Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology
Date: 4/1/94    Record No.: 10061
Contact: General Phone, 301-975-2000 in Gaithersburg, MD. A smaller facility is located in Boulder CO, 303-497-3000

NIST, formerly the National Bureau of Standards, is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Its mission and organization are quite different from other federal research entities, and it has gained significantly increased stature, budget, and role with the Clinton administration.

There are approximately 3000 employees, mostly at Gaithersburg MD and in a smaller facility in Boulder CO.

NIST is organized into 8 "Laboratories," each of which has a remarkable degree of independence in style and approach. In fact, the NIST culture is said to have decision-making pushed down to the lowest appropriate layer of the organization. Decisions about industry collaborations are made at the project level 90% of the time, and only 1% need management attention above the Laboratory level.

Each Laboratory covers a particular set of disciplines:

The Laboratories:
Electronics and Electrical Engineering (EEEL)
Manufacturing Engineering
Chemical Science and Technology
Materials Science and Engineering
Building and Fire Research
Computing and Applied Mathematics

Each laboratory is made up of a number of "divisions". EEEL, for example, includes the Electricity Division, and the Semiconductor, Electromagnetic Fields, and Electromagnetic Technology Divisions. Each Division is made up of a number of "groups", which are in turn subdivided in smaller subgroups.

The Electricity Division of EEEL has the greatest overlap with the electric utility industry, and has agreed to act as a main point of contact for UFTO.

NIST and the Electric Power Industry
NIST is very different from the DOE labs or other federal research organizations, in that its primary mission is and has always been to provide direct support to industry. Its origins were in the early 1900s, as the electric equipment industry was taking off. Needed measurement capabilities were available only in Europe, and the equipment makers lobbied for the creation of the National Bureau of Standards (as NIST was known until fairly recently). Accuracy in metering was a big consumer issue in the 1920s, and NBS's findings that watthour meters underreport power consumption made them welcome friends to the utilities. NIST continues to be very active in metering reference standards, loss measurements, and a number of other areas of direct connection with the industry.

NIST Programs
NIST will work with a single company as a means to an end, with the goal clearly in mind to help all industry on a broad basis. Its entire budget is programmed for this purpose, unlike other agencies like DOE which must try to reprogram funds earmarked for specific R&D in order to be able to work on industry problems. NIST's budget is growing at a dramatic rate with the new administration. However this growth is on a base that is still quite small in comparison to DOE and other agencies, reflecting the traditional discomfort in the U.S. with the idea of government working directly with industry.

NIST treats nondisclosure/confidentiality/proprietary concerns on a case-by-case basis, recognizing that sometimes it is necessary to work with just one player in order to make something happen. This has been clearly the case in working with the highly competitive semiconductor industry. (The suggestion was made that a case study of Sematech would be instructive--very successful industry collaboration.) Until recently, NIST had a larger total number of CRADAs than DOE, with a factor of 100 fewer people (about 3000 altogether).

Until the very recent broadening of NIST's mandate (see below), the emphasis has always been on metrology, or the science of measurement. That is the point of view from which NIST has generally viewed the world, and which continues to describe their primary mission. For example, they have a major initiative to develop standards based on fundamental properties, rather than physical copies (e.g., the "electronic kilogram"). Nanometrology, or micromeasurement, is another key area of effort.

Major new programs reflect a broader perspective and mission related to U.S. competitiveness and jobs.

* The Advanced Technology Program (ATP), Tom Leedy, Program Manager, 301-975-2410
Funding tripled this year to $200 million, and will increase to $450 and $750 million over the next two years. This money is for grants for high-risk high-payoff technology development proposals. ATP has recently begun discussing possible "themes." One suggestion is the productive use of by-products in materials processing--could be an opening for fly ash utilization!

* The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Modeled on the agricultural extension service concept, this program will soon expand to over 100 centers around the country, to teach new production methods to small manufacturers.

* NIST also administers the Malcolm Baldridge award.

General Observations
Visiting NIST, one can't help but notice the total openness of the environment. There is no security! One simply drives in to the grounds, which resemble a college campus surrounded by huge open space, enters a building and looks for the corridor and office of the person being visited. (This is in dramatic contrast to DOE facilities. At weapons labs in particular, you need to declare your U.S. citizenship and provide your social security number in advance, and come prepared with a photo ID.) And NIST's phone directory and a guide to their technical programs is available on-line.

NIST has not experienced any lack of opportunities to work with industry, and rarely has to beat the bushes. Very few of the 300 CRADAs were advertised.

All of NIST's funds are programmed for working with industry. There is no separate budget for this, and each lab director has full authority for decisions on partnering, and how much of the budget is to be allocated for this kind of activity. Business arrangements can be highly varied, from a handshake to a 50-page contract.

NIST is required to have "Review Panels" that review programs and make recommendations regarding NIST's strategy and tactical approach. Organized by the National Research Council, these groups meet annually for 2-3 days, one for each NIST "Laboratory." Each Division makes presentations, and there are smaller breakout meetings also. These have included representatives from utilities from time to time.

Technology Commercialization/Transfer. NIST is in the process of reevaluating its whole approach to technology commercialization; i.e., whether to pursue technology development further up or downstream, to get more industry input, to go for more patents, etc. Currently there is no "generalized marketing" function, and technical staff are generally wary of uninformed cold calls from the outside (but will always respond to phone calls or letters!). The Office of Technology Commercialization serves the Laboratories and Divisions with help on patents, licensing and other business arrangements; e.g., for use of facilities by outsiders, or guest researchers.