No 'fat' at NIST, says National Research Council representative

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Congress should fund the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the fullest level possible, recommends the National Research Council.

Year after year, NRC has come away from its review of NIST impressed with the quality of work underway at the labs, said Ross Corotis, a member of NRC's laboratory assessments board.

"There is not what we would call fat. There is not excess there," said Corotis during a March 20 hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on technology.

If Congress does not fully-fund NIST, he would recommend the agency avoid an across-the-board cut to all programs as that approach would impact quality. Rather, NIST should prioritize what areas it wants to focus on, said Corotis.

"They should cut out some things rather than trying to continue doing all they're doing. Because, the quality is very high but there is not excess of capabilities in there for what they're doing," said Corotis.

Corotis was unable to recommend a single program that should be eliminated at NIST.

"Our reports have shown that there's just not extra there that they could cut and still continue to do the same breadth of programs," he said, adding that NRC has never looked at a NIST lab program that it hasn't been impressed with or found to be short of funding.

However, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) pointed out that the annual Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology report (.pdf), published in May 2012, notes that NIST could provide more clarity and depth in its strategic planning.

Willie May, associate director of laboratory programs at NIST, said the agency's strategic planning process is a work in progress.

"The broad mission that we have and the dynamic environment that we live in--with multiple stakeholders--requires us to really look at strategic planning in a way that most companies cannot," said May.

The agency does its best to look at planning through several lenses: one focused on national priorities, another on short term needs, and a third that looks to build capacity to address future problems, said May.

"The other lens that we look through that we probably haven't paid as much attention to as we maybe could have is, 'how are we looking at addressing improved internal operations?'" said May.

The agency is now looking at changes it can make to be more efficient custodians of the nation's resources by improving internal operations, he said.

For more:
- go to the hearing page (includes prepared testimony and archived webcast)

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