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Bonvillian To Lead MIT...s D.C. Office

By Kelley Rivoire

William Boone Bonvillian, legislative director and chief counsel for U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, was tapped last week as the next head of MIT’s Washington Office. During his 16 years working with Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, Bonvillian was deeply involved with science and technology policy.

Bonvillian will take over leadership of MIT’s Washington Office as director for federal relations on Jan. 30, replacing retiring Vice President for Federal Relations John C. Crowley.

The Washington Office, founded in 1991 by then President Charles M. Vest with Crowley as founding director, is MIT’s primary connection with Congress, federal government agencies, and other national higher education and science groups in Washington.

“I have long viewed MIT as a critical institution in the future of our society and economy and have respected its historic role in national science policymaking,” Bonvillian, who is currently out of the country, told the MIT News Office last week. “I am excited about supporting the ideas that flow from its great talent base.”

Alice P. Gast, associate provost and a member of the search committee that selected Bonvillian, told the News Office that his “breadth of knowledge and understanding of the university-government relationship” were impressive.

Research articles written by Bonvillian in recent years indicate that he views declines in federal funding for the physical sciences and a shrinking talent pool in science and engineering as areas of grave concern.

In a 2002 article in Technology and Science Bonvillian called falling enrollment of top students in graduate programs in the physical sciences and engineering “a serious warning signal,” and a sharp contrast to the recent boom in enrollment in the life sciences.

In the Fall 2004 Issues in Science and Technology, Bonvillian wrote of the challenges science faces as its federal budget tightens. “Federal budget deterioration, which will worsen with structural demographic and entitlement pressures, threatens the viability of our federal R&D capacity,” he wrote. “We have an initial signal of that problem as annual appropriations for the National Science Foundation fail to meet authorized levels.” Industry support for research and development is not sufficient, he wrote, as “a decline in the robustness of federal research funding will have ramifications for the private sector’s innovation performance, and future prospects for federal research spending are grim.”

Like Hockfield, who often speaks of growing up in “the shadow of Sputnik” when the emphasis on physical sciences was stronger, Bonvillian has commented on benefits that the U.S. reaped from its Cold War investments in science and engineering, adding in the 2004 article that the “United States needs to fashion a new competitiveness agenda designed to speed the velocity of innovation to meet the great challenges of the new century.”

Bonvillian’s previous positions include partner in a national law firm and deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation in the late 1970s. He has also taught at Georgetown University as an adjunct professor, and is slated to teach a seminar entitled “Innovation Systems for Science, Technology and Health” this spring. His Georgetown University profile notes his extensive work on legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security, as well as recent work on legislation for intelligence reform.

Bonvillian earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia in history, a master’s in religion from Yale, and a JD from Columbia School of Law.

Though Bonvillian’s title as director of federal relations will differ slightly from Vice President Crowley’s, their duties will be the same, and Bonvillian will report directly to MIT’s president as Crowley did, said MIT spokesperson Denise Brehm, who pointed out that Crowley began his years in the Washington Office as director for federal relations and was later named vice president.