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PART ~ Overall Assessment This part of the report presents the Board's synopsis of the 2003 assessment, followed by its overall assessment of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories. Part II provides a laboratory-level assessment of each individual laboratory. Part III presents a technical review at the division level for each laboratory. Synopsis of the 2003 Assessment Chapter 1 The State of the Laboratories
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Synopsis of the 2003 Assessment This report, the 2003 assessment of the Measurement and Standards Laboratories (MSL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is the latest in a series of independent peer reviews conducted annually by the National Research Council (NRC) since 1959.~ Although commis- sioned by NIST as part of its process for continuous improvement, this assessment was conducted and written by a standing board of the NRC that is independent of NIST. This report is based on the observations and professional judgment of 144 independent, pro bono experts chosen by the NRC for their relevant technical expertise and appointed to the board on Assessment of NIST Programs and its seven panels. Most of these scientists and engineers visited NIST twice in 2003 for a total of 3 days of information gathering and to engage in extensive, in-depth discussions with NIST management and staff. Through this intensive process, the Board sampled enough programs to enable it to assess the technical quality of the MSL. Part I of this report presents the overall assessment of the MSL, and Part II contains summary assessments of the component laboratories. Part III provides division-level reviews of the MSL, which include a wide range of observations and recommendations developed from the panels' extensive fact- finding activities. In this synopsis, the Board highlights key aspects of its assessment that should be of interest to the community of NIST stakeholders. The Board is very impressed with the technical quality of NIST's intramural work. The reviewed programs range from very good to excellent, and some are clearly world-class. NIST programs are also highly relevant to its mission of enabling and advancing standards and technology for U.S. industry and commerce: most programs are clearly tied to that mission, and most MSL units have a good understand- ing of their customers and their needs. No other laboratory in the country has the same mission or capabilities to provide the range of services supplied by NIST. In addition to its ongoing work in support of measurement and standards development, NIST provides great value to the nation as a resource offering scientific, engineering, and technical expertise Starling in 2004 the NIST laboratories will be assessed biennially. The next report will be published in September 2005. 3
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4 AN ASSESSMENT OF THE NIST MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES: FY 2003 that is readily available to address emerging, and sometimes unanticipated, challenges. A case in point is the work related to homeland security. Existing capabilities of the MSL enabled each of its laboratories to respond quickly to important homeland security needs. For example: · The Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory is developing technologies for non- ~nvas~ve, In situ detection of weapons, lethal gases, and explosives. · The Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory has contributed to increasing the cybersecurity of industrial control systems by helping to define and apply a common set of information security require- ments for such systems. · The Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory has created tools for identifying individuals on the basis of fragments of DNA. · The Physics Laboratory is improving methods for sanitizing mail and inspecting cargo with high- energy X-rays. · The Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory is investigating fundamentals of materials failure mechanisms associated with the collapse of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers to learn how the tensile and creep behavior of steel reacts to the extreme conditions produced by such a massive assault. · The Building and Fire Research Laboratory has launched a major study to discover lessons to be learned from the Twin Towers' fire and collapse at the World Trade Center, and it is continuing relevant work to understand how fires spread within buildings and how contaminants disperse through ventila- tion systems. · The Information Technology Laboratory is studying how to improve communications among first-responder emergency teams that rely on various types of equipment, and it is also building on its earlier work on biometrics for security systems. . . . There are many more opportunities for measurement and standards work to contribute in important ways to homeland security, and the Board believes that NIST has the capability of making significant additional contributions to this area. The Board is pleased to see the degree to which NIST now disseminates information in digital format via the World Wide Web. Not only does this availability of information on the Web improve ease of use, but it also allows for the incorporation of additional useful tools, such as computational and graphical support. Clearly, providing digitized information is a key mechanism by which the MSL can maximize its value to the nation. The Board encourages NIST to improve to the greatest possible extent the efficiency with which it provides such information (so as to reduce the amount of effort that is taken from creating the information), while also maintaining traditional NIST quality. The Board's response to recent developments with respect to NIST facilities themselves is mixed. The Board is relieved to hear that some funding has been slated to improve the Boulder, Colorado, campus, a move that is long overdue. Some of the basic infrastructure on that campus is in a precarious condition, which is especially worrisome given that some of NIST's most sophisticated work is per- formed there. The Board is also pleased that the Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) on the Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus a state-of-the-art facility will be finished this year. However, the small amount of funding allocated by Congress for the AML's start-up and operations raises concerns. Overall, the Board continues to be impressed with the capabilities and accomplishments of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories, and it looks forward to reviewing NIST's progress in the future.
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