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Professor in the Pentagon

From Virginia Engineering
April 1, 1995

By Profile

Anita Jones, former chair of Computer Science, now top defense director

Behind her desk hangs a four-star flag, signifying the highest peace-time rank one can hold. Anita K. Jones, who until 1993 was chair of Virginia's Department of Computer Science, now serves as Director of Defense Research and Engineering. Appointed by President Clinton, approved by Congress, and answering directly to the Secretary of Defense, Jones took a leave of absence from the University to accept the appointment. VE visited her at the Pentagon.

Virginia Engineering: What are the responsibilities of your position?

Anita K. Jones: As Director of Defense Research and Engineering, I work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. When Bill Perry was last in the Pentagon, this was the job that he had. I have oversight of the science and technology program conducted in the services and the agencies, including ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The budget for this program is roughly $8 billion today. My job involves making policy decisions that affect how and where Defense invests in science and technology.

Anita Jones

VE: Is yours a political appointment?

AJ: Yes, I had to be confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which both of Virginia's senators serve. I have committed to stay through Clinton's first term.

VE: What are your responsibilities?

AJ: I have the responsibility to formulate new areas of technology investment.

The program has three components. First, DoD sponsors basic research-- pure science, predominantly done in universities. Second, DoD supports exploratory technology, predominantly in labs and industry--for example, experimenting with a possible synthetic blood substance or the chemical deposition of diamond film on substrate. And third, DoD sponsors advanced technology work that is accomplished predominantly in industry. For example, in this late-stage technology development program, we have built the tail-less aircraft called the X-31 to experiment with aircraft control through vectoring the effluent of the engines.

I find that I spend much more time that I expected on the Hill, describing the science and technology program to both the staff and members of Congress.

VE: So are you a key liaison between the Defense Department and the Hill on these issues of science and technology?

AJ: Yes.

VE: How does it feel to work at the Pentagon, as compared with the University of Virginia?

AJ: Both are full of challenges. One dramatic difference is that the Pentagon is a line organization, so when you give direction, it is usually immediately followed, and typically to the letter! The University is a collegial organization. When I was chair of Computer Science, the faculty did not work for me. The faculty are there because they are self-motivated individuals. The university and the government are very different systems, but both are productive.

VE: How does it feel to be a woman at the Pentagon?

AJ: You might think the Pentagon is one of the most difficult places for a woman, but indeed it is not. Quite the opposite is true. Because DoD is a line organization with strong military influence, if a person gives an order within the authority of his or her office, it is followed. Whether the person in the office is a man or a woman is not relevant.

One thing that happens to me a lot is that people say. "Yes, sir." I think that's just fine. The "yes" is positive. The "sir" is merely the standard term of respect. One way of viewing it is that they don't correct themselves because they're not paying attention to whether you're a man or a woman.

If fact, there are a large number of women in President Clinton's defense administration. The Secretary of the Air Force is a woman. I have just been to a retirement ceremony where the keynote speaker was the retiring admiral's boss--a woman. The Head of Reserve Affairs is a woman. I go to many meetings and find that I don't even know all the women.

It used to be I was the only woman in a meeting. Now in the Clinton/Perry defense administration, the question is whether I even know all the women in the room.

I also think that engineering is a particularly good field today for women. Because the ethic of the engineering community is to come to be best possible technical solution to problems, it offers an open, level playing field. Engineering has certainly been supporting for me. From my point of view, pursuing an engineering field has landed me in the very best science and technology government position that exits.

VE: What advantage to you bring to this position, coming from a university?

AJ: Universities are one category of performers of the DoD science and technology program. Within this program we fund about $1.1 billion of work at universities. It is very useful to have spent time both in the university and in industry, so that I understand how work in both is organized and accomplished.

When there is so much questioning about DoD's investments in university science programs, I think it's a great advantage that I have lived in and understand that community. I can make better judgements about university research and I can explain the value returned, both to the war fighters and to member of Congress.

VE: Will you return to the University of Virginia when you leave this post?

AJ: Yes, I will. I have taken a leave of absence from the University. My husband, Bill Wulf, is on the faculty of SEAS. Charlottesville is my home, and I commute back there each weekend. We have an apartment here where I hang out during the week.

VE: How will your Pentagon experiment influence your teaching?

AJ: It is giving me perspectives that I did not have: perspectives in how defense and government at large invest in science and technology; and perspectives on how the scientific community, at universities in particular, needs to communicate with the members of Congress and the public to explain what it is they do and why they do it.

I will bring these broader perspectives to the classroom, together with knowledge of a much broader set of applications of information technology than I had before. Information technology is ubiquitous. It is a major component of all the systems we build, whether fighter aircraft, a manufacturing assembly line, dollies carrying munitions to load onto aircraft, or missiles themselves.

