Impact 20: Celebrating 20 Years of Science and Technology
(cymbal sizzling) - Well, the job we had to do, was, it's like flying at 747, and you've gotta change all four engines while you're in flight. (gentle orchestral music) - 911 shocks the nation and the world. As the United States warns the devastation, Dr. Charles McQueary answers the call to lead the newly formed DHS Science and Technology Directorate on a mission to protect the homeland. - There was that moment that I realized I definitely wanted to serve, to make sure that didn't happen ever, ever again. - In the years following 911, S&T's Undersecretaries rise to the challenge, leading a workforce through wartime, economic collapse, a new digitally-charged threat landscape, and a global pandemic, that threatens to bring the world to a standstill.
- If you're not leading, you're falling behind. If you're falling behind, you won't be ready for what's coming next. - As S&T marks 20 years, a new Under Secretary leads the Directorate into the next 20, navigating dynamic change at an unparalleled pace like we've never experienced before.
(dramatic orchestral music) (no audio) I'm Wendy Howe, Communications and Outreach Division Director for the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate. I'm proud to present Impact 20, commemorating 20 years of S&T. This video presentation showcases the collective voices of our official and acting Undersecretaries who led S&T through the nation's most pressing homeland security challenges in the aftermath of 911. The September 11th attacks remain one of the most traumatic events of the century, not only for Americans, but also for the world that watched in horror. That fateful day is where our story begins.
(deep bass tones) - September 11th, 2001, a clear sunny morning with most Americans on the Eastern seaboard already starting their day. - I remember where I was on 911 very, very well. I was in Whippany, New Jersey at 8:45 in the morning, on that day, in a meeting. - One minute later, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. - We didn't think too much about it, 'cause we all thought of the time that a small plane had run into the Empire State Building, I think it was, many, many years ago.
(crowds screaming) (explosions banging) We knew then, that something entirely different from what we had ever experienced as a country was going on then. So it was a moment of chaos, and we immediately moved to where we tried to find a television to see if we could understand what was going on. - Within three hours, a series of coordinated attacks at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists reduced New York City's tallest buildings to rubble. The Pentagon, partially destroyed.
And nearly 3000 lives were lost, including 412 first responders, many who bravely rushed into the Twin Towers when others were rushing out. - [Radio Announcer] Engine 101, fog is down. - Through unimaginable loss came American resiliency, and the opportunity to coordinate the defense of the homeland. On March 1st, 2003, the United States Department of Homeland Security was established.
And to support that mission, the Science and Technology Directorate was born. - I'll always remember in early September of 2002, I received a telephone call from Gordon England who had been named to become the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security. He asked me in a very direct fashion, "Would you be interested in being considered to be the head of Science and Technology for the New Department of Homeland Security?" Well, I was first of all stunned at the call because I had not expected anything like that. And as my wife says, it took me about a second to say, yes I would be more than happy to be considered for that. And so my life totally changed at that point. - On April 9th, 2003, Dr. Charles McQueary
came out of retirement to lead as the first Under Secretary for Science and Technology. His wife Cheryl, right by his side. - And we were to look at the cherry blossoms, and there you were looking at your Blackberry, and there's lots of stuff going on. - Well, I described it as being representative of a technological change. (both laughing) Now we have iPhones. - Oh. (laughing)
Yeah, it's true, that Blackberry went every place with you. - Yeah, it did, it did. I didn't wanna give it up. I didn't wanna have it to begin with.
- McQueary got to work right away. His small team of 10 were faced with the unimaginable. - My Chief of Staff, Vic Tambone, that was his favorite expression about, well the job we had to do was, it's like flying at 747 and you've gotta change all four engines while you're in flight. - How do you cultivate a new sense of cooperation and solidarity amidst a veil of fear and uncertainty? To stay sane in the chaos, McQueary's staff referred to their first holidays together as Orange Christmas, citing the newly established color-coded terrorism threat alert system.
- That was the Orange Christmas, because everybody sort of stayed. Some people could go home, and have a little bit of time off. But your job is, and heart was what's happening next.
- Each day brought new threats and challenges. McQueary and his team had to keep swimming no matter which way the tide turned. - The real focus was on trying to get as many people as we could, scientifically trained, not just finding bodies to go into slots, but rather to find specific people with talents in the multiple areas, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high explosives.
- Over the next few years, the S&T staff grew from 10 to 400, establishing important initiatives, such as the Centers of Excellence and the Safety Act. McQueary focused on mobilizing America's best innovators and thinkers, hoping to adopt already available technologies that could translate to immediate solutions for the nation's homeland security challenges. - The most important mission for the Science & Technology Directorate is to develop and deploy cutting edge technologies and new capabilities, so that the dedicated men and women who serve to secure our homeland can perform their jobs more effectively and efficiently. They, as well as the American people, are my customers. - More than 20 years later, 911 is still at the forefront of his mind, a key turning point in history, forever etched in the DNA of those who led the country through healing and recovery. - Things were a lot more amicable in working, and rightfully so, because the country was in need, and it was not the time to let politics get in the way of what had to be done.
