NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NIH Chief Information Officer Norris Retires

Norris smiles standing at a podium
NIH CIO Andrea Norris at her retirement party

Photo:  Marleen Van Den Neste

NIH Chief Information Officer Andrea Norris, who also served as director of the Center for Information Technology (CIT), retired on Dec. 31. For more than a decade, she led a $1.6 billion technology portfolio that supports the research of the agency’s 27 institutes and centers as well as researchers at more than 2,500 universities and medical centers across the country that receive NIH funding.

“I have relied heavily on Andrea over the years for her expert advice on a range of information technology issues,” said Dr. Lawrence Tabak, performing the duties of NIH director. “Her guidance is frequently sought not only by NIH leadership but also by leaders from across HHS and the federal government on IT and data science matters that could significantly impact NIH. We are grateful for the many ways she has enabled the advancement of the NIH mission.”

Norris’s career leading national management and technology programs and operations in the public sector stretches back 40 years. She came to NIH after prior senior leadership roles at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA, bringing invaluable management experience on a wide variety of agency technology initiatives. 

“It has been an exciting time to be at NIH and I’m so proud of the many ways that technology has helped to catalyze and enable NIH’s accomplishments over the last decade,” Norris said. 

NIH benefited enormously from her deep knowledge in strategic planning, business management and technology. She established the Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative, which accelerated adoption of cloud computing by the NIH-supported biomedical research community. 

“Our cloud-based STRIDES program allows investigators to access and analyze more than 200 petabytes of research data from more than 1,200 science institutions and programs,” she explained.

Other tech achievements under Norris’s watch include building and sustaining a modern network that supports transit of up to 6 petabytes of data each day; expansion of Biowulf, the world’s largest high-performance computational resource focused on biomedical research; and developing modern platforms and tools to enable the NIH workforce to work from anywhere at any time with excellence. 

The Biowulf expansion alone resulted in a 500% increase in computing capacity and significant modernization of NIH’s overall computing and networking environment. 

“Most recently,” Norris reflected, “I’ve had the privilege of co-chairing an effort to develop NIH’s first digital strategic plan with [NLM Director] Dr. Patti Brennan and a committee of talented individuals from across NIH. The strategy proposes a new and more synergistic approach for technology decision-making and describes a cohesive framework to guide how NIH prioritizes and delivers high-priority, high-value capabilities over the next five years. Most importantly, it recommends new ways of working together to ensure NIH has the capabilities necessary to advance discoveries in the years ahead.”

A group photo featuring Norris and NIH leadership
Norris (second from r) is joined by (from l) NIH Acting Chief of Staff John Burklow, NIH Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Tara Schwetz and Dr. Lawrence Tabak, performing the duties of NIH director.

Photo:  Marleen Van Den Neste

“True to Andrea’s exceptional ability to work across large organizations, she ensured that this effort broadly engaged all of NIH, focused on future needs, and addressed all functions of NIH ranging from grants management, to building management, to the conduct of science,” Brennan observed. “I am extremely proud to have co-chaired this effort with Andrea and to have worked side by side with someone who demonstrates such commitment, wisdom, and leadership. Andrea has not only left an indelible footprint on this new strategic vision but also on all the work she has led during her tenure at NIH.” 

Norris said, “We should continue to experiment and exploit opportunities to use technology more strategically to accelerate what we do, which is to turn knowledge into discovery, and accelerate impacts on health and disease for people around the world. I’m proud and happy to have been a small part of these amazing advances. I can’t wait to hear about all of NIH’s continued successes.”

During her NIH tenure, Andrea was selected as a fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration and received the Theodore Roosevelt Government Leadership Award. She also was recognized twice with the Presidential Rank Award, once at NIH and once at NSF, for meritorious service for delivering exceptional public sector leadership and high-impact results.

“Andrea Norris is an outstanding example of a woman leader in health information technology,” said Brennan. “She is a visionary and well-respected leader—one who possesses deep technical knowledge, experience, creativity, and thoughtfulness. I have had the good fortune to work closely with Andrea and consider her to be one of my closest colleagues at NIH.”

Norris also steered implementation of a 100-gigabit high-speed networking infrastructure to support public access to health and science information and connect researchers around the world. 

Under her leadership, communication and digital capabilities for NIH staff were significantly expanded, including a broad range of NIH IT systems and services that support research and operational activities. 

In addition, NIH’s Cybersecurity Program was significantly bolstered under Norris’s leadership to reduce high-impact risks, including maturing the cyber tool infrastructure with multiple layers of defensive software and implementing state-of-the-market secure identity and access technologies to support more than 300,000 researchers who access NIH data resources and systems.

Above the rewarding work and collegial atmosphere at NIH, Norris said she will miss her colleagues and the exceptional collaborations the community affords.

“It has been an incredible honor and privilege to work with the people in CIT and the Office of the CIO—the leadership and management team, federal staff, contractors and business partners who work so hard to support the technology needs of the NIH community,” she said. “They never miss a beat and always do whatever it takes to support the NIH mission with excellence. It has also been a pleasure to work with thousands of individuals from the Office of the Director and the institutes and centers on myriad cross-NIH technology efforts. NIH colleagues are always generous with their time, expertise and support. I will truly miss working with and learning from such smart, talented and dedicated individuals.”

Norris looks to plotting out her post-NIH chapter with a bit more leisure.

“Initially I want to take some time to relax a bit, spend more time with my family and be thoughtful about what’s next without the pressures of everyday work responsibilities,” she concluded. 

“I have a three-year-old granddaughter and a new grandson due in March, and I can’t wait to have fun with them. Although I am retiring from federal service, I will likely continue to work on initiatives that have meaning and purpose where I can contribute my skills and experiences in new ways. It’s what I love doing. And the list of personal goals I want to accomplish keeps getting longer! I’m going to try and make the next 10 years be as special as the last 10 have been for me here at NIH.”

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

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