In 2003, the State Department launched the Jefferson Science Fellows program, named after the first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson. The program aims to bring in senior professors of science and engineering to increase the understanding among department officials of the science underpinning current and emerging policy issues. The department has no dedicated career path for scientists and engineers, so drawing on outside expertise is deemed important for the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy.
The Jefferson program was the brainchild of George H. Atkinson, the second science and technology adviser to the secretary of state. He conceived the program as forging a more permanent link between the tenured U.S. academic community and the State Department. And he crafted the program to allow scientists to contribute to policymaking without having to give up their academic careers.
To achieve this end, senior professors come to the State Department as policy advisers for one year. Their salaries and benefits, however, are paid by their academic institutions, which also agree to maintain their tenure. The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Carnegie Corp. provide additional stipends to the fellows to help offset the cost of temporary living arrangements in the expensive Washington, D.C., area. After their one-year assignments, fellows return to their academic institutions but remain available to the department as experienced consultants for up to five years.
The first group of five fellows was chosen in early 2004 by panels of the National Academies, which administers the program. After security checks for secret clearance and an orientation period, the fellows began serving in August 2004. Among the five fellows were one engineer, the only woman in the group, and one chemist.
A second group of five fellows began serving in the summer of 2005. There is a chemist but no woman among them. A third group has been selected, but the names of the six fellows, including a woman biochemist, have not yet been made public.
The Jefferson program was conceived as a three-year pilot project, but efforts are under way to institutionalize it.