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Michelle Colby

Michelle Colby
Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

2003-04 Global Security Fellow at the Executive Office of the President

While I will be the first to admit that cows are not more important than humans, I was frustrated with the lack of attention I perceived agroterrorism was receiving before becoming a AAAS/NTI Global Security Fellow in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Executive Office of the President.
After completing a DVM, an MS and a residency in applied veterinary epidemiology, which expanded my knowledge of disease surveillance, outbreak investigation and risk assessment, and provided insight into the world of strategic planning, conflict resolution and the state and federal government policy-making process, I felt that participation in the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship Program was the next logical step in my career path. The fellowship would allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I had already obtained, and to gain further insight into the workings of the federal government.

One of my goals in applying for the Global Security Fellowship was to find a way to use the experience to inform policymakers of the risks presented by the potential introduction of a foreign animal disease into U.S. animal agriculture. I never would have imagined, when writing my application, what the next year had in store for me.

In fact, on arriving at OSTP fresh from AAAS fellowship orientation, my first task was to coordinate a Blue Ribbon Panel of experts on agroterrorism tasked with recommending priorities for future federal defense research and development (R&D) agendas based on the likelihood and potential consequences of attacks against U.S. livestock. In organizing the speakers and attendees, I began to discover that while not quite as widely publicized as investments in bioterrorism prevention, the federal government is making a significant investment in agroterrorism.

While I was familiarizing myself with the activities of various federal agencies and scheduling speakers and participants for the Blue Ribbon Panel, those agencies were busy working on their 2005 budget requests, which included an interagency Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative for research in food safety, and exotic and emerging diseases of animals and plants. Around the same time we released the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that Texas A&M University and the University of Minnesota were chosen to lead two new Homeland Security Centers of Excellence on agro-security. This one project provided me with quite an education, and it was just one of many.

My list of activities as a Fellow at OSTP could fill a book; I did everything from reviewing congressional testimony and reading Government Accountability Office reports to planning a Blue Ribbon Panel of experts, and working on issues from veterinary medicine to visas. Some tasks took me far outside my comfort area and challenged me to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world around me, while other tasks allowed me the opportunity to present a unique viewpoint to someone who never considered it before. I’ve answered questions on budgets for three different fiscal years in the same day, but sometimes it seems like I’ve spent three years working on coordinating just one budget. I learned more acronyms in one year than most people learn in a lifetime. Most importantly, I realized that while the media might not have been providing adequate coverage to the threat presented by agroterrorism, there were people in the federal government working actively to address the issue.

When I was offered the opportunity to remain at OSTP after my fellowship was completed, I gladly accepted. I felt that I was poised right at the edge of understanding how everything fit together, and I welcomed the opportunity to continue my pursuit of that knowledge. Now in my second year in the political cycle of the federal government, I am amazed at the deeper level of insight into the political process I have acquired over the past year. The cows, of course, are happy to have another advocate on their side.