Indians in the US Govt., diplomatic corps
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The Times of India, Apr 25 2016
Indian-Americans branch out to US diplomatic corps
In the annals of Indian immigrant academic and professional pursuits, serving in the US government hasn't ranked very high since the sixties when Washington opened doors to them. Striving to strike roots in America, Indian parents typically want their children to branch out to STEM (Science, Technology , Engineering, Math) subjects, often an offshoot of their own background.
Of course, in course of this, many Indian-Americans do end up serving in the government, handling subject ranging from health (Vivek Murthy and Bobby Jindal), to agriculture (Iqbal Siddiqui), to commerce (Karan Bhatia and Arun Kumar) to information technology (Vivek Kundra and Aneesh Chopra). Most return to private sector at the end of a short stint in government. However, the US foreign service was generally considered a tough area to crack, in part because of the exacting security demands which follow the Foreign Service Officers' Test (FSOT) that qualifies one for the 15,000-strong cadre, among the largest in the diplomatic world.
“Top Secret“ clearance needed for many jobs could be undermined by extensive foreign travel, dual citizenship, non-United States citizen family members, foreign spouses, and de facto allegiance to a foreign state (besides drug use, financial problems or a poor record of financial practices, frequent gambling etc).
But half century after the Immigration Act of 1965 brought large number of Indians to the US, second generation Indian-American are making the foreign service cut in large numbers, with many of them now in the senior levels of the US diplomatic corps. Last we ek's announcement by US administration that it is nominating Geeta Pasi, a career foreign service officer, as its envoy to Chad, marked the third instance of a Indian-American becoming a US ambassador in the Obama administration, following Richard Verma going to New Delhi, and Atul Keshap to Colombo.
While Keshap and Pasi are career foreign service officers, Verma's route took him through the military , the private sector, and Congress. Others, like Vinai Thummalapally , Obama's roommate and friend from Occidental College, bagged sinecures (in his case as Ambassador to Belize) on account of political connections and contributions. Increasingly , Indian-Americans are entering the foreign service directly with the same verve and success as they do in other highly regarded professions such as medicine, engineering, and law, where they have made a mark.
Although the precise numbers are hard to obtain, by some accounts, there are dozens of Class I foreign service specialists of Indian-origin, including several in line to be ambassadors. Among them, Krishna Urs, who is the deputy chief of mission at the U.S Embassy in Madrid, and Uzra Zeya, deputy chief of the US mis sion in Paris. While the growing presence of Indian-Americans in the US administration has unsettled some Pakistani diplomats (the country's ex-ambassador Hussain Haqqani was among those who wondered about its impact on policy , although there are also Pakistani-Americans in the mix), Indian officials treat the matter with equanimity , recognising, correctly , that they are Americans first and will represent US interests.
In fact, some officials say it is easier to deal with diplomats who are not of sub-continental origin so as to avoid any expectations or complications, recalling the episode featuring U.S Attorney Preet Bharara and Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.
But successive US administrations have been comfortable entrusting delicate diplomatic portfolios to IndianAmericans confident that they will represent Washington's interest. Krishna Urs was the senior Pakistan desk officer in the state department as far back as (1994-1996), and more recently , both Geeta Pasi and Pushpinder Dhillion, another senior foreign service official, served on the Afghan desk. When it comes to Washington and its foreign service corps, hyphenation is inconsequential and irrelevant.
(With inputs from Srinivas Laxman in Mumbai)
It took nearly two decades for Bob Balaram’s idea to take off. Sometime in the 1990s, Balaram, along with a Stanford professor, had proposed a “helicopter for Mars”. Seeing it through, however, was not possible. The technology just did not exist. A chance occurrence seven years ago, the director of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) attending a talk on drones, led to a question he had the answer to — could drones fly on Mars?
“Someone remembered I had attempted this in the 1990s and recommended me. My team and I had eight weeks to prepare a proposal which led to some initial study money, which has now grown into this bold effort — the first helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity,” Balaram told TOI a week after Perseverance, Nasa’s latest Mars rover, landed successfully.
While working on his part for the Mars 2020 mission, he would often run into Swati Mohan, the guidance, navigation and controls lead. “We practise Kannada when we meet in the hallway,” he said. On the Perseverance team alone, there are at least 12 Indian-origin scientists at work, eight of whom are women.
There is Vandana Verma, who could take the rover out for a spin on Mars next week. There’s deputy team chief of engineering operations for Perseverance rover, Nagin Cox. The former US Air Force officer was born in Bengaluru, grew up in Malaysia and the US, and has been a spacecraft operations engineer at Nasa/JPL for over 20 years. The avionics domain lead — which means overseeing the electronic systems for communication, navigation, display on board the spacecraft — was Yogita Shah, an electrical engineer from Aurangabad who went on to become a flight systems engineer with Nasa JPL.
Developing software as the activity planning and sequencing subsystem lead was Usha Guduri, a BITS Pilani alumnus. With over 18 years in software development, Guduri had earlier worked for Cassini (the fourth probe to Saturn) and Dawn (the first mission to orbit a dwarf planet).
Leading the effort to test SuperCam, that will analyse composition of Martian rocks, was Vishnu Sridhar. Among those testing part of the ground data systems was Kavita Kaur from Chandigarh. Zooming in on the trajectory the spacecraft took during entry, descent and landing was Soumyo Dutta, an aerospace engineer.
The motor control assembly during descent of the spacecraft was the responsibility of Priyanka Srivastava, a systems engineer who studied in Lucknow and Punjab before working on three Nasa flight missions. For the software for motor control assembly, another systems engineer, Shivali Reddy, was on board. Finally, helping the automated system to collect and manage space material is Neel Patel, also a systems engineer.