NIST reorganizes for increased efficiency

Monday - 10/11/2010, 11:15am EDT

Pat Gallagher, director, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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By Vyomika Jairam
Federal News Radio

Things should be running a little more smoothly at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. That's because Director Pat Gallagher just finished a reorganization to clear out some of the bottlenecks.

When Gallagher became director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology last fall, he realized quickly that changes needed to be made.

Not only was turnover in leadership affecting the agency on multiple levels, he felt that the agency was losing focus of its research goals, and he wasn't the only one. Within a year, NIST has undergone a reorganization, and the changes started at the top.

Under its previous structure, NIST had a single deputy director position, and over 20 line organizations within the agency reported to that position. Gallagher found that the average tenure of people in the deputy director position was 18 months.

"The organization tended to be less stable, because you had basically had all these organizations reporting into this one point where you're seeing all this change," Gallagher said. "So we replaced the single deputy director with a model that's much more common in national laboratories."

The single deputy position is now staffed by multiple associate directors for major program elements: associate directors of laboratories, innovation and industry and management resources.

"It's designed to give a much cleaner set of roles and responsibilities to the executive management team of the agency," Gallagher said. "It gives you a much more coherent and stable management system."

Only one of the three newly created associate directors positions are filled

Gallagher also reduced the number of research laboratories within the agency.

"We had just aggregated to the point where no one was clearly responsible for delivering our mission outputs," Gallagher said. "So the real effect of this change on the laboratories is yes, it got the number of laboratories down, so we'll see some efficiency improvements by having fewer line organizations. But the big difference is that the people in charge of the new laboratories are responsible not just for the research activities in a given area, but also for the services that deliver the research results to industry."

By December of last year the agency had initiated internal conversations with staff about changing the structure, and also reached out to industry partners and stake holders. The restructuring is the most significant organizational change in over 20 years at the agency, and happened in less than a year.

"It is rather quick, and I think one of the reasons it went so well is that we took this very open process," Gallagher said. "By letting everybody who might have an objection weigh in early on, and feel like they had a say in the outcome, it was really pretty smooth."