encouragement, benchmarking, networking, and feedback. A radar chart illustrated the company’s growth over time in each of the Baldrige criteria categories. Mr. Frank also summarized the company’s global strategy, breakthrough innovations, customer-focused trends, culture, and leadership system, noting that the Baldrige criteria has become inherent in all of its processes for continual improvement and is used to run their business. In September 2004, PRO-TEC received the Ohio Partnership for Excellence: Governor’s Award. The final slide summarizes the benefits associated with using each of the Baldrige criteria to prepare for automotive downturn contingencies. For more details, see Mr. Franks’ presentation.
Japanese Influence – PRO-TEC was not influenced by the Japanese culture or commitment to quality when the company was established since the ISO and QS standards did not exist in the Japanese steel industry at that time.
Competition from China - Mr. Frank discussed how the Chinese now has the capacity to produce more steel than it can currently consume due to its huge building effort related to the recent Olympics.
Praise – A former member of the US CAR Team praised PRO-TEC for being the domestic leader in high-strength steel which kept the Big Three from having to outsource to Europe. He did not realize that the reinvention of the workforce was a factor and remarked that this was a “terrific” story.
Other NIST Interactions – Almost all of PRO-TEC’s lab standards are traceable to NIST standards.
New Electro-Galvanized Line – Mr. Franks provided more details on how PRO-TEC was able to increase its maximum capacity by seven fold in six weeks to accommodate an electro-galvanized line that had to be shut down at a U.S. Steel sister facility in Dearborn due to a fire.
The VCAT members had the opportunity to engage directly with researchers during the following laboratory tours of selected projects at the Gaithersburg campus.
The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) NanoFab: A National Facility for Nanoscale Fabrication and Measurement
The CNST NanoFab is a national fee-based, shared-use facility that provides both NIST and the external researcher communities access to sophisticated, state-of-the-art nanofabrication and nanoscale measurement equipment and expertise. A 19,000-square-foot cleanroom operated by a professional staff of technicians, engineers and scientists, the NanoFab contains a wide assortment of instrumentation including tools for lithography, microscopy, thin film deposition, etching, diffusion, oxidation, and inspection and metrology.
Measurements and Standards for Detecting Trace Explosives
In the last several years, there has been an unprecedented deployment of systems for detection of trace explosives to support homeland security in the United States and around the world. Working with the Department of Homeland Security and other organizations, NIST is developing a measurement science and standards infrastructure to support this effort to help ensure that the devices that are deployed in airports, embassies, and other buildings work as expected.
NIST’s Role in Ensuring Accurate Climate Measurements
Accurate climate-change predictions require assimilating readings from a large number of optical sensors deployed in space and on the ground by various nations. NIST develops and disseminates optical standards to ensure that these sensors have the necessary accuracy and stability to detect the exceedingly small environmental changes associated with climate change. Without reliable measurements, the actual data from studies that are used to make key decisions about climate change may or may not be reliable. NIST’s work on light measurements and standards also has applications across a variety of industrial and research sectors.
VCAT Annual Report Preparation, Feedback, and Discussion