WASHINGTON, July 14, 2008 – The Defense Department is continuing its efforts to finance university research on national security-related issues, a senior Pentagon official said.

The Minerva Initiative is an effort to build the Defense Department’s capacity to reach out to the academic community for research in social science topics of interest to national security both present and future, Thomas Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, said in a teleconference with online journalists and bloggers July 10.

Mahnken said the project has multiple strands, such as an agreement with the National Science Foundation and “broad agency announcements that seek research proposals in specific areas of study.

A memorandum of understanding recently signed between DoD and that the National Science Foundation allows researchers to apply for grants to study subjects that may be of interest to U.S. national security. Officials anticipate the agreement will fund work leading to new knowledge about topics such as religious fundamentalism, terrorism and cultural change.

“It covers DoD funding of existing proposals that have come into NSF,” Mahnken explained. “It envisions the possibility of workshops; it envisions the possibility of solicitation for proposals; it includes … a number of venues for DoD and NSF to work together in this area.”

Mahnken noted that they are committed to getting grants for research under broad agency announcements by the end of the calendar year. “That’s our commitment; we have timelines in place to make that happen,” Mahnken said.

The basic research will be long-term, and some of the awards will be for five years with the possibility of renewal.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ vision behind the Minerva Initiative was to build capacity between academia and the U.S. government, Mahnken said. “Minerva’s focus is on basic research and developing the skills in academia and the insight in academia that we need to understand other cultures for a variety of purposes,” he explained.

He added that some relationships between parts of academia and parts of the government could be strengthened and the Minerva Initiative is a part of that effort.

“Mahnken said the Pentagon’s policy office looks to academia to fill key positions. “We recruit a lot of political scientists, and folks in international relations,” he said. “We recruit a sprinkling of historians, a smattering of economists, and we have a lot of folks who have foreign language skills, but we have only a handful of folks who have foreign language skills in particularly difficult languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.

Mahnken said the Defense Department’s work force benefits from a strong relationship with academia. “One way to think about the desirable outcome is that 10 years from now we [will] have a much more diverse work force in terms of disciplinary backgrounds; we [will] have a work force that is used to thinking about a whole range of issues,” he said.

He added that the future government work force will benefit from this initiative by being better informed and being connected to a vibrant discussion, research and debate on important issues.

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