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Dr. Tara O'Toole, MD, MPH

Under Secretary for Science & Technology

Dr. Tara O’Toole was confirmed as the Under Secretary for Science and Technology (S&T) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and served from November 4, 2009 to September 23, 2013.

From 2003 to November 2009, Dr. O’Toole was the CEO and Director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), and Professor of Medicine and of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. The Center for Biosecurity of UPMC is an independent organization dedicated to improving the country’s resilience to major biological threats.

Dr. O’Toole is internationally known for her work on biosecurity and on health and safety issues related to the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Her publications in the biodefense field include articles on the response to anthrax, smallpox, and plague biological attacks; containment of contagious disease epidemics; biodefense research and development strategies; and hospital preparedness. She is the founding editor of the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science. She was a principal author and producer of Dark Winter, an influential exercise conducted in June 2001 to alert national leaders to the dangers of bioterrorist attacks. She was also a principal writer and producer of Atlantic Storm, an international ministerial-level biosecurity exercise held in January 2005. Prior to founding the UPMC in 2003, Dr. O’Toole was one of the original members of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies and served as its director from 2001 to 2003.

She has served on numerous government and expert advisory committees dealing with biodefense, including panels of the Defense Science Board; the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Combating Terrorism; and the National Academy of Sciences Working Group on Biological Weapons. She served as chair of the Board of the Federation of American Scientists from 2006 to 2007, and in 2006 she was appointed to the board of Google Foundation’s International Networked System for Total Early Disease Detection.

From 1993 to 1997, Dr. O’Toole served as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment Safety and Health. In this position, she was the principal advisor to the Secretary of Energy on environmental protection and on the health and safety of the approximately 100,000 workers in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories. She developed the first overall management and safety plan for dealing with the highly enriched uranium, plutonium, spent fuel, and radioactive waste left in place when nuclear weapons production was stopped in the early 1990s. She ran the multi-agency, multimillion-dollar task force that oversaw the government’s investigations into human radiation experiments conducted during the Cold War and led the U.S. delegation to Russia to establish the U.S./Russia cooperative effort to study radiation exposure and environmental hazards of the Russian nuclear weapons complex.

Prior to her work at DOE, Dr. O’Toole was a senior analyst at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, where she directed several projects and studies, including the health impact of pollution resulting from nuclear weapons production. She also served as a consultant to industry and government in matters related to occupational and environmental health; worker participation in workplace safety protection; and organizational change. Dr. O’Toole practiced general internal medicine in community health centers in Baltimore from 1984 to 1988. She is board certified in internal medicine and occupational and environmental health.

She has a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, an M.D. from the George Washington University, and a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University. She completed internal medicine residency training at Yale University and a fellowship in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

Last Updated: 11/22/2021
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