Monday, May 8, 2000
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I’m Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. The Endowment was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improve government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment and its programs by visiting us on the Web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.
The Business of Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our special guest tonight is Ray Kammer, director, National Institute of Standards in Technology. Welcome, Ray.
Mr. Kammer: Thank you, Paul. It's a pleasure to be here.
Mr. Lawrence: On our first segment I d like to find out more about the National Institutes of Standards in Technology. I think it's been called the technology infrastructure of our country, but I'd be interested in you explaining more about it.
Mr. Kammer: Surely. The National Institute of Standards in Technology is about a 3300-person agency. We have about $800 million, and our mission is to work with the private sector to grow the economy, improve the quality of life in the United States, and we use three tools. We use measurements, we use standards, and we use technology.
Mr. Lawrence: What do you mean by each of those three?
Mr. Kammer: Well, in the case of measurements, if you think about it, to have commerce as opposed to a barter system you have to have two things. You have to have a trusted money supply -- we don't really have anything to do that -- and you have to trust your system of weights and measures. In the Old Testament there are eight allusions to weights and measures, and in each case it appears that somebody was cheating somebody. So it's a historically significant problem.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your career. I understand you began with the Department of Commerce thirty years ago and you've had different positions. Perhaps you could run us through your career?
Mr. Kammer: Sure. I started out as a budget analyst. I became the budget officer of the National Bureau of Standards in those days. I became the chief of staff to the director, director of administration, and then from there I jumped into being acting director of the physics laboratory, associate director, and in 1980 I became deputy director of NIST. The director is a political appointee, so as deputy director I was the chief public servant, if you will.
I left NIST a couple of times after I became deputy director, one time to be the chief operating officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which was a lot of fun because that's when we were modernizing the satellites and deploying the Doppler radar. And from 1994 to 1996 I was chief financial officer of the Department of Commerce, chief information officer, and also assistant secretary for administration.
And in 1997, I'm happy to say, the President nominated me at the recommendation of Secretary Bill Daley, the Senate approved me, and since November 1997, I have been director of NIST. It's the best job in government.
Mr. Lawrence: How so?
Mr. Kammer: I get to learn new technologies. I'm obliged to own the most advanced computers and use them which is something I like very much. I spend about 20 percent of my time with the staff, visiting with the staff, having them explain to me what they think the technical opportunities of the future are and why they're the opportunities of the future and how we're going to go about doing it. That is just a lot of fun.
Mr. Lawrence: Now, you were drawn to public service right after you graduated with your undergraduate degree. So I'm curious. What drew you to public service?
Mr. Kammer: Frankly, it was the local industry. I am fortunate that logging wasn't the local industry or my career would be completely over. What drew me was the opportunity to make a big difference, which you can do in government, and if you're a person like me who enjoys seeing results and enjoys making the society better, government is a good career choice.
Mr. Lawrence: And you said there are 3300 employees at NIST, and I understand more than half of them are scientists and engineers and yet you're not either. How does that affect your ability to lead the organization?
Mr. Kammer: Well, I hold myself accountable for being able to answer the questions what and why with respect to our programs and our program decisions. I don't actually hold myself accountable for how. I like to learn how and I like to hear from the staff on that, but that's not really my job.
Actually, I joke with my friends and peers that help me run the agency that they're all former scientists. They all got Ph.D. in some physical science. I'm still using my major. I majored in English. They're no longer using their majors — they're long out of the laboratories.
Mr. Lawrence: What are some of the biggest changes you've seen at NIST in the Department of Commerce since you began?
Mr. Kammer: One of the not so good ones is there used to be, I think, a presumption of good intentions on the part of society with respect to government. There's an awful lot more suspicion now, concern that somebody actually wants to do something bad to them, and that's not a good thing. I don't think that's good for our society.
Some of the things that have changed that are good things… I think the appreciation for the significance of technology by our society has increased tremendously. The Internet itself is a complete game changer. It's changed the way everybody does everything. The speed of the technology, thirty years ago technology unfolded at a leisurely pace. It goes very fast now. Also, people used to work with people just like them. Atomic physicists worked with atomic physicists. Now they always work with computer scientists and probably three or four other disciplines.
