This Week's Federal Player
DHS's George Selim: Training Generation Y to Fight Terrorism
Sunday, March 15, 2009; 11:00 PM
At the Department of Homeland Security, George Selim is building the next generation of Americans trained to combat terrorist activities. He isn't doing it by training soldiers, but instead by tapping into a group of Arabic-speaking college students who want a career in public service.
Selim, 29, last year helped create the National Security Internship (NSI), an intensive nine-week summer program that combines language, Middle Eastern studies, homeland security and intelligence seminars, and on-the-job-training at DHS or the FBI.
"The program is the byproduct of the overwhelming sense of community service and civic duty among America's college students and the tremendous need for our national security workforce to be fully representative of the country it protects," said Selim.
Selim, a policy advisor at the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, co-founded the internship program with FBI colleagues as a response to two issues that arose after the 9/11 attacks: discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans, and the need to create a new generation of well-rounded public servants who can engage those communities
"These communities are critical to America's future, and we are convinced that we cannot do an effective job in homeland security without actively and fully connecting with them," said Selim. "Indeed, we have found we are more effective when we explain our policies, listen to feedback, and empower community groups to join the effort to secure our country."
Rammy Barbari, a 21-year-old Arab-American and a senior at Virginia Military Institute, was one of the 20 interns in NSI's inaugural year. Barbari's father was a refugee from the Six-Day War of 1967 who arrived in the United States with no money and no connections.
"I feel grateful for the opportunities this country provides to individuals like my father," said Barbari. "I feel an obligation to serve this country and give something back for what it has given my family."
Barbari also said he joined the program because he has "a special set of cultural and language skills that are rare nowadays, but extremely relevant, and I wanted to jump on the opportunity to serve my country."
Even after NSI ended last year, Selim continued to mentor Barbari through everything from his honors thesis to his law school applications. "He goes above and beyond to ensure individuals like me are provided the opportunities to succeed," said Barbari.
Of the 2008 class, one-third of the interns were offered full-time jobs after the internship ended. Selim also reported he has already received more than 300 applications for this year's 30 open slots for the program that is run in coordination with George Washington University.
Hady Amr, director of Brookings Doha Center, said Selim "is at the forefront of the relationship between the American-Muslim community and the U.S. government, playing a vital role in both reducing mutual misunderstandings and dramatically improving our country's security."
"Like Barack Obama, George is as American as apple pie, but his parentage includes recent immigrants to America, which enabled him to see how others view America," said Amr. "This has been a huge asset to the U.S. government."
Selim's colleague at DHS, Shaarik Zafar, insists it is not only Selim's talent, but also his personality and dedication that keep our country safe that is making a big difference.
"George has tremendous people skills and is simply willing to get the job done. He can navigate bureaucracies but is also willing to roll up his sleeves and get the job done himself," said Zafar.
In addition to overseeing the NSI, Selim advises department leadership on developing civic engagement and public outreach initiatives in the American Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian communities. He describes his job as operating at the intersection of civil rights and homeland security.
"I have the best job in government," said Selim. "By promoting the respect for individual rights and liberties here in America we can continue to send the message that tolerance and pluralism are pillars our democracy. That's something I'm proud of."
(This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Visit www.ourpublicservice.org for more about the organization's work to recognize the men and women who serve our nation.)