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Name and title: James R. Wright, general counsel and special assistant to the president Age: 61 The Academy: The National Academy of Sciences is a congressionally chartered corporation established in an 1863 act of incorporation signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The institution has three other components: the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and “the biggest piece,” the National Research Council. Collectively, since 2002, the groups have been referred to as the National Academies of Science, with the National Academy of Sciences remaining as the organization’s legal entity. The institution amasses committees of experts, who serve pro bono in all areas of science, medicine and technology, to advise the federal government and the general public on critical issues in their fields of expertise. Peer-reviewed, evidence-based science forms the basis of the academy’s studies and policy recommendations. It reports on an estimated 350 matters annually, publishing its findings in more than 200 reports a year. The National Academy of Sciences is private-it lacks civil servants or presidential appointees-and nonprofit. Wright said that 75% to 85% of the society’s funding comes from the federal government in the form of contracts, grants and cooperative agreements. It has 1,170 employees and an additional 8,000 committee members, numbering among them, 190 Nobel Prize winners. Academy’s breadth: “We have done work, as far as I know, for every agency of the government, all the way from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Transportation and the National Science Foundation, to national security agencies.” Wright added that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the academy has had to adjust to “the changing climate in Washington with respect to secrecy of information and forbidden classified information.” Sorting out which information is for public consumption now has become a “major undertaking” for Wright and his colleagues. Section 15 of the Federal Advisory Committee Act applies to the work the academy does for the federal government, and it outlines a set of openness requirements that must be complied with. At the same time, the institution is constrained by Freedom of Information Act exemptions blocking the use of classified information. There are also roadblocks to the academy’s use of unclassified information that assesses threats or vulnerabilities, or its ability to use certain private data. Nonetheless, Wright emphasized that “we labor very hard to find publicly releasable versions of what we do,” and maintained that the government does not attempt to influence the content of its reports. The academy also must adhere to the Office of Management and Budget’s procurement rules for nonprofit institutions, and is subject as well to the government’s cost-accounting standards for contractors. The academy’s office of contracts and grants handles such matters, and one of Wright’s in-house attorneys works for that office as well as for the legal department. The academy seeks to remain apolitical even as it tackles politically charged subjects such as global warming and environmental change, cloning, women in science, “intelligent design” as against evolution, and reproductive rights. Last month, the academy released its guidelines for stem cell research, and set forth, “in an ethically, reasonable and responsible way,” its recommendations on the subject. The report established mechanisms, in the absence of any other national standards, for furthering a field that Wright said “has real potential.” The academy had to stay above the political fray while setting forth its policies, as it considered opposing viewpoints exemplified by states that ban stem cell research outright, states like California with active research agendas, and a federal government that limits its involvement in the controversial science but tacitly opposes it. Wright said, “I think that’s the kind of role that the academies traditionally play in these kinds of things.” Legal team and outside counsel: Wright sits atop a five-person legal team made up of three attorneys, a paralegal and a secretary. He divides their duties into six “buckets”: nonprofit corporate and tax, employment, real property, intellectual property, contracts and grants, and specialized administrative law. Wright’s core legal background is in tax and nonprofit entities, but he does a significant amount of work in all six categories. Much of the academy’s legal load is handled in-house, with litigation and large real estate transactions representing the bulk of work taken outside. External counsel are drawn from firms including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Washington’s Arent Fox, Covington & Burling, and Employee Retirement Income Security Act specialists The Groom Law Group; the Washington office of Minneapolis’ Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi; and Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw. Wright reports to President and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Alberts. GC and Sarbanes-Oxley: As the National Academy of Sciences is a nonprofit institution, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002′s “technical matters are largely irrelevant” and “don’t affect us per se.” However, alleged misdeeds by some others in the nonprofit sector, including compensation abuses and questionable tax shelters, have caught the attention of the Senate Finance Committee and other government watchdogs. Wright expects the enactment of new corporate-governance legislation aimed at nonprofits, and considers financial and accounting disclosures “to be a significant issue for us.” Route to the top: Wright is a 1966 graduate of Ohio State University, with a degree in physics. He graduated in 1969 from George Washington University Law School, and almost immediately joined the academy, launching his career there in August 1970. Personal: Pittsburgh-born Wright and his wife Harriet are the parents of Karen, 36, and Cathy, 35. His hobbies include cosmology and the study of the conflict between relativity and quantum mechanics. His role in the creation of the Albert Einstein Monument, reflective of his lifelong interest in physics, is a symbolic career highlight. Wright received the organization’s 2004 Presidents’ Award for significant lifetime achievement. Last books and movie: In Search of Schr�dinger’s Cat and Schr�dinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality, by John Gribbin, explaining how a cat can be simultaneously dead and alive according to the principles of quantum mechanics; and Finding Neverland. - Roger Adler

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