Mr. Lawrence: How about the challenges to the people managing our government?
Mr. Kammer: I think the biggest challenge is recruiting good people and keeping them and creating an environment where good people want to stay, and if you can do that you can succeed at anything.
Mr. Lawrence: And I was going to say well, what are the challenges? What is it like to recruit and retain at NIST? Because I think that the private sector, as you've indicated, is a particularly attractive alternative to younger, junior people beginning their career.
Mr. Kammer: One of the things different about NIST from the rest of the government is we have, by law, our own personnel system. About fifteen years ago we realized that it was taking us eight months to get through all the approvals in government and you can't be competitive in the sciences or engineering with that.
We now have a system where, worst case, we can hire somebody in two weeks. Often we can do it a lot faster than that. We have independent classification authority. All of that makes a big, big difference in hiring people. But even so at best we're paying about .8 of what a mid-level person would get in the private sector or at a university.
On the other hand, as a matter of policy, we buy the best equipment. We encourage you to follow your research where it takes you. We are happy to have you publish. There are no trade secrets. We don't have a teaching load. There is a class of people to whom that kind of a life is very appealing. Every year we hire sixty new post-docs for two years. Traditionally in the sciences, people do a post-doc and then perhaps go on to somewhere else or perhaps stay. We get very high-quality post docs, and we retain about half of them. And that's our principal method of recruiting our scientists.
Mr. Lawrence: You've had a unique career. You explain not only your time at NIST but also when you were in the Office of the Secretary as the acting CFO or the CIO and I'm just curious how that experience increased your understanding of the role of the Secretary especially vis-a-vis NIST.
Mr. Kammer: I had no idea before I worked downtown for two years with three secretaries of Commerce. The only problems that come in to the Office of the Secretary are problems that are guaranteed to be virtually unsolvable and yet they must be dealt with.
I'll give you an example. We're in the midst of conducting the census, and as you know, the 1990 census was the first de-centennial census where a less good job was done than previously. And the reason is a lot of elements of our society are not comfortable with government any more. They don't want to be counted and they don't believe that you're not going to tell the IRS or the INS that they're here. So they're actively avoiding being counted, and yet we allocate money to our cities to support social services based on this enumeration, and we're having just a terrible challenge.
Congress has said we must do an actual enumeration rather than a statistical estimate, and people don't necessarily want to be counted. The Secretary of Commerce has no choice but to deal with this problem.
Mr. Lawrence: So what kind of management skills are needed to operate in an environment with those type problems?
Mr. Kammer: A willingness to make decisions rapidly on quite incomplete information, a willingness to accept responsibility for your decisions and realize that with these kinds of decisions there is no selection, there is no choice you can make that will please everybody. And, indeed, for a high-stakes issue like the census, there's going to be intense feeling that people that aren't happy with you are going to be very unhappy with you.
Mr. Lawrence: And yet it seems like our government was designed to go slow and not make decisions quickly.
Mr. Kammer: That's right and in a lot of cases I think that's a good thing rather than a bad thing. Deliberative process needs to be in place, but for operational assignments like the census, like forecasting the weather, you have to move quickly. But those are not policy debates for the most part; at least they're not usually. I think policy debates should be leisurely.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, great. And it's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with Ray Kammer, director, National Institute of Standards in Technology.
Well, Ray, in the second session let's talk about reinvention at NIST. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of NIST, and I'm wondering how NIST has been able to meet the expectations that were set upon.
Mr. Kammer: You bet. First of all, let me say that NIST is the best measurement and standards laboratory in the world, and I'm not saying that just because I'm enthusiastic about the agency. What we've done is we've benchmarked ourselves against the rest of the world. We ask questions like what does US industry need now and in the future? Who's doing the best job on measuring this particular attribute in the world in the world? If it's not us, what do we need to do to become the best in the world? The US economy is the largest and most vibrant economy in the world and they need the best measurements and standards in the world.
