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April 14, 2005

Dr. Hratch Semerjian
NIST Acting Director
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gaithersburg, MD 20899

Dear Hratch,

On behalf of the VCAT, I would like to thank you and your staff for another interesting and beneficial meeting held in Gaithersburg on March 15-16, 2005. In addition, the NIST orientation held on March 14 provided an excellent opportunity for the new VCAT members to learn about the Institute's impact on innovation, trade, public safety, security, and jobs. This information helped to set the context for the new members' enthusiastic participation in the VCAT meeting. I again appreciate your senior management team and tour speakers taking the extra time to participate in the orientation.

Budget and Strategic Planning

The Committee continues to be appreciative of the detailed budget information that you have been providing us. To better assess NIST's progress toward implementing its Strategic Plan, we would like to receive more specific information on the Institute's portfolio management efforts, including an understanding of how new activities are being balanced with traditional programs.

U.S. Measurement System (USMS)

The committee is pleased that NIST is developing a variety of outreach materials for launching and leading the highly ambitious USMS Initiative aimed at assessing the state of the USMS and identifying its needs. We recommend that the vision of the USMS be described in bolder terms that reflect the need for a "world-class" or "best in the world" system in the 21st century. A bolder vision may facilitate more enthusiasm and support from customers and stakeholders and can help set the context for NIST's future leadership role in providing world-class tools for the nation's measurement system.

Performance-based Management

We also commend NIST leadership for restructuring the Balanced Scorecard for FY 2005 that includes a new section for evaluating NIST's programs. This new structure and the addition of specific evaluation metrics further demonstrate the Institute's responsiveness to the VCAT's recommendations and its commitment to continuous improvement in the area of performance-based management. To further stimulate discussions about NIST's performance and measures of success, the committee would like to receive a progress report, such as a stoplight chart, on each of the evaluation metrics included in the Scorecard at each quarterly VCAT meeting.

Organizational Excellence - People and Safety

The recent Employee Survey's results were impressive in spite of the 2004 budget uncertainties facing NIST. However, the drop in the response rate from the previous survey may indicate the need for more feedback to employees on actions that will address their concerns. Therefore, we encourage you to provide employees with immediate feedback and updates on an action plan that will address their major issues, as outlined in the Baldrige process. Please keep the committee apprised of your efforts in this area so that we can provide further guidance, where needed.

As a testimonial to senior management's commitment for making safety a top priority, we are pleased to learn that NIST employees gave high marks for safety in the recent Employee Survey. Now that NIST is improving the quality of its reporting of recordable incidents, we encourage NIST to move to the next level and 1) measure, categorize, examine trends, and report on first-aid cases that are not recorded on OSHA's log, and 2) begin to report and categorize serious incidents where no injuries occur. Management's attention to these types of cases is important for achieving an even safer workplace. In addition, we urge you to expedite the implementation of the Personal Protective Equipment standard.

World Trade Center Investigation

We are extremely impressed with NIST's extensive efforts and great work in the building and fire investigation of the World Trade Center disaster as described in Dr. Sunder's fascinating presentation. Also, the committee commends NIST for its ability to overcome the many challenges of this investigation, including leading and managing a team of over 225 individuals from NIST and other organizations and coordinating efforts with the 9/11 Commission and local authorities. NIST's significant research contributions in this investigation clearly demonstrate that NIST is the world leader in structural engineering and fire analysis. We recommend that NIST explore ways to leverage the new suite of state-of-the-art software tools that were developed to model a variety of complex scenarios. We are looking forward to seeing the recommendations from this investigation that are intended to help make buildings, occupants, and first responders safer in future emergencies.

Facilities

The committee recognizes the serious infrastructure problems associated with NIST's aging facilities in Gaithersburg and Boulder. However, we encourage NIST to build a new business case to help justify and prioritize the needed renovations and repairs that ties to the Strategic Plan, where possible. This analysis should cover all NIST's facilities, including the Advanced Chemical Sciences Laboratory (ACSL) and the newly constructed Advanced Measurement Laboratory.

Laboratory Tours

The laboratory tours continue to be extremely valuable to the committee. Each of the speakers provided an excellent overview of their project with an emphasis on the importance of the NIST role and the project's impact on its customers and collaborators. The Cryptographic Algorithm Validation Program developed by NIST and used worldwide to help protect information and communications and secure electronic transactions is an example of NIST's significant contribution to cybersecurity. In the area of materials research, the NIST Combinatorial Methods Center works with 21 industrial, academic, and government consortium members to develop combinatorial and high-throughput metrologies to accelerate the discovery and application of new polymer materials with applications in such areas as semiconductors and nanotechnology devices. NIST should explore opportunities for increased revenues from this successful and productive research effort.

Other

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the meetings on the Hill. However, I received positive feedback from the VCAT members who were able to discuss the value of NIST with Rep. David Wu, the Ranking Minority Member of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards; Dr. John F. Plumb, Science and Technology Fellow in the office of Senator Ken Salazar; and Lauren Todorovich, Legislative Assistant in the office of Rep. David Reichert. In recognition of Rep. Wu's strong interest in the development and implementation of information technology standards for medical records, your staff should provide him with information about NIST's role in this area.

Sincerely, 

signature of April Schweighart

April Schweighart, Chair
Visiting Committee on Advanced
Technology

cc: Senior Management Board
Gail Ehrlich