NIST Looks to Reorganize Its Labs, Top Management

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is reorganizing its eight laboratory divisions. Currently, they're set up along disciplinary boundaries—such as physics and materials science and engineering within a university. Now it's creating four labs focused on distinct goals of the agency.

Although the traditional disciplinary setup works well for universities that grant degrees in the separate fields, it is "a little unwieldy" for the agency, says NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. The new labs include information technology, a physical measurement lab, a materials measurement lab, and an engineering lab. Gallagher says that the shift will be felt more by administrators than by bench scientists but that hopefully the new organization will make it easier for interdisciplinary groups of researchers to come together to address critical research problems.

Other changes are afoot as well. Gallagher says that he's already put in a request to Congress to change the top management structure of the agency, replacing the single deputy director with three associate directors, one responsible for the labs, one for extramural programs such as the Technology Innovation Program, and one for overall administrative management. Because the associate directors would be career staff rather than presidential appointments, the change should make for a more stable top leadership team, lending more continuity and stability to long-range planning efforts within the agency.