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Paths to making a difference in government - Patrick Gallagher - EY - United States

Paths to making a difference

Patrick Gallagher

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In the private sector, you can just come up with a plan, announce it, and then do it. Government is different. You need to invite participation.

EY - Patrick Gallagher

Dr. Gallagher was nominated by President Obama to serve as Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in September 2009 and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November 2009.

Gallagher also serves as Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and as Co-Chair of the Standards Subcommittee under the White House National Science and Technology Council. The Under Secretary position was created by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 which was signed in January 2011.

The challenge

When Gallagher was appointed Deputy Director in September 2008, NIST faced the following issues common to many government science agencies:

  • It had a historically low profile.
  • Its mission was not always clear to the Administration's political leadership and the agency's relevance was frequently questioned.
  • It had not been reorganized in over 20 years, since the 1988 legislation which renamed the agency and added several functions.
  • It was facing the continued challenge of recruiting and retaining a world class workforce.

After being selected as Acting Director, Gallagher set out to respond to this set of challenges.

Responding to the challenge

By being appointed as Deputy Director in September 2008, Gallagher had the unique opportunity to prepare for the Presidential transition to start in November 2008 and to then participate in the actual transition from November 2008 to January 2009.

"It was good to be starting at the same time as the new leaders. As a career person, I had good access to the new political leaders. I could interact with them on the major issues on their agenda."

Based on his previous 15 years as a career scientist at NIST, Gallagher had a clear sense of where he thought the organization needed to go. "I knew that the agency had to be better organized and more effective," reflects Gallagher. "I wanted to improve the stability of NIST."

Gallagher undertook the reorganization as a series of steps. The first step was to eliminate the Deputy Director position and create three Associate Directors: for Laboratory Programs, for Innovation and Industry Services, and for Management Resources.

The number of NIST laboratory organizations was reduced from 10 to six and placed under the Associate Director for Laboratory Programs. The reorganization of the labs was done to increase both the mission and multi-disciplinary focus of each laboratory.

The reorganization was a top priority for Gallagher during his first year in office.

"The organization was supportive of the change," he said.

"It had been talked about for years and there was general recognition that the time had come to make the change. In the private sector, you can just come up with a plan, announce it, and then do it. Government is different. You need to invite participation."

The reorganization was not just an "add-on" activity for Gallagher. It was central to his strategy to change the culture of NIST and to strengthen the organization to survive in the 21st century.

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