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ONR lecturer offers 5 tips for interagency collaboration

April 29, 2009

ARLINGTON, Virginia - Without effective coordination, working across federal agencies - each with their own processes and priorities - can be a frustrating experience in the development of science and technology. It's a challenge that Dr. Kathie Olsen knows all too well and compels her to take an active role in helping others.

In her aptly titled lecture, "Can We Talk? Coordinating Science & Technology Inside the Federal Government," Olsen provided many lessons learned from her 20-year career in federal government to an Office of Naval Research (ONR) audience Monday, 27 April. She is currently senior adviser in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Office of Information and Resource Management.

According to Olsen, many successful interagency activities of great scientific and technological importance in the world today - on subjects that overlap agency missions such as climate change, energy, nanotechnology and personalized medicine - are initiated at the program officer level.

"It starts and ends with motivated civil servants with mutual interests who discover each other and decide they want to work together; however, it can't stop there," she says. "Agencies must coordinate on multiple levels, and leadership helps by supporting communication and collaboration opportunities for their people."

Pulling from her own federal experience and as a neuroscientist, Olsen offered the following tips for program officers in advancing their ideas:
  • Exposure - know who else shares similar concerns and priorities . Management support - bring senior leadership in early and often . Persistence - clearly communicate the value and urgency of your idea . Relationships matter - know your network, especially in Washington, D.C.
  • Program value - be prepared to show quality, relevance to strategic guidance and a means to measure success
"Dr. Olsen's presentation is part of the ongoing efforts at ONR to host distinguished lecturers from government, industry and academia," said Dr. Walter F. Jones, ONR executive director. "Her topic was particularly important in the world of S&T because we rely so heavily on partnering to share information and knowledge that can lead to breakthroughs in developing new technology for the warfighter."

ONR's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) chapter arranged Olsen's lecture to honor her scientific achievements and to spotlight her pioneering spirit as a woman scientist. Olsen received her doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California - Irvine. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Children's Hospital of Harvard Medical School.

Prior to her current appointment, Olsen was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as NSF's deputy director and chief operating officer in August 2005. Olsen joined NSF from the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President where, since 2002, she had been the associate director and deputy director for science.

"ONR is well known for providing state-of-the-art technology to the Navy and Marine Corps," concluded Olsen. "Credit goes to the program officers at ONR who get a lot of responsibility and to leadership for giving them flexibility and support to see an idea through."
Unique among S&T organizations in the federal government, ONR program officers can nurture an idea from discovery to deployment because they have access to all three phases of developmental funding: Basic Research (6.1), Applied Research (6.2) and Advanced Technology Development (6.3). This level of oversight and responsibility for S&T programs facilitates the revolutionary research that ONR funds and yields technological advantages for U.S. Naval forces and our allies.

About The Office of Naval Research:

The Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the S&T necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological warfighting dominance. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in S&T with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1035 institutions of higher learning, and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1400 people, comprised of uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.

Office of Naval Research

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