Former White House biological security expert gives ScienceTALK lecture at Kennesaw State

Campus talk helps students learn about science policymaking

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 21, 2013) — Commander Franca R. Jones, director of medical programs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense, knows that the progress of science policymaking may be hindered by government furloughs.

Jones, a U.S. Navy biological security expert, spoke at the College of Science and Mathematics’ ScienceTALK on Oct. 2, sharing her experiences working in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House. She is now assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.

Jones explained how science policy is made in the federal government during her lecture, “Driving the Research and Development Agenda for the Nation: Science Policymaking in Washington, D.C.” During her talk, she likened policymaking to “making sausage” in that all equities must be considered before a final policy is put into action. She described that the process also required “turning the wagon wheel” to address all possible policy options with the many coordinated offices and elements involved. She described the significant coordination role that the OSTP has on the crafting of U.S. science policy, based on her experiences while at OSTP in the role of assistant director of Chemical and Biological Countermeasures. She also explained how science informs policy.

“Our job was to think about how policies can be informed by sound science and how the research and development agenda can be driven toward addressing problems of the day,” she said. She also explained that science policymaking is often about “communicating the importance of our science” to the public.

Jones gave examples of how policy is both made and unveiled. In one example, she discussed how President Obama spoke about an OSTP initiative during his address to the U.N., stating how focusing on public health efforts across borders is important, no matter whether there is a pandemic, a bioterrorist threat or infectious disease. Jones said that while the OSTP serves the White House, the office is often called upon to brief Congress on science issues.

Jones said her love for the practical side of science research came during her postdoctoral studies at the University of Virginia. She went to Cairo, Egypt, to visit one of the U.S. Naval research labs and discovered the type of practical, field research that she wanted to explore. Her flight home on Sept. 11, 2001, was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and it was in that moment that she decided to join the Navy. 

As a commander in the U.S. Navy, her career has spanned more than a decade working in disease surveillance, infectious disease research and biodefense operations and biological security. She said she likes that science can be fun and practical, rather than strictly academic. Active military service for Jones has included a variety of positions in policy, laboratory and fieldwork. 

Students in the new master’s of science degree programs in Integrative Biology (MSIB) and Chemical Sciences (MSCB) were able to meet with Jones and learn about career paths for scientists in the armed forces. 

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