Mr. Lawrence: And NIST has a vital connection to many parts of our society. I wonder if you can tell us in a typical day how one might encounter NIST?
Mr. Kammer: Let me limit my example to the automobile because that's something I think everybody's pretty interested in and knows a lot about. First of all, the automobiles in the United States are now manufactured to a 2-millimeter tolerance — that's the fit and finish between different pieces. Even tighter tolerances than that are necessary for the piston. All of those measurements are traceable to NIST. In addition to that, there are chemical characterizations, the paint, the rubber, and the glass… all are traceable to measurements that are done by NIST.
We also have supported through the advanced technology program new technologies. I mentioned that the tolerances on the body were 2 millimeters. Well, six years ago they were 9 millimeters, and you can tell the difference. Japanese cars were about 3 to 4 millimeters at that point, and US industry made a proposal under competitive competition and we selected them to work on improving their tolerances. There were 65 separate attributes they needed to improve, and they did. They succeeded. And you can tell the difference when you touch the car now.
In addition to that, how do you operate your car? Well, the gasoline's metered. That measurement's traceable to NIST. The composition of the fuel itself, the composition of the oil that's used for lubrication, all are traceable to NIST.
When you ride over the roadways the roadways were all characterized using concrete and macadam standards that we helped develop, and just the earthquake resistance of the bridges that you go over are all designed according to specifications developed at NIST.
Mr. Lawrence: Information technology continues to change our economy. How has the increased growth and focus of technology shaped the function and structure of NIST today?
Mr. Kammer: It's changed everything. The Internet is the most profound influence that I can think of, and it's happened all since 1990. It's just amazing.
The way we share information, most of what NIST does needs to be shared with the public in order to succeed. No standard's valuable unless people know about it and practice it. So we now have web sites for everything we do. All of our publications appear on line. We have a virtual library that people can access over the Internet. Most of our handbooks and data are now published on the Internet.
The way we operate has changed. We have now online forms. Mostly we communicate by e-mail. The way we interact with our external customers, for instance, we've got the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, and all those criteria are on line. Anybody can check them any time they want.
If you want to make a proposal for the advanced technology program, you can get all the criteria off the internet at 2:00 o'clock in the morning if you'd like. We developed a Y2K tool kit, which we distributed through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. There's about 400,000 small and medium-sized manufacturers out there, most of whom are struggling with competitiveness and technology issues.
The way we share our results with our peer groups in the scientific community, we communicate with other national measurement and standards laboratories over something called MeasureNet, which we helped develop. We wrote the software for it. Anybody that wants to spend $5000 or so on the equipment can then collaborate with us. We can share information. We can actually control each other's machinery from a distance, which can be very interesting.
Mr. Lawrence: And how has this increase in use of technology affected the employees of NIST and also the customers as well?
Mr. Kammer: I think it's a tremendous increase in productivity, which is important, of course. It also extends our reach. We're the same size today that we were in 1954, and the economy has increased how many-fold since then… many, many, many times. It's also become more sophisticated and more complicated. The ability for us to rapidly reach our clientele, to have our clientele rapidly reach us, the ability to operate 24 hours a day, that's all conferred upon us by the internet. It's great.
Mr. Lawrence: Any customer pushback or feedback on these technologies?
Mr. Kammer: It all seems to be positive. We used to have a very frustrating problem with our calibrations. We will calibrate people's voltmeters for them if they send them in, and we give them a certificate that then allows them to demonstrate traceability to NIST and there are often legal requirements to do that.
We had a lot of customers that were unhappy because they felt it took too long. They didn't know where their voltmeter was and they wanted it back. We put the whole calibration system on the Internet so you can track by your own personal number where you are. You can e-mail the person that has them and ask how long it's going to be. It took all the uncertainty out of the system.
It also provided a sense of feedback to the staff that was doing the work, and it went from really not being a good system -- we didn't have happy customers -- to a system now where we have very happy customers.
