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Magazine / COVER STORY

What Next

Four women leaders on transformations in their fields.

A woman’s place: Female soldiers from India serve in a U.N. peacekeeping unit.(AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)

July 12, 2012

Gender Parity in Uniform

The solution to sexual-abuse scandals is not to segregate and circumscribe women. It’s the opposite.

By Anu Bhagwati

The recent scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where 11 instructors have been charged with rape, sexual assault, or sexual misconduct involving at least 31 female recruits, is the latest example of the U.S. military’s problem with sexual predators in the ranks. Sexual assaults—more than 19,000 per year, according to the Defense Department—have devastated victims and shamed the military for decades. Gen. Edward Rice, responsible for basic training of all Air Force personnel, even fell back on a dodge used by other military commanders facing sexual-assault crises: He told reporters that one solution he was entertaining would segregate the training of male and female recruits. (If we separate and protect our female troops, they will be spared the abuses committed by their male counterparts, this thinking goes.)

 

The idea doesn’t just reek of a paternalism and a sexism that works against both sexes. It also won’t fix the problem, because segregated training environments still experience high rates of sexual assault. To truly end rape, weed out sexual predators, and professionalize the force, the United States needs to take a much more serious look at the roles women play in global military and security operations—and adapt its force to meet the needs of an increasingly insecure and interconnected planet. This will mean increasing leadership responsibilities and frontline assignments for women throughout the armed forces.

The first case study comes from the U.N., which created predominantly or all-female peacekeeping units as a way to minimize the many sexual assaults committed by blue helmets against local women and girls around the globe. This plan has had tremendously positive results for global security, and—as a much welcome side effect—for the U.N.’s reputation. Last year, I had the good fortune to meet Rockfar Sultana Kahanam, then the commander of the Bangladesh Female Formed Police Unit, a mostly female peacekeeping force providing post-earthquake security in Haiti. Rockfar told me that all of her officers were women and that her unit was well liked and respected, in large part because the Haitian people tended to trust her female peacekeepers.

Indeed, women’s participation in security operations, especially in leadership positions, helps and elevates everyone involved: Local trust in foreign security providers increases; sexual assaults committed against local women and girls decrease; female peacekeepers get critical experience that they can institutionalize into best practices for the U.N.; and women become key participants in security discussions, allowing them to influence global outcomes over time.

Lest we think of the U.N. as too soft an institution for comparison, let’s also take a look at lessons learned from counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of the need to respect local cultural norms about gender, American women have been exposed to ground combat unthinkable to previous generations of women in uniform. Women have filled a need not only in humanitarian efforts and civil-affairs capabilities (winning “hearts and minds”) but have also worked alongside special operators and infantrymen. They have the combat-heroism awards to show for it.

In many cases, Afghan villagers have been more likely to trust, open up to, and reveal intelligence to the Marine Corps’ Female Engagement Teams than to their male counterparts. These FET Marines have been so successful in U.S. operations in Afghanistan that our NATO allies followed suit by deploying similar teams of their own.

The global potential here is endless. Security contractors, also accused of criminal activity overseas ranging from sexual assault to murder of civilians, could professionalize their forces and potentially reap a profit from the local demand for women as security providers. And don’t overlook the pervasive sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of women and girls by service members, defense contractors, U.N. personnel, and commercial security workers worldwide, which have prompted congressional investigations, major media coverage, and even an executive order by former President George W. Bush that made “patronizing a prostitute” illegal under military law. Continuing scandals like the one involving Secret Service and military personnel earlier this year in Cartagena, Colombia, illustrate a deeply entrenched problem. Women’s increased presence in security operations would minimize the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women, girls, and boys by global security forces.

When sexual assault pervades a military institution, a large part of the solution lies in normalizing the presence of women in uniform and increasing their leadership opportunities. This can only be done by drastically increasing the numbers of women entering the military, exposing uniformed men to uniformed women at all ranks, and opening up assignments currently closed to women, as many of our allies (such as Australia and Canada) have already done. America’s military leadership needs to start thinking differently now, or we can expect to see many more Lacklands.

Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain, is executive director of Service Women’s Action Network.

 

Made by the USA

America’s national labs are cooking up new ideas.

By Karina L. Edmonds

Can you imagine a world where solar panels are integrated into our clothes to power our mobile devices while we send commands with a wink of an eye? If history is any indication, this can be the future.

Technology has progressed hand in hand with the materials available to society. From the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution to clean-energy innovations, humanity has used what’s available to press forward with better solutions to urgent problems. Some 500,000 years ago, for example, humans used flint, wood, and stone to discover fire. With a few common materials, they found something that would forever change the world.

Now we have that same opportunity—in clean energy. Without cost-effective silicon-wafer manufacturing, we couldn’t have today’s cell phones, laptops, iPods, and other portable devices. The same can also be said for clean-energy innovations, from better cathodes for batteries, membranes for fuel cells, or algae for biofuels.

The Energy Department is investing in the science that will drive economic growth in the years ahead, spurred by our national laboratories and universities. Over the past dozen years, the department has invested in both basic R&D and applied commercialization efforts that are delivering real benefits for American companies and the economy.

Take battery technology. Argonne National Laboratory has conducted research that has resulted in more than a 50 percent increase in energy-storage capacity over conventional cathode materials used in lithium-ion batteries, offering the longest-lasting energy available in the smallest, lightest package. As a result, better-performing electric vehicles are hitting the road.

Fuel cells, which can be used for everything from power generation to transportation, are also in development. Currently, platinum is the most efficient electrocatalyst for the cells, but platinum-based catalysts are expensive and not especially durable. To address this problem, Brookhaven National Laboratory has developed new ones that have high activity, stability, and durability, while containing only about one-tenth the platinum of the conventional catalysts used in fuel cells—significantly reducing overall costs.

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and at DOE’s Bioenergy Research Centers, scientists have found that algae have several advantages over other biofuel sources. Because they consume carbon dioxide, algae can feed off the carbon emissions from power plants. And because they can digest nitrogen and phosphorous, they can also grow in (and treat) municipal wastewater. Eventually, algae-based biofuels can be an alternative to the fossil fuels used for transportation—and can possibly reduce dependence on imported oil.

These are just a few of the amazing scientific discoveries that can spur entirely new industries we have yet to imagine. Who knows? Fire has already been discovered, but clean-energy technologies have the same potential to change everything.

Karina L. Edmonds is the Energy Department’s point person for helping the private sector adopt new energy technologies and collaborate with the government’s national laboratories.

 

The Right Incentives

Pay for performance is standard in the private sector. Why not in schools?

By Michelle Rhee

When we think about innovation in our schools, what may come to mind are smart boards, tablets, and other high-tech devices. Something more fundamental, however, can play an even greater role in bringing progress into our classrooms: reforming teacher compensation.

The most critical factor that affects student achievement is teacher quality. It matters more than gadgets, class size, or the condition of the building. Yet the outdated and rigid way we pay teachers doesn’t reflect the importance of the profession.

Consider a real-life example. The starting salary for a teacher in Columbus, Ohio, is $42,333. Teachers there, like in most states, are compensated in lockstep, based on time served. After three years on the job, teachers receive a salary boost of about $1,700 a year. So it typically takes 13 years to earn a $60,000 salary, regardless of whether a teacher works extra hours, takes on added responsibilities, or teaches a hard-to-staff subject in a high-needs school. And, most important, the pay rises whether or not teachers help students make academic gains.

Now, imagine a world in which excellence in the classroom is rewarded with salary increases and bonuses. Imagine a world where highly effective teachers can earn $60,000—or much more—in just a few years. Districts across the country can do this right now, and they can use federal funds, through the Education Department’s Title II program. This money is available to both states and school districts for programs that improve teacher quality. Too often, though, recipients use the cash in ineffective ways, supporting generic professional-development programs that aren’t tailored to teachers’ needs. Policymakers and state and district administrators should rethink such practices and look to Title II funding to help build compensation systems that reward and retain great teachers.

