HKS Welcomes New Belfer Center Director, Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter

By David Duesing, MPP 2018

On Tuesday, March 28, the Kennedy School learned of an exciting development within its Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs—the current director, Graham Allison, recently requested to step down from his position, and his position will be filled by former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter. The Kennedy School first learned of the announcement from an email from Dean Doug Elmendorf, and later at the event Tuesday evening held in the JFK Jr. Forum.

In both his written correspondence to the Kennedy School and his opening remarks at the Forum event, Dean Elmendorf recognized Graham Allison’s immense accomplishments, and the strides he took in advancing not only the Belfer Center, but the Kennedy School as a whole. As the dean noted, “Graham was also the ‘founding dean’ of the modern Kennedy School, leading the School from 1977 to 1989. During that period, a small program expanded many times over to become a major professional school with a significant impact on governments and public policy across the United States and around the world.” Dean Elmendorf thanked Allison for all of his contributions to the Kennedy School, noting that he, personally, felt that he was a better dean because of Allison’s guidance.

Although the Belfer Center may be saying goodbye to a beloved leader, it will soon be greeting a similarly accomplished, driven, and influential director as the baton is passed to Secretary Carter. As the Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Secretary and ultimately the Secretary of Defense, Secretary Carter strove not only to ensure the safety and security of the United States, but also to specifically improve the technological and leadership capacities within the Department of Defense.

During his introductory remarks at Tuesday night’s Forum event, Secretary Carter emphasized his two primary areas of interest that he intends to develop as the Director of the Belfer Center—facilitating technological innovation and developing people committed to the greater good. As Secretary of Defense, Secretary Carter built bridges with the tech community in order to incorporate private sector actors into the Defense Department’s mission of applying technological advancements to benefit the public. “I need to ensure that our innovative engine works for all our citizens,” Secretary Carter stated, “And the spirit is there, but the bridge asking technologists to serve publically is not always there.” As Director of the Belfer Center, Secretary Carter hopes to continue encouraging the top minds in the various fields of technology, from automation to A.I. to biotech, to focus their innovative efforts towards the betterment of others.

Equally important to Secretary Carter is the need to attract and develop the next generation of public leaders. Under Secretary Carter, the U.S. military allowed women to serve in all positions, without exception, and expanded military recruitment efforts to previously underrepresented areas of the country. At the Kennedy School, Secretary Carter plans to continue his efforts to encourage new generations to dedicate themselves to public service and the greater good.

In his final remarks of the evening, Secretary Carter expressed his enthusiasm for joining the HKS family, and that he greatly looked forward to working with those at the Kennedy School to build a better future. Secretary Carter ended his remarks saying, “You’re my kind of people. You are why I’m so confident in the future, and why I wanted to be here.”