And I believe that the people in very responsible positions, namely the Congress, the President and all around, stood up and did what should be done for the country at that time. And while there are disagreements, they were not so political in nature in those days as sometimes we are today. - While the world is much different today, one thing remained the same, his partner and confidante, Cheryl, still by his side. (gentle flowing music) (gentle flowing music continues) - After Dr. McQueary, a new wave of official and acting undersecretaries rose above adversity, guiding S&T through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while facing a monstrous economic crisis crippling the livelihood of millions of Americans. The rise of the digital era, a more sophisticated internet, and dynamic social media shifted the culture of our daily lives, and inevitably, the nature of emerging threats.
And just when we thought we had seen it all, a global pandemic changed our lives forever. (tympani drum boom) (gentle orchestral music) - 911 was a defining moment, one that would eventually forever, link these individuals, as leaders of S&T. - My phone rings, it's my wife, and she says her sister just called her, and told her to watch the TV because a plane had just flown into World Trade Center.
- I was driving to work at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies. - On 911, I was the Chief of Fire and Rescue Emergency Services in Loudoun County, Virginia. - And I was active duty army, working at a naval lab in Dahlgren, Virginia. - And I thought, really seriously about just not going to work, just going straight to New York, right, and seeing what I could do to help.
- I was working on Capitol Hill in the Cannon House office building, and saw the second one strike. And at that point, everything just went mad. (mysterious rolling music) - It was from the madness of those first few painful minutes, hours, days, and months that S&T rose.
The leaders that followed Dr. McQueary had different skill sets, backgrounds, experiences, and approaches. - In 2006, I retired after 38 years active duty in the Navy, as a Nuclear Submariner Commander of surface ship, during the Persian Gulf war. And six years as the Chief Naval Research, the Chief Technology Officer for the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.
- D.A. Henderson and I formed this center, at Johns Hopkins, dedicated to try and think through what we would do if there were a deliberate attack using bioweapons on civilians. And also what we would do if there was a natural pandemic.
- I'd grown up in the national security space. It started at Lincoln Laboratory, but I went to DARPA, so it's another national security kind of thing, high tech. I went to the Department of Defense, and worked at the Pentagon. And seeing that happen really struck me hard.
So I wanted to do something. - What I was able to bring to DHS, was a boots on the ground, true perspective, from the field. But I came with someone who, you know, who saw the tragedy. I remember the mortuary tents at the Pentagon.
I know what the end result of not being prepared means to this country. - Despite these leadership differences, there was one common theme, an ethos that runs throughout, a love of country, a drive to serve, and a need to secure the nation so this would never happen again. - When the Homeland Security Task Force was formed, I was pulled up into the Pentagon, the call to serve came in, and I just wanted to do something to make a difference.
- I grew up in Washington, so there's been a deeply sort of instilled core, about people who grow up in this region that there's a service component to it. And then 911 happened. There was that moment that I realized I definitely wanted to serve to make sure that didn't happen ever, ever again. - Each had much to learn upon their arrival at S&T, but even more to give. As the threat landscape changed, these leaders faced myriad challenges as they left their mark on S&T, by evolving the directorate to overcome hurdles, as well as to meet and defeat threats to the nation. - Because DHS was being stood up, there were challenges, but money was tight.
So the money had already been spoken for. So I went over and I sat down with the chairman of the committee, both House and Senate, Appropriations, as well as the ranking minority. And they asked me was I going to reorganize DHS S&T, and what were my plans? And I said, well, number one, we've got the Gets.
I have to get the budget right. And then I said, we've gotta get the people right. We have to attract the right motivated, intelligent people. And that became known as the Gets. And they liked what they heard. - And when you start working at DHS, you get a very fast introduction to the whole panoply of possible threats to the country.
So in my first year at DHS, we had the H5N1 pandemic. We had that terrible earthquake, in Haiti, to which FEMA deployed. We had the terrorist attack from the guy who put a bomb in his underwear. - So drones were one problem. You probably remember when the drone landed on the White House lawn.
And I was the one called to the Situation Room to respond to the National Security Council in terms of what are we gonna do about this, from a science technology perspective, right? And that was a serious challenge, because this was the first time that that type of threat had appeared directly on the White House, right? - Understanding that the world of gray is pretty dramatic. Areas like gun safety, areas like CRISPR and gene editing, drone technology. And sometimes the secretary is forced into a position where he or she can only make the least worst decision, which is a horrible position to put anybody in. - In addition to the quantum computing, there's a genome editing. That's always been a concern of mine, what people can do with that. Are we prepared? These are technologies that were created for the good of mankind, but are being used as a threat.
And we have to be prepared to handle that. And as far as the responsiveness of COVID, we have a top-notch team of experts at our national labs. And we actually led the nation figuring out how this virus could spread. And it was a proud moment when I could showcase that on a national platform. - Operation Allies Welcome was an amazing opportunity for S&T to step up and show how science can inform operations.
The secretary called me and said, I need technologists, I need scientists, I need queuing experts to inform me how we're going to manage all of this, as part of a much larger team. So again, it was taking care of these really important people who had been through a lot already, while also making sure our people were safe. - The importance of S&T to the nation cannot be overstated. As the R & D arm of DHS, and the principal scientific and technological advisor to the secretary, S&T is in a unique position. - Where would we be without the DHS S&T? We would not be in a good place.