Mr. Lawrence: That sounds exciting. Now, you did mention the Malcolm Baldridge Award, and I don't think it's widely known that the award is housed and staffed by NIST. Can you tell us more about the award and why performance standards are becoming so important to business?
Mr. Kammer: The award was assigned to us in 1987, and I will tell you that I was a skeptic. I was deputy director at that point, and the notion of the government somehow presuming to instruct the private sector in quality management did not seem reasonable to me.
And in fact, the way we then approached it was we called together the best practitioners in the private sector and we got them to help us develop the criteria. And to this day we revise the criteria every year.
You don't have to be bad to get better. We're always trying to improve. But we spend about $5 million of the government's money. The private sector participates with us. We have 250 people that do evaluations for us that donate their time. We estimate that the private sector donation to this program and operation of the program is about 100 million dollars a year. What really makes the program go is all the volunteers from the private sector.
There are about two million copies of the criteria distributed since 1988. You don't have to apply for the award to use the criteria. I actually use them in running the National Institute of Standards in Technology. There are about 60 quality programs internationally.
And let me close by saying that if you had a stock portfolio of Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award winners that are individually traded it had outperformed the Standard and Poor Index last year by 5 to 1.
Mr. Lawrence: That is exciting.
Mr. Kammer: And the S&P Index did well last year.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, on that note it's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with Ray Kammer, director, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Well, Ray, in this segment, let's talk about managing NIST. You spent most of your career there, so what was the office like when you arrived, and what changes did you initiate after becoming director?
Mr. Kammer: I had a very interesting opportunity after I stopped being the CFO of the Department of Commerce. For two months before I was confirmed I couldn't work at NIST because I was waiting to be confirmed, and I was done being CFO. We now had a permanent one.
I realized that I would probably be director for about three years. It's a political job. When it's over you leave. That's the Constitution and I planned for that. So I wanted to get the most I could out of the three years, and I articulated five challenges for the staff which I have repeated very regularly to the staff.
The first of these was to make sure that NIST had the best measurement and standards laboratories in the world, and we talked a little bit about that earlier.
The second was to focus on creating a level playing field for product standards in the United States. Our economy buys and sells goods by voluntary products standards that are specifications of products. In the international marketplace those tend to be very Euro-centric. The United States didn't pay the attention it should have fifteen years ago. And so I spent a lot of time trying to create a national consensus on a national strategy and now we're approaching the ISO and the IAC, which are the international standards bodies, and we're asking for a more level playing field.
The third challenge was to resolve the political controversy surrounding the advanced technology program. Some Republicans feel that it's an inappropriate intrusion into the marketplace, and the advocates of the program think that it's the best way to encourage the private sector to invest in high risk and, we hope, high payoff technology.
The fourth challenge that I articulated was increasing the reach of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. At the time I started as director we were working with about 15,000 companies a year, and that's out of roughly 400,000 in the United States. We're up to about 30,000 a year now. We're beginning to use the Internet, and that's going to be the key to getting full reach.
And then, finally, I wanted to add two categories of the Baldridge Award, one in health care and one in education. We've done that. We've had the first competition. While there weren't any winners, I think over time there will be.
Mr. Lawrence: The last two you described had measurable outcomes, and you indicated how you were doing relative to those, but how about the first three? Those were somewhat broader and perhaps less tangible at some point.
Mr. Kammer: Well, in the case of the measurement and standards laboratories and making sure they're the best in the world, I've done 45 benchmarks at this point by different attributes. And for each one I have a table that shows us where we stand vis-a-vis the rest of the world, and in most cases I'm happy to report we stand in first place. Of course, you have to keep running pretty hard to stay there.
The second and third objectives are much more qualitative, as you said. But we now have after three difficult years of debate, a concurred-upon national standards strategy for the United States where all the stakeholders in the United States have agreed to it and we're just about to approach the ISO and the IAC. So I can say that there's progress, although the outcome is probably still years away.
And in the case of the ATP program, resolving controversy, it's still controversial. I've tried but I don't think I've been as successful there as I want to be.
