On a rainy day in late September, Mitchell Reiss brought a guest into Morton Hall to meet with PIPS fellows. It was Edward J. Lacey, the deputy director of policy planning staff in the State Department.
As the group sat down to a pizza lunch, Reiss laid the ground rules. "What is said here today is not for attribution," he said, looking around the table. "And completely off the record." After all, the discussion was to center around matters of national security.
Lacey and Reiss were on hand to lend the insight of State Department insiders as the PIPS fellows begin to formulate their topical questions for the year. PIPS Co-Director Dennis Smith said that he was thrilled to have the meeting with Lacey, "the number-two policy planning guy in State."
"I probably don't have answers to your questions," Lacey said early in the session, "but I can point you in the right direction."
Both foreign-service veterans did their best to point the PIPS fellows in the right direction, giving seasoned advice as the students outlined their topics in bold strokes. The students brought up potential topics ranging from foreign aid in recessionary times, cultural considerations inherent in the build-up of native Iraqi and Afghan armed forces and the removal of economic incentives that might encourage nuclear proliferation.
Lacey spoke candidly about the State Department's position on many of the topics, punctuating his remarks with comments such as this one: "You seem to be asking me is this issue worth your time and I will say definitely yes, because it so happens that Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton is very interested in this subject."
For a program that's only a single year old, PIPS has already attracted a lot of attention inside the Beltway. Mitchell Reiss arranged the meeting with Lacey.Later this fall, Smith and Co-Director Amy Oakes are meeting with higher-ups within policy planning in the State Department.
The PIPS policy of reaching out to the foreign policy community for suggestions on security-related topics has paid dividends. The 2008 PIPS class was invited to present their briefs in April at the McLean headquarters of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm whose main client is the U.S. government. The presentation drew invited attendees from the upper echelons of the profession. One attendee, David M. Finkelstein, vice president of the Center for Naval Analyses, was motivated to write a letter to Geoffrey Feiss, who was William & Mary's provost at the time.
"Speaking as a person who lives and works in the ‘think tank' world of greater Washington, D.C., I am absolutely impressed by what PIPS has achieved in its first year," Finkelstein wrote. "I thought you would want to know that your students did so well in representing The College of William and Mary and that persons like myself think that the Project on International Peace and Security is an important initiative and a great investment in the future of Our Nation."
A few weeks after the PIPS briefing, a Booz Allen team (including two William & Mary alumni) visited campus on a recruiting trip. Exposure to PIPS was good for Booz Allen, as well.
"Typically it's the business students who are looking at us, but we want a much broader diversity of students," explained Terence Mandable '92, a principal at Booz Allen. "We want liberal arts majors. We want people who have good analytical skills, good problem-solving skills and great writing skills, strong oral communications skills. We can train and teach some of the other things, but that academic foundation is really important. So, we've been looking at programs like the one Dennis and Amy have been leading. That was part of the appeal, to reach a very different student base than the one that comes to talk to us."
Booz Allen hired 21 members of William and Mary's class of 2009. The consulting giant has already arranged to host a spring, 2010 briefing by this year's PIPS class. Edward Lacey also wants to hear more about PIPS: "Everything I've heard so far, I'd like to hear how it ends up," he said. "So when you guys are done, come up to Washington."