- Technology is harnessing an understanding of some natural phenomenon to human purpose. We have to grow out not just our technology, but our understanding of technology, our ability to use it ethically and responsibly. - There's a lot of challenges, just manpower can't solve.
Just throwing more people at it doesn't solve the problem. The only way they can get technology is to have people that have the kind of expertise to understand what is in the art of the possible, in order to bring that to these mission sets. - How important is S&T to America? (chuckles) You'll never be able to know, because the work that you do every day, the work that keeps the cyber infrastructure safe, the work that has been done to show how clean is clean. The work that's been done to make our communication systems operate efficiently, to be able to send more information, to be able to synthesize data, every day is changing what's happening on the streets of our communities. Your work makes a difference. - S&T's got your back, they're there.
They're looking for those threats. They're dealing with those threats. They are meeting those challenges. Someone's gotta do it, and they're fully equipped and ready and able to do it. And America should be proud.
- S&T's a really special place, 'cause everybody here is extremely smart. They're extremely skilled. They have areas of expertise that are really unique in the nation, and they choose to be here, alongside other people who have chosen to be here, and are really here for the mission itself. And you can feel that when you're walking around, the passion, and the dedication, and just the true feeling of responsibility for this mission that we own.
And that connects us all together and keeps us all going and really makes us all connected in a way that few others are. - And while S&T remains focused on the future, it's critical to recognize the past, so we never forget where we came from and apply that knowledge to tomorrow. - Happy anniversary to the Department of Homeland Security. Because it is a hard job, and the efforts of the government service people, are not always as appreciated as they should be.
And let me just say, on this anniversary of DHS, thank you. (no audio) - With 20 years behind us, what new threats and challenges loom on the horizon? Where are we going? How do we continue to adapt and get ahead of a world that's changing faster than ever before? For those answers, we turn to our new Under Secretary about his plans for S&T, as we embark on our next 20. (deep bass tones) (no audio) - When I was in grad school, I wasn't sure exactly what to do, but I just followed what I found interesting without a sense of what's next. I became a faculty at some point and academia was a lot of fun. And you know, at some point after doing that for many years, I started to, you know, maybe get a little restless. What else is there? And I thought of different things to do, and I chose public service because it felt right.
Government service is different in terms of its reward structure and its purpose. It's not a natural extension of academia. In the academic world, we're really focused on our own ideas. I think in public service, the reward structure is different in that you all have to work together on finding something that is relevant and whether it's the most interesting thing for you to do is no longer relevant. Whether it's the most important thing to do for the mission is relevant. And those don't always align, but it is more significant in that you're actually doing something for others rather than just yourself.
I would say working in government certainly in the U.S. is an honor and probably a unique place to shape the direction of this country in ways you would never do anywhere else. The world around us is changing in ways we can't anticipate or understand in terms of its positive or negative impacts. Many different technologies can also come together in interesting ways. There's a, you know, a whole list of things that come to my mind, in the 3D printing nanoparticles, and large data sets, and DNA sequences, finding things that are good or bad to mitigate a disease or to give one, it's quantum technologies, AI and machine learning.
You have 5G, where you can have technologies talking to each other without people in between, smarter devices talking to each other. You could imagine distributed intelligence, you could have it spread across a network of things evolving together. And as you bring those things together, what new things can you create? I think there's a lot out there, and there's a kind of this growing list of things happening in technology space that's fascinating. And I think at this point in time, they're all like engineering platforms where you can build them together, like Lego parts. And the question is, what can you build from that, and what does it mean? It creates remarkable opportunity, but at the same time we have to be cognizant of the risk that comes with it. Science can be a guide, as to what you should be caring about.
It opens the door to possibilities that otherwise wouldn't be there. It tells you about a future that may not have ever been on your radar. It is a vital mission that we support the broad DHS mandate, the vision for DHS. To what extent can we help clarify where you place your bets to meet the challenges that the world will throw at us? And I think about how can you be prepared? How can you be more responsive to whatever happens? In simple terms, if you're not leading, you're falling behind. If you're falling behind, you won't be ready for what's coming next. Because I worry about the world that I'm leaving to my grandkids.
I want it to be better. I want to do as much as I personally can to ensure that I've done all I can to make it a better world, to make it a safer country, to do anything I can in my power to do so. And I think working at DHS is one of those places you can do that. What excites me about S&T is the mission and the people there. You know, it is a remarkable set of people who have been focused on perhaps one of the hardest missions in government.
People doing hard work every single day, in the field, to keep the country safe. - Like many of you, I will never forget the anguish and heartbreak for all those we lost on 911. I'll also never forget the resilience that banded Americans together. For our undersecretaries, 911 changed the course of their careers.
Like them and many of you, I too answered the call to serve at S&T. The tragedy of that day binds us, but our resolve to protect the homeland is what defines us. Today, the S&T workforce is more than 1200 strong, rising through leaps and bounds to safeguard the American people from new and emerging threats today that were unimaginable 20 years ago. Thank you for your service.
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