Mr. Lawrence: Earlier you mentioned that you have your own annual authorization, annual appropriation, and you're also headed by a presidential appointee. I wonder how these unique characteristics help NIST meets its challenges.
Mr. Kammer: It gives us a visibility we would not otherwise have. There are many fine laboratories in the government system, national labs, but they tend to be run either by career people or by contractors, and as a result they don't have separate authorizations. They don't have the kind of congressional visibility that we do.
From 1901 to 1954 we only had one piece of legislation. From 1954 to 1965 we had two added. From 1965 until now we've had 150 additional assignments given to us because of congressional interest. It helps us stay relevant, it helps us stay valuable to the American society, and that's important.
Mr. Lawrence: Earlier we talked about it enabled you to attract employees you might otherwise not be able to. Are there any other advantages?
Mr. Kammer: I think the autonomy, the ability to make decisions. I'm very fortunate. My bosses in Congress, my bosses is in the White House, my bosses in the Department of Commerce feel very comfortable that it's appropriate for us to set our own technical agenda. They expect to hear what the results are, but they are very comfortable with letting us do that.
Mr. Lawrence: Let's talk about the employees in NIST. What are you doing differently today than what you may have done in the past?
Mr. Kammer: We now have a leadership and management development program to train the next generation of leaders at the agency. That's relatively new. You could say it's too late for us to have been early but it is relatively new.
We just did an employee survey of all of the staff, and we asked a lot of questions that are asked in the private sector so we could benchmark ourselves against the private sector by asking the same questions. I'm happy to report that 85 percent of our staff responded with a 4 or a 5, which means they agree or agree very strongly to the statement, "I am proud to work at NIST."
We also started doing 360-degree performance evaluations, which in a scientific agency where most people are a little concerned about things like that it's intimidating. This has been a bit of a challenge to get going but it's working, and I think it's creating value.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, I was going to say a 360-survey is often a big cultural change. How long did it take to roll that out?
Mr. Kammer: We're still rolling. We have probably 40 percent of the staff now participating in 360-degree evaluations and everybody else is committed to adding it before the end of this calendar year. We're trying to do it off of the normal appraisal cycle, which for us runs from October 1st to September 30th, because I think that just raises the stakes too much. You're right, it is a cultural change. It's a big cultural change for us, but it's worked in the places we've tried it and people prefer it once they've done it.
Mr. Lawrence: And what led you to develop the leadership and management training you've described?
Mr. Kammer: We tend to promote people into management because of their proficiency as scientists and engineers and then discover that there is not necessarily a correlation. In fact, sometimes there's an anti-correlation between being a good scientist and being a good manager.
If you're a measurement expert you should have a low tolerance for ambiguity, for instance. You don't want the number plus or minus a little bit; you want the number. I find a good manager has to have a pretty high tolerance for ambiguity. Whenever you're dealing with people there's going to be ambiguous circumstances.
Mr. Lawrence: And you talk about NIST valuing leadership, teamwork, and innovation. How are these qualities encouraged and even rewarded at NIST?
Mr. Kammer: We have a very active recognition program. We also nominate our staff for a lot of external awards. Many of our staff have been honored by being inducted into the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineers. We even have one Nobel Prize winner, and I have a sense of optimism that we have other people who are competitive for Nobel Prizes.
One of the things I do personally is I send a lot of handwritten notes to people when they've accomplished something, maybe even something that everybody else doesn't know about. I visit people a lot and I tell them I think they're doing a good job if I feel that's the case. We promote. We have a pay system that's performance-based as well. It has a cap on it that's probably lower than I wish it was, but up to that cap people can be promoted quite rapidly. In fact, you can make about a 50-percent change in somebody's salary in two years.
Mr. Lawrence: And what are some of the other challenges in managing employees at NIST?
Mr. Kammer: I think one of the most important is keeping up with technology. AT NIST, people respect people in our culture if they know what they're talking about. And it's real important to make sure for me personally that I stay current enough that I'm aware of what's going on.
