Remarks for Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick at the 2020 Homeland Protection Workshop

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

[As Prepared]

Good afternoon Jim, thank you very much for hosting me.

I’ll start off by addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, there was an election yesterday and no, we don’t yet know the results of all the races. But it is certainly an exciting time to be watching democracy in action!

With the focus on the election, it’s easy to forget that the vital work of the US government and its partners -- especially in the fields of national security and humanitarian assistance -- does not stop for elections.

The good news is that the Trump Administration’s approach to humanitarian assistance is bipartisan.

When it comes to helping people who are vulnerable either due to natural disaster—or, increasingly, due to man-made crises, like the Syrian civil war or the illegitimate Maduro regime’s oppression of Venezuela—there is broad support in Congress, as well as among the American people more generally, that it is our responsibility to help others in need.

This responsibility continues, every day, regardless of who resides in the Oval Office.

When it comes to vigilance and generosity, America can’t afford to take a day off.

And so I thank you for being here today. I thank you for your work every day.

And today, I hope to talk about the many opportunities for partnership and innovation that lie ahead for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the MIT Lincoln Laboratories.

Before I go further, I want to thank Dr. Jonathan Pitts for inviting me to speak here today. And I appreciate everyone on the team here for welcoming me.

I only wish that I were together with you in Lexington rather than here in Washington, DC.

In many respects, we share a common mission as organizations.

Not only does USAID’s assistance reflect the best of American compassion, generosity and leadership, it makes the world safer and advances America’s national security.

By providing humanitarian assistance in response to disasters in faraway lands… by strengthening fragile nations… by fighting hunger, disease, and illiteracy… by addressing global health concerns, whether driven by COVID-19 or by maternal or child health concerns or malaria… we are promoting stable civic institutions and democracy, and we’re creating the basis for long-term friendships around the world.

America’s national security depends on these relationships, and every time America responds to the humanitarian needs of its friends and allies, it becomes safer and more secure at home.

To do our work best, we must work with a large network of partners — and you’re among our most important.

For years, Lincoln Labs has been at the forefront of innovation and technological expertise that has greatly aided our work — and I look forward to telling you about the ways in which your work is making a difference across the globe.

The fact is, humanitarian work is like everything else — it requires innovation, constant improvement, and creative destruction.

We don’t do humanitarian work the way we did it 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. That should be abundantly obvious, but unfortunately, not everyone realizes it.

There are plenty of people who think USAID drops off bags of grain in refugee camps and that’s it.

Far from it!

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time talking about the importance of the stability, security and privacy of 5G networks that are being built or will be built in countries around the world.

This isn’t the stuff that development agency officials are often known for, but to leadership here in Washington, across government agencies, it’s central to the mission of USAID. We work in close collaboration with other US Government agencies as well as with a growing network of countries and companies around the world to promote the Clean Network, a global network focused on trusted, international standards that promote secure, reliable, and open digital ecosystems.

5G represents a major leap in mobile telecommunications, and will greatly help developing nations in countless ways.

If 5G networks are controlled by malign actors, that would not only compromise data — it would limit the potential gains of the technology in the first place.

In the development space, technology can be a great friend.

And it can make our work easier, smarter, and more efficient.

But just as easily, it can be turned against the humanitarian purposes we all share.

We have seen, for example, how data and mobile telecommunications have been deployed by some governments against their own people.

One need only look at the situation in our own hemisphere, in Venezuela.

There, strongman Nicolas Maduro has deployed surveillance technologies provided to him courtesy of the People’s Republic of China and Cuba.

He is spying on his own people, while those very same people languish without access to medical care or proper nutrition.

An entire generation of Venezuelan children is at risk of stunted growth due to a lack of nutrients in their diet.

And so we know, sadly, from historical experience, that technology and scientific discovery must always be led by higher moral and national goals.

And we who deploy the technologies must be held to higher standards.

Everyone at Lincoln Labs should be proud of your work to help USAID and for helping us to uphold that higher moral standard. It reflects the best of America.

Your direct impact can be found in areas as diverse as exploring the use of biodegradable packaging materials, developing sensors to monitor the quality of food commodities, conducting geospatial analysis of flooding, and establishing predictive analysis and early warning systems.

What you do here helps people around the world, whether in disaster-hit areas… or where famine has struck… or where disease and illness threaten lives.

For hundreds of millions of people, in some of the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach regions of the world, your work literally saves lives.

In humanitarian work, I often think of Einstein’s famous observation that if he had one hour to solve a problem threatening the world, he would spend 55 minutes on understanding the problem and 5 minutes on the solution.

Sometimes, understanding the problem is the problem!

You’re helping first responders by the work you are developing here.

And every day you are helping us to understand the problems we are facing.

The Airborne Optical Systems Testbed is being developed here and it has the potential to provide first responders with the ability rapidly to document post-disaster damage and to map access points to disaster sites.

This could be a major improvement from where we are today.

