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DUSP's Briggs joins Obama administration

Xavier de Souza Briggs
Xavier de Souza Briggs

Xavier de Souza Briggs, associate professor of sociology and urban planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has been named associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and will be on a two-year professional leave effective Inauguration Day.

In his new position, Briggs will oversee six cabinet agencies -- the departments of housing and urban development, treasury, transportation, justice, commerce and homeland security. The role encompasses many of the issues that are central to the concerns of MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning: economic recovery and opportunity, environmental sustainability, affordable housing, civil rights, equitable and effective response to natural disasters and other civil emergencies, and more.

This is Briggs' second call to Washington. From 1998 to 1999, he was a senior policy official in the Clinton Administration, as acting assistant secretary for policy development and research in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has been an adviser to The World Bank, The Rockefeller Foundation and other major groups and has also worked closer to the streets as a community planner in the South Bronx, Chicago and other cities.

Briggs has a national reputation for his work on social capital and the "geography of opportunity" -- a policy and research field concerned with the consequences of segregation by race and income and with efforts to respond, such as through "housing mobility" programs that help families exit high-poverty, high-risk neighborhoods in search of better places to raise their children.

His research and planning work on youth opportunity, civil rights and social capital have received awards and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, American Planning Association and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

His recent book, The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America (Brookings Institution Press, 2005) was awarded the 2007 Paul Davidoff Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning; the award recognizes the best book in planning on a social justice theme. (In 2005, the Davidoff Award went to department head Larry Vale's book, Reclaiming Public Housing.)

Raised in the Caribbean and Miami, Briggs received a BS from Stanford University's School of Engineering, an MPA from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a PhD in Sociology and Education from Columbia University. Before coming to MIT, initially as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Fellow and in 2005 as a faculty member, he taught on the public policy faculty at Harvard. A decade ago, he and Barack Obama were members of a Harvard-convened workgroup, the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America. He has served as a member of the president-elect's transition team.

Briggs has pledged to report back and re-appear on campus -- physically or virtually -- as often as the job allows. He will also send information about opportunities for students and alumni to work, study or in other ways help out at OMB or elsewhere in federal service.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 4, 2009 (download PDF).

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