New NIST Director Faces Cybersecurity Decisions

Senate Confirms Patrick Gallagher to Head Institute
New NIST Director Faces Cybersecurity Decisions
After 2½ years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a new director, and cybersecurity will be among his top priorities.

The Senate confirmed by unanimous consent late Thursday Patrick Gallagher, 46, to be the 14th director of NIST, part of the Commerce Department.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke called Gallagher - who had been serving as NIST deputy director when President Obama nominated him Sept. 10 - a top-notch scientist, administrator and proven leader. "We expect him to continue his capable stewardship of NIST as we tackle complex problems like cybersecurity, developing an interoperable smart-energy grid, standardizing electronic health records and advancing the manufacturing sector," Locke said in a statement.

Gallagher is taking office as Congress considers giving NIST more influence in developing cybersecurity standards and creating IT security awareness and education programs for the public.

Among Gallagher's early challenges as director could be a decision on where NIST's cybersecurity research organization fits within the institute. The Computer Security Division, responsible for providing the government with IT security guidance, is situated within the Information Technology Laboratory, one of 10 labs responsible for conducting research and developing measurements and standards in a wide variety of disciplines, including IT, building and fire research, nanoscale science, physics and manufacturing engineering.

In August, IT Lab Director Cita Furlani proposed reorganizing the IT Lab by elevating the position of cybersecurity adviser to the lab headquarters, and provide more collaboration on IT security among lab units. Furlani said Gallagher had been part the discussions behind her proposal.

But in October, Furlani withdrew the reorganization plan as some stakeholders complained the proposed reorganization would weaken the Computer Security Division's impact on federal cybersecurity. Indeed, some IT security experts, including as Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer Susan Landau and Cornell University Computer Science Professor Fred Schneider, suggested the Computer Security Division be elevated within NIST to become its 11th laboratory, putting it on par with the IT Lab.

Though very familiar with NIST's IT and cybersecurity pursuits, Gallagher's expertise is in physics - he holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pittsburgh - and joined NIST in 1993 to pursue research in neutron and X-tray instrumentation, and accompanying studies of the properties of technologically important "soft" materials such as polymers, liquids and gels. After several promotions, he was named deputy director in September 2008.

Gallagher, in a statement, said he was humbled and honored to serve as NIST director. "NIST is at an important juncture in its history. We have a world-class workforce, state-of-the-art research facilities, and the opportunity to make a real difference helping find practical, innovative solutions to some of the nation's toughest technical challenges."

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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