Public Policy Update

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans have heard dramatic proposals to improve the nation's safety and security from both the Bush Administration and Congress, and several changes have resulted. For one, we now have a new Transportation Security Administration that, when fully staffed, will become the largest government entity organized since World War II. The National Academy of Sciences is also hard at work producing a research agenda to prevent and counter future acts of terrorism.

And on Capitol Hill, despite the disruptions caused by the anthrax assault, there has been a flurry of activity to address terrorism. With respect to scientific issues, the past six months reveals a fairly focused set of priorities in both the House and Senate committees with central oversight of basic research. In the House, hearings have been dominated by concerns over cybersecurity and bioterrorism. In the Senate, basic research issues compete for attention with commerce and transportation security issues raised by the violence on Sept. 11.

Because psychological science has received relatively little attention in the hearing process to date, PPO staff arranged a day of informal meetings with senior staff of the House and Senate Science Committees on March 1, to raise awareness of relevant psychological science in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Those representing psychology who participated in the visits to Capitol Hill included: Maj. Jonathan Drummond, Princeton University; Victoria M. Esses, PhD, University of Western Ontario; Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, Carnegie Mellon University; Deborah Frisch, PhD, National Science Foundation; Arie Kruglanski, PhD, University of Maryland; Donald Norman, PhD, Northwestern University; Eldar Shafir, PhD, Princeton University; and Peter Suedfeld, PhD, University of British Columbia.

These scientists are experts on judgment and decision-making, information processing in conditions of stress and uncertainty; risk assessment, communication and management; the development of extremist views by individuals and groups; human factors in transportation and information technology; and ethnic relations and attitudes toward immigrants and immigration. Three of them are serving on panels of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism.

Sam Whitehorn, senior aviation counsel, and Jean Toal Eisen, senior professional staff member of the subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, enthusiastically received the group in the Senate. Their meeting provided a rich forum for discussing the role of behavioral science in transportation security--including personnel selection, vigilance, team performance, culture change within large organizations and a range of issues related to human-technology interactions.

Eisen reviewed an initiative advanced by Presidential Science Adviser John Marburger, PhD, to produce a "virtual science corps." Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, has advanced a similar concept in what he calls a National Emergency Technology Guard (NETGuard). NETGuard would build a database to provide real-time science and technology expertise in the aftermath of natural or human-caused disasters. As a follow-up to the meeting, the group members received a draft of Wyden's bill and provided comments that will hopefully be incorporated into the legislation when it is introduced in the Senate.

The scientists were also well-received in the House by Sharon Hays, PhD, staff director of the House Science Committee's research subcommittee, and fellow Science Committee staff members--including Jim Kadtke, PhD, Karin Lohman, PhD, Jennifer Wiseman, PhD, and Jim Wilson, PhD. Four of the five Science Committee staff are current or former American Association for the Advancement of Science Congressional Fellows and, as such, were especially receptive to the basic and applied research represented.

Although the primary focus of the research subcommittee includes a math and science undergraduate education bill and the reauthorization of the National Science Foundation, it was clear that the group understood the relevance of psychology to national security and counter-terrorism activities. As was the case in the Senate, House staff expressed concern about promoting technical solutions in the absence of any formal mechanism for reviewing and vetting them. The staff referenced a joint effort between the State Department and the Department of Defense to form a Technical Support Working Group in an effort to begin addressing that problem. The group also discussed a possible restructuring of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into a "Super-FEMA" with a much broader focus ranging from prevention to response and mitigation.

In the same vein as the FEMA proposal, APA partnered with the American Sociological Association, the Association of American Geographers and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society to hold a briefing in support of the "safety" theme for the Decade of Behavior initiative. The April 24 briefing, which focused on emergency preparedness and emergency response, was sponsored by the House Science Committee.

PPO is committed to monitoring and contributing to the development of legislation in support of counter-terrorism efforts to ensure that such policy is infused with and informed by psychological science.

Geoff Mumford, PhD, is APA's director of science policy.

APA members are urged to become involved with the APA Public Policy Office to further federal policy initiatives on behalf of psychology. PPO can help prepare members to contact or meet with congressional representatives, draft testimony and prepare to testify, and provide additional support.

Further Reading

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