VE: You are in a position to see some of the most advanced technology going on today. What do you find most exciting?

AJ: Technology moves so rapidly on so many fronts that there is not just one most exciting area. Truly exciting results are being obtained in the creation of synthetic blood, night vision, deposition of diamond films, very high-resolution sensors, and materials that are high-strength at high temperatures.

Among the information technologies, I am particularly excited about the application of modeling and simulation to military needs. We are beginning to build simulations of manufacturing assembly lines, asking questions like, `Can you get a wrench around the corner to tighten this bolt?' or `Can you solder that part?' Also, we use simulation for the training of battle command staffs. DoD has long had single-person trainers, such as flight simulators or electronic technician trainers. but now a brigade commander and command staff with ground and air support forces can literally fight a battle in simulated space.

A second exciting area is microelectrical mechanical systems--MEMS-- which link a sensor (to detect something happening in the environment) with a chip (to compute on what was sensed) and an actuator (to take physical action). Unlike computers that just chew over information, a MEMS device can interact directly with its environment. I predict that there will be MEMS devices embedded in almost everything, so that objects can behave as people want them to behave, in a way that makes sense in their environment.

For example, we have an experimental MEMS project at a university looking at changing the contour of an aircraft wing to delay the onset of turbulent flow. The sensor senses flow over the wing. The computer determines when airflow is about to go turbulent. The actuator throws up a miniature flap, about the size of a lower case "o," and changes the contour of the wing, which may translate to a longer range for a given amount of fuel.

A third area of emphasis is materials, an area in which SEAS has special strength. I know that professors in materials science at Virginia work with Defense at Wright Laboratories in Dayton, Ohio. Here we are particularly interested in smart materials: materials that can sense forces on them and stiffen, sense stress and maybe even fractures, or do some controlled curing.

Material capable of reporting out its own internal state would be very helpful for diagnostics. One could know more precisely the state of material and therefore not throw items away simply based on age. For example, turbine fan blades are often thrown away without knowing the real state of stress and fatigue damage, because it is highly dangerous to lose a turbine blade in flight. Smart materials would improve diagnostics for just-in-time maintenance.

VE: In making investment decisions, do you factor in the everyday potential of technologies?

AJ: Defense invests in those areas of engineering that may lead to new military capabilities. Instead of investing evenly across the sciences, we invest more heavily in those that we think will have military payoff.

More than 60% of the federal investment for both electrical engineering and metallurgy and materials science at universities comes from Defense. The Navy underwrites at least 50% of the ocean sciences investment, at universities and elsewhere. DoD funds work in those areas because of particular promise for future military capability.

While civilian benefit is not the motivation for Defense science programs, there are many examples of Defense-supported technologies that have changed our daily life. Lasers discovered in university research funded by Defense now are used for cornea surgery and reading the bar code at the supermarket check-out. Defense made many early investments in connecting distributed computers. First DoD did some packet switch radio experimentation, then built the ARPANET, which has evolved into the Internet, a national asset.

VE: How much technology development is going on with other nations?

AJ: We have a number of cooperative programs, particularly with our allies. We have standing technical working groups with the NATO countries. In some cases the U.S. will develop systems with other countries, like the FSX fighter with Japan and some missile systems with the NATO countries.

We remain one of the world leaders in many areas of science and engineering, but we are in an era where competition is becoming more global. Important technologies are being developed by other economic leaders -- in the Pacific Rim, western Europe, and the former Soviet Union. Increasingly, we need to monitor that progress and do selective cooperative technology development. We are past the time when the U.S. alone can dominate science and technology.

We are cooperating with the Russians in two ways, for example: on nuclear reactors for space, because they have particular expertise in that, and on aircraft ejection seats. They have ejection seats smart enough to go up even when they eject sideways. In both cases, we have bought examples of the systems and are cooperatively testing them with the Russians.

VE: From this vantage point, do you have any reflections on engineering education?

AJ: I believe that getting a science or engineering education enables one to do a rich set of things in life. Those kinds of degrees empower students.

I also believe more strongly, now that I have been here, that SEAS is wise in fielding a program that gives a student a broad engineering education, as opposed to one with only an in-depth focus on a single engineering field. It is good for students to see across the engineering disciplines. It is important that they see how science and engineering change society.

VE: How can engineers and engineering alumni influence the government in science and technology spending?

AJ: This is a time of significant transition and questioning about the role of Defense in science and technology. It is important that individuals in the engineering and science community take the time to talk to the nation at large about what they do, to talk to members of Congress about what they do and why they do it, and to serve in the government when the occasion arises. It is important that we continue a strong federal investment in science and engineering, and that will only happen if the nation at large understands why science and technology is a worthwhile investment of taxpayers' money.


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