I think it's also a big challenge to deal with the shrinking generations of technology. Technology now… eight months for generation software, and eighteen months for microprocessor. The most complicated thing mankind makes, which is a jet turbine engine because it's highly regulated as well as using very sophisticated material, software, electronics… twenty-nine months now from design to delivery.
That's a terrible challenge for everybody, and it also means sometimes we're going to bet on the wrong horse, which is hard in our culture to accept. I'm investing in three different technology visions for electronics for the next generation. Two of them are going to be wrong.
Mr. Lawrence: You talked about the need to keep abreast of changing technology. Does that translate into a need to bring new people in and keep some turning going so that you have —
Mr. Kammer: Yes, we deal with that in several ways. Our staff turnover is less than 5 percent for technical and professional staff. So one of the strategies that we used in addition to our staff of employees, there are about 1200 people that work at NIST who are not in our employ. They come from universities, they come from private companies, they come from overseas; and they work with us and they bring new ideas. And then they go away and new people come. It's a way of having some intellectual format, which is an important thing in a research environment.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, great. And it's time for a break. We'll right back with more of The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)
Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers. And tonight's conversation is with Ray Kammer, director, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Well, Ray, in this last segment, let's talk about the future. I'm wondering what are some of the key issues that NIST will be facing in the future?
Mr. Kammer: I think from a technical point of view one of the really interesting ones is in the next eight years, perhaps less, we're going to see the end of the electronics age. The feature size in electronics is coming very close at this point to the point where the phenomenon exploited by electronics, which are bulk properties, will no longer exist.
You'll get down to the point where you're having to manipulate individual atoms and molecules, and we're going to have find other strategies. That's going to be an enormous change for all of us. I think nano- technology, working with small feature sizes in other areas, exploiting mechanical and chemical phenomena, is a big issue for us.
E-commerce is going to grow. By 2004, economists estimate that business to business e-commerce is going to be three trillion dollars, which would make it 25 percent of the economy in that year. Today it's not at 1 percent, so that implies enormous changes for all of us.
I think in health care, one of the extraordinary changes that are going to take place that through the ATP program this helped enable is genetic tests on a credit card-size device. Right now for the six or so genetic attributes that you can be tested for you'd have to pay $1200 to $1500 for each attribute, which means you'd only do it if there was a family history. Then it might be worth doing, but otherwise it wouldn't make sense.
In the next six or seven years, credit card-shaped devices that fit in devices about the size of a normal PC are going to be available for testing many genetic attributes at a cost of only a few dollars a pop. This makes the possibility of routine screening of the entire population possible, which will have tremendous health benefits, but it also has tremendous implications for ethics and things like privacy. Those are hard to think through but are some of the most exciting changes I think our society will see in the next decade.
Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask a couple of follow-up questions. You mentioned e-commerce, and so I'm wondering what's NIST's role in e-commerce?
Mr. Kammer: Well, I think we have three main roles, measurements and standards for electronic commerce and what we provide there is measurements of interoperability. All the e-commerce services are not produced by one person so the only the way they can inter-operate is if they're manufactured with hooks, at least, that are standard, some sort of application hooks that will allow them to inter-operate with other services.
Functionality is also important, computer security, for instance. People claim that they just sold you software that provides computer security. Does it? We have test beds where you can test the functionality or indeed the vendor can say I tested this against the NIST test bed and it does work.
One piece of technology that we'll be putting out of our measurements and standards labs this summer is something called the advanced encryption standard. Right now the most widely used piece of encryption is the data encryption standard issued by the National Bureau of Standards, NIST's precursor, twenty years ago. That's getting old. It's possible with great difficulty now to exploit it, so we're putting out the next generation this summer, and we hope that that generation will last thirty years but we'll see. It's hard to know what computers will do.
We do some technology development through the advanced technology program. For instance, we've funded the creation of an information infrastructure for health care, which is a very important area that isn't working very well now.
And then, finally, electronic commerce for smaller manufacturers. Through our Manufacturing Extension Partnership with our 2000 technology field agents we're reaching out to the 400,000 small and medium- size manufacturers and providing with them with pieces of software and tool kits that they can use to become familiar with electronic commerce.
