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Secretaries Chertoff and Rice Tap Roxane Cohen Silver for New Advisory Committee


By Geoff Mumford

Although APA Fellow Roxane Cohen Silver first came to my attention in 2002 when we were searching for an NSF-funded researcher to present at our annual Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition, her stress and coping research was already well-known in the psychological science community. But Silver was soon to take her identity as a social psychologist to another level by accepting an appointment to one of four Senior Homeland Security advisory committees to the parent Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC).

Sworn in by then-Secretary Tom Ridge on December 8, 2003, Silver has served on the Academe and Policy Research Senior Advisory Committee (APRSAC) for three years as the go-to person for anything remotely resembling psychological or behavioral science. However, she's apparently gained a remarkable reputation as a team player because in addition to her service on the APRSAC, she has been recruited to serve on several Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Advisory Council Task Forces, including the "Weapons of Mass Effect Prevention Task Force," the "Common Culture Task Force," and the "Future of Terrorism Task Force." The work of the latter two groups continues, and reports of their activities are expected to be delivered on January 11, 2007. The report from the first task force is available on the DHS website.

Silver's work on these Task Forces has placed her in close contact with several high-level appointees from previous administrations including, James Schlesinger (former CIA Director and Defense and Energy Secretary), former Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) (Co-Chair of the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group), and William Webster (former FBI and CIA Director), all of whom have served alongside her in one or another of these groups. Schlesinger was in fact so enamored with Silver's approach on the Weapons of Mass Effect Task Force that he admonished the technocrats on the Task Force to remember the "Silver Doctrine" - that there would be a human delivery system in any Weapon of Mass Effect being brought into the US.

Silver's role continues to expand with her recent appointment through the Departments of Homeland Security and State to serve on the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee (SBODAC). The SBODAC, which held its inaugural meeting during the first week of December, is yet another Committee under the HSAC umbrella. As the name of the Committee implies, the group's focus will be to advise on a so-called Joint Vision of the two departments - that of securing the borders, while at the same time welcoming visitors to the United States. When Secretary Rice was called away to deal with the rollout of the Iraq Study Group's Report, Secretary Chertoff attended the meeting to swear-in the Advisory Committee and to provide a summary of Joint Vision initiatives to date. That summary was amplified by DHS and State Department staff who chose to highlight some technical details related to creating Model Ports of Entry, electronically encoded passports, visa processing, and a planned switch to a 10-finger finger-scan procedure.

Like Silver, several other members of the Committee hold academic appointments, notably Jared Cohon, SBODAC Co-Chair and President of Carnegie Mellon University. One on-going concern that both Silver and Cohon have addressed as members of the APRSAC is the decrease in the foreign graduate student applicant pool nationally, and the fact that fewer foreign students have come to study in the United States post 9/11 than before the attacks. In previous meetings, Dr. Cohon, along with institutions represented by the American Association of Universities, provided data demonstrating the scope of the problem. Silver was well aware of the problem too. As a former Director of her department's graduate program, she knew first hand of the challenges successful applicants were having getting visas to study in the US Reflecting on the meeting, Silver said "The fact that there are so many academicians on this new committee suggests the recognition that universities are important stakeholders in the battle to keep our borders open, yet secure." Short-term visits are not necessarily any easier. "Several people have also expressed concern about the fact that foreign scientists who try to enter the US for brief periods - for example, to attend a professional meeting - have been finding the visa process onerous, and therefore many international meetings have selected non-US venues." Silver continued, "These are some of the issues that my new committee will undoubtedly address, as well as considering how to change potential visitors' perceptions to be more in line with reality as the visa process becomes less difficult."

An optimistic interpretation of Dr. Silver's recent appointment would be to suggest it's a testament to the importance DHS is placing on the integration of psychological science in everything it does. That may be an accurate read, but another important committee, the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee (HSSTAC), was allowed to expire in November 2005 and was only recently reauthorized by Congress as part of a port security bill. While it appears that new leadership and a recent reorganization of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate bodes well for psychological science, Science Policy Staff spearheaded a recent effort urging the new Under Secretary to reconstitute the HSSTAC as soon as possible (view a letter to the Under Secretary).

And while the motivation was not entirely altruistic (psychological science had been ably represented by APA Fellow Baruch Fischhoff on the original iteration of the committee and the easiest route for reconstitution would be to re-appoint members who had already received security clearances), it is our hope that Under Secretary Cohen, who received high marks for his leadership at the Office of Naval Research, will yield to the congressional mandate quickly.