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Pentagon Seeks to Fund University Research in National Security

By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2008 – The Defense Department is developing a proposal to finance university research on national security-related issues, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.

The Minerva Consortia, as it’s called, would have the academic and intellectual communities focus on certain physical and social sciences, Thomas Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, said in a teleconference with online journalists and “bloggers.”

“We, as a Defense Department, don’t have the expertise that we really need,” Mahnken said. “We, as a nation, need to cultivate that expertise.”

While DoD already researches both basic and applied physical sciences, Mahnken said, research in social science needs beefing up.

Though some issues surround research of social sciences, Mahnken said, funding should not be one of them.

“One of the virtues of social science research, as opposed to the physical science research, is it’s relatively inexpensive,” Mahnken said. “This is an area where 2 or 3 million dollars actually goes a long way.”

Mahnken said that although the government already uses organizations such as the National Science Foundation for social-science research, the goal in the DoD proposal is to bridge a fundamental gap between academia and the government in social sciences.

That gap, he explained, puts the government at a disadvantage in understanding some of the challenges the United States faces worldwide and as a nation, Mahnken said.

Mahnken said another motive is to help college students receive more funding for their education.

“We see this as being able to fund kind of a new generation of scholars,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of letters of support from the university community.”

To get the Minerva Consortia project to move forward, solid funding is a must, Mahnken said.

“This is the type of research that you don’t just turn the crank and produce something overnight,” he said. “So we want to provide a stable funding base.”

(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)

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