Since the money is there, it’s reasonable to ask why states and districts aren’t already using it in this commonsense way. There are two reasons. First, federal funds that are intended to help districts re­imagine their systems are instead often used to expand existing programs, typically without adequate consideration of whether those programs are serving schools well. The second reason is even more problematic and will take more political muscle to turn around. In many states, laws hamstring districts by mandating that pay scales be based on a teacher’s length of service or degrees earned—neither of which is strongly linked to student learning—instead of job performance. Where such policies stand in the way of reform, we have to replace them with new laws. Florida, Indiana, and Michigan have changed their laws to require that administrators factor a teacher’s job performance into his or her salary.

I’ve seen performance pay work. In Washington, D.C., when I was chancellor, we launched a system in which highly effective teachers can get paid up to $130,000. As a result, I saw committed educators stay in the classroom, where they are so badly needed, rather than move into more-lucrative fields.

Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor, is founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a national bipartisan education-reform group.

 

Big Idea in a Small Place

How biomarkers could transform medicine.

By Gail R. Wilensky

When National Journal asked me what I thought was the most promising innovation in health care, I first tried to think, probably like most people, of a new instrument or a handheld device that might help doctors get us well quicker or keep us in our homes longer as we age. But now, I submit something different: the increasing use of biomarkers, usually gene- or protein-based compounds, to indicate the presence or risk of disease or to fight it on a more targeted basis—which means more cost-effectively. These are big issues for an aging, overweight population.

Biomarkers are not new. Physicians already use hemoglobin A1c to measure glucose levels for diabetics and PSAs, or prostate-specific antigens, a protein that (somewhat unreliably) suggests a risk of developing prostate cancer. Other markers can be used to indicate whether a disease exists, how the disease will develop, or the probable effect of a treatment. They may also modernize drug development by helping to predict what kind of patients will benefit from new drug regimens, reducing the time and money it takes for drugs to be tested and approved.

The really promising biomarkers, however, are the ones that are still being developed—to treat cancer, heart disease, and potentially even neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

We have probably heard the most about how biomarkers might help doctors detect cancer earlier and choose the best drug for a particular patient, accounting not only for the tumor type but also his or her own biomarkers. The presence or absence of estrogen receptors or HER-2/neu (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) as a guide to the appropriate treatment of breast cancer received a lot of attention in recent years, but there are now biomarkers for colorectal, gastric, blood, lymphatic, lung, and skin cancers as well.

Researchers are also investigating ways that biomarkers can diagnose strokes, which would allow for earlier and less invasive treatment. Because heart disease (including strokes) and cancers are the most common causes of death in the United States, these advances have great potential.

Biomarkers offer a lot of promise, but potential barriers exist. The data are complex and frequently require new modeling to help us understand what they mean. But scientists are making progress using enormous data sets. Sequencing the human genome was a $3 billion project that took 10 years. New projects aim to cost $1,000 per genome. The IT requirements to process these data are also formidable. What’s more, different computer systems—between different hospitals, and sometimes even those within a single hospital—can’t talk to each other. Even the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department, the two agencies with the most advanced electronic medical records, can’t yet share inpatient data (although they can now share other types of data). And, of course, researchers—and the companies that sponsor them—often have few incentives to share information.

Finally, for the country to learn how to treat better and to spend smarter, patients, practitioners, and insurers will have to adjust their views about appropriate treatment strategies: Expensive, but frequently less invasive, therapies should be encouraged (i.e., with low co-pays) for those who might experience significant clinical gains and should be discouraged (i.e., with high co-pays) for those with a low likelihood of clinical benefit. Getting agreement on the latter will be tough for the United States—although it’s commonplace for the rest of the world—even without good biomarkers at hand. Good, credible, objective data that support these treatment decisions will be critical. This is the function of the newly created Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute that was included in the Affordable Care Act. Increasing the financial support for this center would be especially helpful.

Gail R. Wilensky, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at Project HOPE; a former administrator of HCFA, now CMS; and a former chair of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

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