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June 24, 2005

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

Dear Hratch,

On behalf of the VCAT, I would like to again thank you and your staff for another constructive and insightful meeting held in Gaithersburg on June 14-15, 2005. The Committee is very grateful to have had the opportunity to review your vision for NIST to better align its program portfolio with external drivers. We fully support your new vision that will facilitate the Institute's responsiveness to new environmental conditions and opportunities by focusing on specific industry segments and customers within an interdisciplinary framework. Under your leadership, NIST has become more aware of the organizational changes required to contribute more effectively to the nation's innovation infrastructure and we commend you for your efforts.

While we appreciate receiving detailed budget information about NIST, it is equally important to continue to share with us the Institute's progress on the implementation of the NIST Strategic Plan and its impact on NIST's operations. Furthermore, we acknowledge NIST's efforts in adding "stoplights" to the Balanced Scorecard to help measure the progress of NIST-wide performance goals and evaluation metrics. We welcome the opportunity to engage in a more extensive discussion on the development, status, and implementation of the Scorecard. These discussions should help NIST in performance-based management as the Institute seeks to achieve organizational excellence. The Committee also recognizes NIST's progress and enthusiasm in launching the USMS Initiative to the public and we look forward to regular updates and discussion on its major activities.

We are pleased that NIST is beginning to focus more extensively on specific industry segments and customers and look forward to reviewing the methodology used in their selection. As discussed so prominently during the VCAT panel session on "Best Practices for Organizational Development," NIST should continue to carefully evaluate and prioritize its customers based on the changing scientific and technological needs of the nation as well as the "voice of the customer." As you noted, the extended question and answer session following the panel presentations was extremely beneficial to NIST and we encourage such extended question and answer sessions for all future presentations.

Dr. Michael Holland from OSTP and Kei Koizumi from AAAS provided fascinating and complementary presentations about the Federal R&D spending portfolio. Both of these presentations emphasized the need for agencies to communicate clearly the value of their programs and their priority-setting process to policy officials in the Administration. NIST should begin to develop the appropriate responses to these suggestions as a way to gain more support from the Administration and Congress. As a start, NIST should critically review the strengths of the Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) and identify opportunities for improvement as a means to justify additional investments in NIST.

As always, the laboratory tours were very interesting and we continue to enjoy speaking with enthusiastic NIST researchers about their projects. In particular, we learned how the world-class AML has greatly improved the performance of the Ultra-High Accuracy Coordinate Machine that serves hundreds of calibration customers in the manufacturing sector. In addition, the AML now houses a clean room with unique state-of-the-art instrumentation for nanoscale measurements of mechanical properties, friction, and surface forces that has attracted several successful collaborations with industry, academia, and other government agencies. These accomplishments should be included in the critical review of the AML noted above.

The Committee's separate meetings held on June 15, 2005, with Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce David Sampson and Dr. John Marburger, Science Adviser to the President and Director of OSTP, were extremely valuable as we heard their views on the importance of NIST programs. Acting Deputy Secretary Sampson expressed his support for technological innovation, recognized the importance of measurements and standards on international trade and the nation's economy, and emphasized the need for NIST to engage in more industry outreach activities and explore opportunities for increased collaborations and partnerships. Dr. Marburger highlighted the importance of NIST's basic research and measurement standards to address the next generation of technology and recommended that NIST raise its visibility by better communicating its value to its stakeholders. In our subsequent meeting with the new OMB Program Examiner Andrea Petro, we discussed the role of the VCAT and NIST's progress in strategic planning and performance evaluation.

We look forward to another productive VCAT meeting in September.

Sincerely, 

signature of April Schweighart

April Schweighart, Chair
Visiting Committee on Advanced
Technology

cc: Senior Management Board
Gail Ehrlich