William Boone Bonvillian, an attorney with experience in the legislative and executive branches of national government, expertise in science and technology policy and knowledge of the university community, has been appointed director of federal relations for MIT. He will head MIT's Washington, D.C., office.
MIT President Susan Hockfield described Bonvillian as "widely respected on both sides of Capitol Hill and in the federal agencies. He has earned that respect through years of major contributions in the policy arena, including drafting many pieces of legislation and ferrying them through the process."
Bonvillian's "understanding and skill in matters of national science policy and higher education are extraordinary, and I am delighted to welcome him to MIT," she said.
Bonvillian will assume his MIT duties on Jan. 30. He succeeds John C. Crowley, vice president for government relations and founder, in 1991, of MIT's Washington Office, which works with Congress and the executive branch to raise understanding of the contributions of higher education and research to the national welfare.
Bonvillian said he is looking forward to his new role. "I have long viewed MIT as a critical institution in the future of our society and economy and have respected its historic role in national science policymaking. I am excited about supporting the ideas that flow from its great talent base," he said.
Bonvillian has served as legislative director and chief counsel to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) since 1989. In that senior role, he has directed the senator's legislative staff and drafted and managed action on the senator's legislative policy initiatives, including initiatives in science and technology, economic growth and defense research and development.
Bonvillian served in the executive branch as deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation, from 1977 to 1980. There he worked on major legislation covering transportation deregulation and funding.
Associate Provosts Claude Canizares, the Rossi Professor of Experimental Physics, and Alice Gast, vice president for research, served as co-chairs of the MIT search committee. Other search committee members included Ernest Moniz, the Cecil & Ida Green Professor of Physics and co-director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment; Sheila Widnall, Institute Professor; and Phillip Sharp, Institute Professor and 1993 Nobel laureate.
Canizares said of Bonvillian's appointment, "Bill brings tremendous experience and knowledge to MIT. He has great stature in Washington and a deep understanding of the policy issues surrounding research universities. Having known Bill for many years makes me certain that he will quickly build strong ties to campus, and I look forward to working closely with him."
Bonvillian has also managed an innovative fellows program, and he supported Lieberman's 2002 legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security as well as the senator's current major effort to implement a national innovation initiative.
"The search committee was impressed with Bill's breadth of knowledge and understanding of the university-government relationship. His interests in research, innovation and science and technology will be great assets to MIT in Washington. We all look forward to working with him," said Gast.
Before joining Lieberman's staff, Bonvillian was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm of Jenner & Block, where he worked on general corporate, real estate, transportation and administrative law matters.
Bonvillian's knowledge of the university community arises from personal experience as well as legislative and policy work. He has taught a seminar, "Innovation Systems for Science, Technology and Health," as an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University and a class, "The Federal Innovation System," as a lecturer at George Washington University in Washington.
Bonvillian writes and speaks extensively on science policy issues. Recently, these have included "Meeting the New Challenges to U.S. Economic Competitiveness," published in Issues in Science and Technology; "Organizing Science and Technology: Lessons From Menlo Park, the Rad Lab, Bell Labs' Transistor Team and the DARPA Model," presented to the Board of the Federation of American Scientists; and "Growing the Science Talent Base," presented to the National Academy of Science Board on Science Education.
He is currently at work on an extended article on U.S. R&D organization.
Bonvillian received the B.A., with honors, from Columbia University in 1969, the M.AR. from Yale University in 1972 and the J.D. from Columbia University School of Law in 1974. He has been admitted to the Connecticut Bar, the District of Columbia Bar and the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.
He and his wife live in Great Falls, Va.; they have two children.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 25, 2006 (download PDF).