NIST reorganizes laboratory programs

Move reduces the number of labs, but maintains the agency's missions

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has completed its first major reorganization in 20 years. It has reduced the number of laboratories, realigned the remaining ones along mission-based lines and created a more hierarchical leadership structure.

The reorganization, which became effective Oct. 1, replaces the single deputy director under NIST Director Patrick Gallagher with three career associate directors and reduces the number of laboratories from 10 to six. The Information Technology Lab, which includes the Computer Security Division, is one of the six. The realignment does not change the focus of NIST programs or the underlying missions, said IT Lab Director Cita Furlani.

“Not very much has changed for us, which has been very nice,” Furlani said.

The IT Lab will continue to be responsible for standards and guidelines under the Federal Information Security Management Act, health information technology and the Help America Vote Act. It will acquire eight to 10 new staff members in the reorganization, including several in the area of electrical and electronic engineering standards and a high-level executive in voting equipment standards.

“That will be a real asset,” Furlani said. “It will be a much more flexible, adaptable organization. I think it is a net gain for all of us. It certainly is for the IT Lab.”

Furlani had contemplated a reorganization of the IT Lab last year, to be completed by the end of fiscal 2009, with the goal of making the lab more flexible. But the proposal proved more controversial than expected and was put on hold for re-evaluation. In the meantime, Gallagher began planning an agencywide reorganization. “We benefited from that change,” Furlani said.

The IT Lab conducts research on metrics and standards in a wide range of IT areas. Its roots date back 40 years, to the creation of the Center for Computer Science and Technology in 1969 in what was then the National Bureau of Standards. The Computer Security Act of 1987 gave the bureau responsibility for securing unclassified computer systems, and NIST created the IT Lab in 1996. NIST is responsible for providing standards, specifications and guidelines for FISMA compliance, and the lab’s Computer Security Division has produced voluminous security guidance and encryption algorithms and standards for the government's use of IT.

The reorganization was undertaken because the former structure, with 18 laboratories, extramural programs and administrative units reporting to the director, was deemed unwieldy. The new structure pushes authority for day-to-day administrative decisions further down the organizational chart and creates three new associate directors for extramural, administrative and lab programs. The associate director for labs will also act as principal deputy director.

The associate director for management resources is David Robinson. The other two slots are currently vacant.

The reorganization does not involve any layoffs and comes during a period of growth for NIST. President Barack Obama has committed to doubling the agency’s laboratory budget by 2017.

In addition to the IT Lab, the laboratories are:

  • The Material Measurement Laboratory, responsible for standard and other reference materials, standard reference data and the Thermodynamics Research Center.
  • The Physical Measurement Laboratory, which is responsible for weights and measures, calibration services, the metric program for precision measurement, physical reference data and the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP).
  • The Engineering Laboratory, responsible for fire research, the national earthquake and windstorm hazard reduction programs, the National Construction Safety Team, the Collaborative Manufacturing Research Pilot Program and the Manufacturing Fellowship Program.
  • The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology.
  • The Center for Neutron Research.

The IT Lab will continue to make use of the Physical Measurement Lab’s program for accrediting independent laboratories for government certification programs. NVLAP accredits laboratories that certify products as meeting government security and interoperability standards.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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