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Homeland security calls for sci/tech innovation

John H. Marburger III
John H. Marburger III
Photo / Donna Coveney

Without pain, organizations don't change and the U.S. government is no exception, the science advisor to President Bush and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told more than 170 students, faculty, researchers, and public and private sector representatives at a May 2 Faculty Club luncheon.

According to John H. Marburger III, the pain that caused the U.S. government to change--Sept. 11 and the anthrax scare--resulted in the formation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an agency whose initiatives cut across traditional boundaries.

Marburger said designing, developing and deploying technologies necessary to implement DHS policies place new demands on scientists and engineers. They must work across a complex landscape of agencies, committees and standards; understand technology, policy and human dynamics; and work with experts in social and administrative sciences. "MIT's Engineering Systems Division and its Technology and Policy Program are ideally suited to this type of engagement," said Marburger.

Marburger's keynote presentation on "Implementing Homeland Security" was part of the third annual Technology and Policy Program symposium. This year's event, "Global and Homeland Security: Science, Technology and the Role of the University," was co-sponsored by the Technology and Policy Program (TPP), the Engineering Systems Division (ESD), the President's and Provost's Offices, the Sloan Foundation, the Center for International Studies, and the Program in Science, Technology and Society.

Also at the symposium, Harvard University Professor Lewis M. Branscomb covered science, technology and the challenge of protecting civil societies. President Charles M. Vest spoke on science and technology's role in homeland security and university research issues.

The panel discussions were chaired by ESD faculty. Guests from industry and academia spoke on cross-cutting technologies for homeland security, sector responses to security threats and university responses to homeland security.

"One reason I'm here today is to listen and try to understand the spectrum of discourses so I can tune up my own thinking," said Marburger.

Branscomb presented an overview of the 400-page National Research Council report, "Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism." The report was written by a committee that Branscomb co-chaired. "Science and technology can't eliminate the terrorist threat, but they can help us avoid some disasters and recover more quickly from others," he said.

He emphasized the importance of understanding the roots of the problem to create a more peaceful world, stressing that the "social sciences and the humanities need to play a bigger role."

Vest spoke of the need for universities to be both open and secure, particularly in terms of foreign students, researchers and unrestricted access to scientific research and information.

"Second only to a weapon of mass destruction deployed in an American city, there can be nothing more dangerous than the failure to properly manage science, technology and education for the common good over the next quarter-century," said Vest, quoting from a 2001 report by the Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security/21st Century.

"There needs to be a greater, more functional partnership between government, industry and those who believe that openness is important to the long-range security of the nation," said Vest.

"We need clarity, strong voices at the top, an elimination of ad hoc policy-making, and effective dialogue between the federal government and universities," said Daniel Hastings, director of TPP. "At MIT, we want to be a critical part of that debate. My profound hope is that TPP students will be among the leaders in this country and others, and be a force for inclusiveness and moderation."

More information on the symposium is available at Send e-mail to Renee Robins at for a copy of the proceedings.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 7, 2003.

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