to compete with industry, especially for personnel with skills related to information technology systems. The MEL needs people with expertise in these areas to provide the standards and metrology support needed by industry now and to perform the research that will allow it to provide that support for future manufacturing systems. The very competitive market for people with relevant expertise impacts both hiring and retention, and the laboratory is in danger of losing the intellectual capital NIST has developed over many years. The specialized collection of experience and knowledge assembled in MEL is a national resource, and the staff are uniquely qualified to tackle issues related to standards and metrology in a comprehensive and unbiased fashion. Although MEL management is developing a program planning and selection process to prioritize laboratory activities, the staff are spread very thin, and U.S. industry can be expected to suffer if NIST's important measurement and standards programs and research are severely curtailed due to lack of personnel with the appropriate skills.
The second concern of the panel relates to long-term capital equipment needs. Funding is always needed to support acquisition of the new equipment required by continuing advances in measurement technologies, but the new AML will impose additional strains on an already tight equipment budget. To preserve the cleanliness levels of the new facility, certain equipment will not be allowed to be transferred from its “dirty” surroundings in the current buildings. New hardware may also be needed to take full advantage of the low-vibration environment. This issue is expected to particularly affect the Precision Engineering Division. The panel believes that a strategy for long-term capital planning is needed to ensure that MEL will have the equipment necessary to support U.S. industry's efforts to remain globally competitive.
The third concern of the panel is the emphasis placed at the NIST level on the “commercialization” of the Fabrication Technology Division (the NIST shops). The stated goal of reducing the overhead support for this activity by a factor of about 4 (to 10 percent of the division's total funding) in the next 5 years troubles the panel somewhat. The staff in this division have unique skills in both equipment fabrication and communication with researchers, and the facility provides other MEL divisions with a valuable experimental laboratory to test new measurements, standards, and tools for manufacturing. If the “customers” of the Fabrication Technology Division (i.e., the researchers in MEL and other NIST laboratories) are unable to provide the extra income to the division to make up for the diminished overhead support, then division management may have to cut back on the people and equipment available, and the valuable capabilities of this facility will be downgraded or lost. If NIST is then forced to outsource the tasks formerly associated with this division, the absence of the essential relationships between the researchers and the NIST shops technicians will hurt the quality of the work.
According to division documentation, the mission of the Precision Engineering Division is to provide the foundation of dimensional measurement that meets the needs of the U.S. industrial and scientific communities by conducting research in dimensional measurements; developing measurement methods; providing measurement services; and disseminating the resulting technology and length-based standards.
This mission statement is appropriate and is consistent with the MEL and NIST missions. The division has an appropriate balance between technology development of metrology systems for measur