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ORF Provides Infrastructure for NIH Science
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At NIH, science is the undisputed star, but the staff of the Office of Research Facilities Development and Operations (ORF) is the backstage crew that creates and runs the set on which NIH raises the curtain every day. In a play, there would be no show if it weren't for crew members who build, light and maintain the sets that bring the whole thing to life. The NIH facility infrastructure is the stage on which NIH researchers perform the work that captures the world's attention.
ORF employees plan, develop, renovate, manage, operate and maintain NIH-owned and leased facilities. More than a year ago, NIH restructured the Office of Research Services, putting all aspects of facility work under the umbrella of a single organization ORF. More recently, institute and center facility management, operation and stewardship activities around the country were consolidated with the creation of three regions, covering operations not only on the Bethesda campus, but also in Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Hamilton, Mont.; Phoenix and Baltimore. Facility staff in these locations officially became a part of ORF on Oct. 1. Making ORF responsible for the entire NIH "set" promotes greater focus on the continually changing facilities' landscape, providing a single point of accountability and streamlining the decision-making process.
Keeping NIH hit production going without interruption is not without its challenges. To fulfill its mission, the office must be flexible enough to adapt to a changing management landscape. As Acting Director Leonard Taylor noted in a recent budget report, the NIH facility program must "strike a balance between the infrastructure needs of tomorrow's research...and the need for responsible stewardship of yesterday's investments in the 'bricks and mortar' of the research enterprise." The NIH real property portfolio shows just how much bricks and mortar ORF manages a total of more than 15 million gross square feet.
Within ORF, the job of getting the set up and making sure it functions throughout the run of the show is the work of the Office of the Director and six divisions. In addition to Taylor, the Office of the Director includes directors for the newly created western, southern and mid-Atlantic regions.
A large part of the facility work for NIH begins with the Division of Facilities Planning, which develops the NIH master plan and performs transportation, environmental, parking, space allocation, project site coordination and budget planning for buildings and facilities. Requests for more lab or office space, whether on or off campus, begin in this office.
Most new construction is managed by the Division of Capital Projects Management, while renovations are primarily the responsibility of the Division of Property Management (DPM). These staffs coordinate the work of contracting officers, architects, engineers and other building professionals.
DPM has other responsibilities. Property management employees ensure that all property operates safely and efficiently. DPM staff manage and operate NIH facilities around the clock, every day of the year. They also run central utility plants and perform preventive and emergency maintenance. DPM decorates the NIH set by planting and maintaining the flowers, shrubs and trees and making sure sidewalks are clean and well-maintained.
ORF is also home to the Division of Real Property Acquisition Services, the Division of Policy and Program Assessment (DPPA) and the Division of Environmental Protection (DEP). The staff in Real Property Acquisition Services is responsible for all facilities-related contracting services, including architecture, engineering and construction contracts, as well as real property purchase and leasing. Policy and Program Assessment staff ensure the quality of NIH facilities work by developing and managing the appropriate policies, guidelines and standards for the work. DPPA also reviews project budgets and designs and develops quality-assessment guidelines. Finally, Environmental Protection employees provide administrative and technical support to ensure that NIH complies with federal, state and local conservation and environmental laws, standards and guidelines. DEP manages all non-radioactive waste streams at NIH and the recycling program. The staff also works to prevent the release of pollutants and hazardous substances and directs clean-up when accidents occur.
Ideally, the work of the stage crew takes place in the background. Scientists conduct their research without thought to the landscaper planting flowers, the workers putting in a tissue culture lab next door, staff members disposing of chemical waste, people writing policies that ensure labs are carefully and safely constructed or the legion of other ORF workers whose job it is to create a place where great science can take place.
Recognizing that much of this backstage work requires the close collaboration of many entities, ORF launched a web site on Sept. 3. The new site, at http://orf.od.nih.gov, helps establish a corporate identity and makes it easier for everyone to locate a broad range of facility information (see box).
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