Typically, information following a disaster is collected by taking digital photos which have to be manually collated and evaluated.

The Testbed combines automated collection of imagery with a unique sensor and specialized algorithms to collect, classify, and quantify debris fields.

The difference would be felt in the speed as well as the effectiveness of our response.

It’s all about understanding the nature of the problem as accurately and as quickly as possible.

Then there’s the challenge of moving food and emergency relief supplies around the world -- often in hard-to-reach places.

USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance - also known as BHA - is working with Lincoln Lab’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response System group to develop an Intelligent Commodity Tracking Dashboard to provide end-to-end visibility of food aid and relief supplies.

Imagine how critically important this is in a politically unstable environment.

This dashboard will enable USAID to track, in near-real time, transactional data, transfers of custody, and other important measurements.

Effectively, this new dashboard will help ensure timely delivery of quality food and emergency supplies — critical items for people in crisis.

Make no mistake: This work may seem technical, but it’s essential to meeting our mandate to feed the hungry, help the vulnerable, and not allow aid to become a tool of corruption.

It’s hard work, and you’re helping us do it.

We are also working together to reduce the waste caused by packaging in our humanitarian responses which still remains a major issue.

In fiscal 2019, we used almost 16 million polypropylene bags -- and we feel the need to reduce our environmental impact.

BHA and Lincoln Labs are working on a solar-powered recycling and waste disposal solution, to be placed where aid is distributed.

This way, we can capture the plastic for recycling and reuse rather than disposal. Of course, of all the challenges USAID has faced recently, none compares with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Again, Lincoln Labs has been a partner in the response.

Lincoln Labs worked with BHA to develop a risk model to help USAID teams prioritize COVID-19 funding.

This was critical. In the immediate weeks and months after the outbreak, the needs for support were massive -- and time was not our friend.

Thanks to your expertise in applying advanced analytical methods, we were able to convert data into actionable insights such as a risk heatmap.

This tool and these types of analyses helped us prioritize how to deploy limited resources to have the greatest impact and save the most lives.

The U.S. Government has allocated more than $1.6 billion in emergency health, humanitarian, economic, and development assistance specifically aimed at helping foreign governments, international organizations, and NGOs fight the pandemic.

In order for this money to be as effective as possible, we needed the kinds of tools and capabilities you produce here.

Whether it is the current COVID19 pandemic or a range of other humanitarian crises and disasters, you are enabling people around the world to get the help they need, whether its medical supplies… infection prevention… safe water… emergency food assistance… or protection and psychosocial support for women and children.

And because we can apply your innovations, tools, and methods in many regions, your help isn’t a one-country story.

It’s a global story, done at scale.

On average, USAID responds to 75 crises in more than 70 countries each year, helping tens of millions of people around the world.

When you support our response to natural disasters, you can see your work’s impact literally dozens of times a year -- across the globe.

USAID is currently responding to severe flooding in Vietnam and Cambodia caused by a series of tropical storms and weeks of torrential rain.

With USAID support, our partners are providing emergency assistance to meet food, health, shelter, and other critical needs of communities impacted by this year’s historic typhoon season.

This past summer, Sudan was hit by the worst flooding in a century - affecting more than 800,000 people across the country.

USAID airlifted critical relief supplies - including blankets, water containers, and heavy-duty plastic sheeting to provide emergency shelter for 75,000 people - from its warehouses in Italy and the United Arab Emirates.

Within days our partners on the ground were distributing these critical items to affected communities.

And in the past few weeks, we have announced more than $121 million in additional humanitarian assistance to support the people of Sudan as they confront challenges related to a deteriorating economy, the global pandemic, in addition to the worst floods in more than a century.

We are also proud to support the Sudanese government in its transition to civilian governance and its entry into the historic Abraham Accords.

Those are just a few examples of our work in moments of disaster and crisis.

But I want to leave you with another critical part of our mission -- which is to help countries move beyond the need for humanitarian support… and to develop the institutions, wherewithal, and prosperity necessary to become self-reliant.

In the end, our greatest sign of success is when a country no longer needs us -- when it can meet the needs of its citizens and even help those of other nations.

To go from being a recipient nation to becoming a donor nation.

That journey from dependence to self-reliance is at the core of our mission.

And for that to happen, we need to help nations develop all the capabilities that define self-reliance: A strong and open economy based on free market principles and widely shared prosperity.

A stable and reliable set of civic institutions. Democratic governance and the rule of law. Strong education and health systems.

Something else we hope to inspire is the fire of innovation that is central to Lincoln Laboratories.

Across the world, people look to America -- and to institutions like this one -- for leadership across all fields, including technology.

We are a leader in innovation not only because we reward it.

We are a leader in innovation because as a nation, we challenge innovators like you to make our nation stronger and safer and more generous and more caring.

This is at the heart of your work. You make my job easier.

You make humanitarian work more effective. And... you make America stronger.

For all of these reasons and for so many more, I thank you all, and our nation thanks you.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratories