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APA on the Inside and Outside of DHS Reorganization

Funding issues aside, the infrastructure to support behavioral and social science at DHS looks adequate in the near term, but what of our future?

By Geoff Mumford

Last month we alluded to a reorganization of the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated by the new Under Secretary, Rear Admiral Jay Cohen. Cohen arrived on the scene having received high marks for his leadership of the Office of Naval Research where behavioral science was highly valued under his stewardship. While the DHS research budget was cut by Congress in the last round of funding, it would appear that Cohen brought his appreciation of behavioral science with him by elevating it to Divisional status within the Directorate.

That newly minted Divisional structure was first described to us at a Board of Scientific Affairs retreat by APA member Michelle Keeney, who serves as Science Adviser in the Human Factors Division, one of the six reorganized S&T Divisions.

Keeney noted that her Division includes a traditional human factors component (i.e., enhancing the machine-human interface) but has a much broader mandate that includes an application of social and behavioral sciences to improve threat detection, monitoring of radicalization movements, and disaster preparedness and response. Keeney is evidently a standout and held in extremely high regard by her colleagues as she was the lone behavioral scientist (and only DHS employee) recently honored by then-Director of National Intelligence (DNI), John Negroponte with one of 10 DNI Fellowships.

In addition to developing the Human Factors portfolio with in-house expertise, Keeney's Division draws on external scientists in support of its efforts as well. And while we've seen ample evidence of that from the Human Factors Division, we were concerned about how the S&T Directorate was going to handle that issue overall because a critical advisory committee had been allowed to dissolve.

The charter for the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee (HSSTAC) expired in November of 2005 and Congress was slow to reauthorize it. Thankfully, buried in the SAFE Port Act of 2006, the charter was revived and extended through December 31, 2008 but this time narrowly directed at port security issues. As we reported last month, we viewed this as an opportunity and coordinated with other scientific and professional associations to urge Under Secretary Cohen to reconstitute the HSSTAC as soon as possible in our letter of December 11, 2006. On January 11, we received a positive response indicating that he valued the sort of outside expertise HSSTAC could provide and planned on re-convening the Committee again early this year.

Funding issues aside, the infrastructure to support behavioral and social science at DHS looks adequate in the near term, but what of our future? DHS University Programs supplies additional good news, and the Homeland Security Scholars and Fellows program continues to support the next generation of scientists in fields of study deemed important to the DHS mission including behavioral and social sciences. Public presentation of the award data were collapsed across all social sciences for 2006 and so we asked for a finer-grained analysis. While it would appear that psychology as a discipline didn't fare as well as it has in previous years, the broad category of social sciences eclipsed all other disciplines in terms of undergraduate awards (scholars) and was second only to engineers for graduate students (fellows).

We will continue to monitor and advocate for behavioral science within the DHS S&T portfolio both with upper-level management and program staff. We are always interested in hearing from our readers about how to better advocate for psychological science.