Science Public Policy News

APA Fellows Appointed to Senior Advisory Positions at DHS

Science Policy Staff have been working to ensure that psychologists are helping to mold the programs and policies of this new administration.

By Geoff Mumford

As this issue of PSA goes to press we have been at a high risk "code orange" of terrorist attack for several weeks. And although it was obvious that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was very concerned about airline hijackings over the holidays we only recently learned that the possibility of a dirty bomb detonation was also weighing heavily on DHS through New Years. And so for those of us working in downtown DC the cliché "That's life in the big city" takes on a new and unsettling meaning.

Of course these threats and many others will continue to loom large even though we have returned to code yellow and that's why we have the new Department after all. But DHS is, and will continue to be, a work in progress - an evolving infrastructure having to contend with an evolving threat matrix. That's why we have been spending considerable energy trying to understand how DHS will embrace psychological science (and scientists) as it moves forward. And the news there is reasonably good.

We've reported previously on the role of at least one psychologist, Liz Kolmstetter, directly employed by the Transportation Security Administration to develop the recruitment, selection and training system for airport security personnel. Psychology students were also among those who received awards in the first round of the DHS Scholars/Fellows competition in September. Further, the first DHS Center of Excellence which will be housed at the University of Southern California will be co-directed by a mathematical psychologist, Detlof von Winterfeldt, establishing the Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events.

But as important as it is to have psychologists applying and conducting research for DHS, Science Policy Staff have been working to ensure that psychologists are helping to mold the programs and policies of this new administration. Science Policy Staff regularly nominates psychological scientists to serve on federal advisory committees and through the years has enjoyed reasonable success in getting them placed. And in this issue of PSA, we're pleased to report that efforts spanning two years to place psychologists on two high level DHS advisory councils have paid off. But the process was somewhat torturous in these instances as agency heads came and went and one bureaucracy (DHS) swallowed another (TSA).

The TSA nominations process began almost two years ago when we submitted a list of nominees to then Undersecretary John Magaw. The nominations were acknowledged but no action was taken to assemble the advisory committee. Then when Magaw missed a series of legislatively mandated deadlines to screen checked baggage and faced personnel cost overruns, he was replaced by Admiral James Loy and we had to start all over again. Loy, has since been elevated to serve as Deputy Secretary under Tom Ridge but this time our nominations were not only acknowledged but acted upon. We are very pleased that Deborah Boehm-Davis, Professor in the Human Factors and Applied Cognition Program at George Mason University has been appointed to the TSA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) originally chartered in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001.

Boehm-Davis is well versed in advising on matters related to aviation and aviation security and, in fact, only recently rotated off as Chair of the Federal Aviation Administration's Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee (REDAC). The TSA's SAP will have its inaugural meeting the middle of this month and a summary of the meeting will be presented at the next REDAC meeting, sometime in February.

There are a whole host of advisory committees and subcommittees serving TSA's parent agency DHS. But the highest in the pecking order, the Homeland Security Advisory Committee (HSAC) reports directly to Secretary Ridge. Four senior subcommittees report to HSAC covering issues related to emergency response, state and local government, the private sector, and academic and policy research and it was the latter to which our nominee, Roxanne Cohen Silver, was appointed. As was the case with TSA, the appointment process was arduous because when the Office of Homeland Security became the Department of Homeland Security, large shifts in personnel meant that Silver had to resubmit the requisite paperwork and endure a lengthy vetting process twice.

Silver, who studies how people respond to traumatic events, was APA's featured researcher at the Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition on Capitol Hill in May of 2002. Her study of how individuals have been affected by 9/11 (results of which were first reported in the September 11, 2002 issue of JAMA) is one of the, if not the, only on-going federally funded longitudinal studies of the impact of that day on individuals mental health.

Asked to comment on her appointment, Silver said "Both the U.S. Surgeon General and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies have made it clear that considering the nation's mental health is vitally important as we address terrorism here and abroad. The appointment of a psychologist to this advisory committee demonstrates this administration's commitment to addressing the psychological aspects of terrorism. I am honored to be included among the distinguished members of this committee and to have the opportunity to serve our nation in this manner."

For more information on the HSAC and its subcommittees, see the following links:

Academe and Policy Research Senior Advisory Committee
State and Local Officials Senior Advisory Committee
Emergency Services, Law Enforcement, and Public Health and Hospitals Senior Advisory Committee
Private Sector Senior Advisory Committee

We are most appreciative to Drs. Silver and Boehm-Davis for their willingness to have their names put forth and for providing a voice for scientific psychology as DHS continues to shape priorities, programs and policies.