Mr. Lawrence: You just mentioned the credit card-size device which will enable genetic testing to be cheaper and, I'm assuming, faster, and you talked about how that would work and you hinted at some of the ethical considerations around that. How do those types of questions play into what NIST does?
Mr. Kammer: We try very hard to evaluate the implications of technology for society. Privacy is a big, big issue. In the case of the genetic testing you can imagine models where your health insurer wants to screen you ahead of time in order to only pick healthy people or people without any genetic disposition toward expensive illnesses.
I think our society is going to have to address that as a group, but that's definitely one of the implications of this technology, and I expect there will be legislation conferring privacy and probably precluding the ability of people to screen by genetic dispositions.
Mr. Lawrence: One of the most interesting trends in government is the use of public and private partnerships. You've mentioned ATP a couple times and mentioned that it was created to accelerate the use of innovative technologies, I'm wondering how do you see these partnerships working in the future?
Mr. Kammer: I think the most challenging part of creating these partnerships is the intellectual property. I made a fundamental decision for NIST that we were going to concede the intellectual property to the private partner because I believe it makes it more likely that it will be exploited and developed than if the government holds it. But a lot of other federal agencies have not yet come to that same conclusion, and I've seen many other federal agencies where to have a cooperative agreement with the agency sometimes takes as long as a year or fails all together. Because we don't need to debate intellectual property with people we collaborate with we can sign agreements sometimes the same day that they're proposed.
Mr. Lawrence: Why do you think others have been reluctant to concede that?
Mr. Kammer: Let's say that you co-fund some research with a private firm and you discover the cure for poverty. Are you willing to take the heat as a federal manager for the fact that that's been conferred upon a private sector person rather than retained by the government? I would argue yes, that's the appropriate way, that's our economic system, and that's the way it'll get exploited and made available to the rest of society. That's just how we work. But not everybody's comfortable with that.
Mr. Lawrence: And how about the future in terms of the leaders of NIST and the people who will be there? Do you see that changing?
Mr. Kammer: I think our current generation of leadership was grown up almost exclusively from within the agency. When I became director, one of the things I did was recruit a very, very capable individual from IBM, from their research -- it's a lady who has manufacturing experience and research experience -- because I wanted a culture that was more industry-like and I respect and admire the laboratories at IBM very highly, so I felt pretty comfortable recruiting from there.
Mr. Lawrence: And how about some advice for your successor?
Mr. Kammer: I think the most important thing for a successor to learn is quickly learn how Washington works and how the political system works. Most people who come from outside the Washington environment don't learn that until they're almost ready to leave and it's a terrible handicap.
The important thing is to be able to persuade people in the Department of Commerce and OMB and on the Hill that the budget invested in NIST is well spent. In order to do that you have to understand the programs, but you also have to understand your audience. They're mostly lawyers. Some of them are economists. There's one physicist in the House, and there's one physician in the Senate, I think, at least that I know that are prepared to understand technical issues at a more sophisticated level. The rest are not, and they're actually a little intimidated by the technical issues, and if you can't explain things to them in a way they understand they tend to just shut down.
Mr. Lawrence: This would seem to be an interesting paradox because you just spent earlier talking about how fast technology is, how increasingly complicated it is, and now you've warned that the people who you have to explain it to don't quite don't understand it.
Mr. Kammer: That's a challenge.
Mr. Lawrence: It would seem to be an interesting paradox for the next leaders.
Mr. Kammer: That is definitely a challenge. I spend a lot of my time representing the agency and seeking out people that are in a position to make decisions on us before there's an issue in front of them. And I explain to them in a low-key way when the stakes aren't high, what we do and why we do it so that when there is an important issue where the stakes perhaps are high they've already developed a comfort factor.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, great, and I'm afraid we out of time. Thank you, Ray, for being with us tonight. I enjoyed our conversation very much.
This has been The Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. To learn more about the Endowment’s programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the Web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.