2000-2001 Fellow at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Food Safety Inspection Service
The safety of the American egg wasn’t something I’d spent much time pondering, during my years as a risk practitioner. I had been working in the private and public sectors for some time before deciding to pursue a AAAS fellowship in Washington, DC. In the private sector, I had focused on the scientific and technical issues related to risk assessment, but, in state government, my work involved integrating risk assessment and risk management into rules and policies. Therefore, this could be a unique opportunity to see how science and policy interact at the federal level. Through the AAAS Web site, I learned that Fellows spanned the spectrum from recent graduates to retirees and that there was a place for a mid-career person such as myself. So I applied for, and was awarded, a AAAS Risk Policy Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and was then granted a one-year sabbatical by my employer.
My specific assignment was in the Office of Public Health and Science within USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. This office was one of the pioneers in microbial risk assessment and in the application of risk assessment techniques to issues of food safety. This assignment gave me an opportunity to explore the scientific and policy similarities and differences between microbial pathogens and hazardous substance risk assessments. Two excellent mentors within the office allowed me to participate in policy discussions, supported me in developing projects of my own, and encouraged me to pursue professional development opportunities outside the office. I was lead author on a major review paper of the Salmonella risk assessment for eggs (since published in Risk Analysis) and served as an editor/reviewer of the E. coli risk assessment for ground beef. I worked on the application of the risk assessment paradigm to analysis of bioterrorist risks to the U.S. food supply. One of the by-products of this latter project was a seminar I gave at the National Defense University. Another project involved analyzing chemical residues in beef, pork, and poultry at slaughter, the results of which may have long-term policy implications. I was also asked to assemble a presentation on risk assessment for risk managers, which I subsequently presented to audiences ranging from the office’s executive management team to regulatory policy staff in other offices. I truly enjoyed my fellowship experience, my stay in Washington, the friendships I formed with the other Fellows, and the chance to make professional contacts. It provided me with a number of experiences to add to my resume, ones that couldn’t have been gotten elsewhere, including the protection of domestic eggs. I left the fellowship with further awareness that science and policy encompass truly different world views, that scientists are typically guests at, and not hosts of, policy debates, and crafting science-based policies requires scientists to take the initiative in building and maintaining relationships with policymakers. Although I debated returning to the private sector at the end of the fellowship, I ultimately decided to remain in state government, recognizing that public service is an eminently worthwhile and necessary endeavor, particularly for a scientist, given the many science- and risk-related issues with which government must grapple.
by Bruce Hope
Bruce Hope served as a Risk Policy Fellow in 2000-01. He received his PhD in biology (aquatic toxicology) from the University of Southern California and is currently a senior environmental toxicologist for land quality with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.