Our great nation is a melting pot of diverse perspectives and backgrounds. During the holiday season, many Americans connect with family—we take time to reflect, we resolve to learn more about ourselves, and we set intentions for the coming year. For many, the holidays also mean giving gifts. Perhaps you recently received one of those kits that transform a swab of your saliva into a comprehensive summary of your ethnic heritage. It can be exciting and enlightening to mail away a small sample and receive an ancestry report in return, revealing the various genetic markers that make you … you.
The urge to discover where you come from and learn what makes you unique is certainly an understandable one. At the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), though, we already know. Science isn’t just in our name, it’s in our DNA. S&T is the science advisor to the Secretary and serves as the research and development (R&D) arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We support the DHS components, other federal agencies, international counterparts, academia, first responders and other public safety personnel at the state and local level, and even the private sector—all in the name of national security. We’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible while developing innovative solutions to meet today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.
As for our origins, the unforgettable tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks became a crucible for the forging of DHS and S&T. In the aftermath of that day, the federal government moved quickly to develop a security framework to protect our country from future large-scale attacks. All or part of 22 different federal departments and agencies coalesced into a unified department. This process included the combining of responsibilities from the departments of Energy, Defense, and Agriculture into a nascent R&D agency that would come to be known as S&T.
The Directorate was established by Congress in 2003, which makes 2023 a very special year for us. And what better time than our 20th anniversary to reflect upon who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going? You may have seen that we recently took a brief look back with our 2022 Year in Review. This roundup of accomplishments highlighted what we’ve been up to lately, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. (For instance, we didn’t even get to include the Project Titanic, which will help the U.S. Coast Guard warn ships about literal icebergs.)
2022 was indeed a busy year for us, but so were the ones preceding it. In fact, these past twenty years have seen incredible progress towards a more secure America better prepared to confront the range of threats we face. Today, S&T is made up of unique capabilities including two Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, five national laboratories, seven Technology Centers, and ten Centers of Excellence. These have not only enabled us to complete day-to-day mission requirements, but they also play a pivotal role during high-profile times of crisis.
The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) is a great example. The first DHS national laboratory to be established, NBACC has proven an indispensable asset time and again. This national resource offers a 24/7 biodefense capability and boasts a BSL-4 accreditation, allowing for research of pathogens for which no vaccine or treatment exists. As such, NBACC recently provided COVID-19 emergency response support, producing critical breakthroughs about the environmental survivability of the virus during the height of the pandemic.
While the specific details of what threats are most concerning and which technologies are needed to mitigate their impact have certainly changed over the years, something that hasn’t is the steadfast dedication of the S&T workforce. Every team member contributes their individual experience and expertise, creating an agency that is much more than the sum of its parts. And as we embark on this next chapter, we’re more determined than ever to build a safer nation through innovation.
I for one can’t wait to see what the next twenty years have in store, but in the meantime, 2023 is sure to bring fulfilling work with impressive results. Stay tuned in coming months for word of new research priorities, technology transitions, and partnership opportunities, and check back often throughout the year for Impact 20: Celebrating 20 years of S&T.