Cindy Bruckner-Lea has spent more than 30 years improving the health and safety of humans, animals, plants, and the environment.
For her most recent efforts, Bruckner-Lea, a senior technical advisor at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), received the Secretary’s Appreciation Award from the U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in July.
Biotechnology, biomanufacturing, and biodefense
In May of 2019, Bruckner-Lea started a special assignment with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act. She was tasked as the DOE representative on the interagency Biodefense Coordination Team, and the DOE lead for many interagency biodefense and biotechnology efforts.
The next four years were a whirlwind of White House briefings, interagency subcommittee meetings, coordination across 17 departments and agencies, annual assessments, and an unprecedented pandemic.
In the fall of 2022, the culmination of nearly four years of collaborative efforts was officially announced by the White House.
On September 12, the Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy was released. The goal is to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing to identify innovations in health, climate change, energy, food security, agriculture, supply chain resilience, and national and economic security.
The following month in October, the National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan was released. It outlines how the federal government should prepare for and respond to biological incidents, leveraging lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are working to prevent the next pandemic,” said Bruckner-Lea. “Coordination across government and with the private sector is important to help prepare for and prevent biological events, whether they are natural, accidental, or intentional. How can we harness science to do better? How do we respond more effectively?”
Intersection of science and policy
Bruckner-Lea was the first person in her family to go to college, so she didn’t take the opportunity lightly. She credits wonderful science and math teachers in high school to leading her toward her path in STEM.
“Those teachers and classes really spurred my interest in a career in engineering,” she said. “After an internship as an undergraduate, I realized that I was not interested in a traditional chemical engineering career in industry. I really wanted to work on problems involving health and biological systems, so I pursued a graduate degree in bioengineering and conducted research to develop biological sensors.”
Since joining PNNL in 1992, she has had various roles, ranging from a scientist and member of the design team for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, which opened in 1997, to portfolio lead for the chemical and biological defense projects with the Department of Homeland Security to manager of researchers who focus on chemical and biological signature science.
She credits the combination of these experiences to providing her the foundation of science and policy, which was crucial to her work at DOE.
No matter the role or project, Bruckner-Lea believes that building bridges is a common thread.
“Throughout my career, teamwork has been essential to everything I’ve done,” she said. “Building bridges. Harnessing science for solutions. At PNNL, I’ve brought people together across the lab, representing many disciplines. At DOE, I had to create bridges across many parts of DOE as well as other departments and agencies. I believe we can achieve many advances when we work together—across disciplines, laboratories, government, and society.”
Words from the award
“In recognition of Dr. Cynthia Bruckner-Lea’s leadership throughout the development and launching of the Executive Order (EO) on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy and the National Biodefense Strategy and Implementations Plan (NBS). The EO and NBS, released in fall of 2022, included key Department of Energy (DOE) contributions, providing innovative research and development to advance a thriving clean energy bioeconomy and strengthen our preparedness for biological incidents.
For the last four years, Dr. Bruckner-Lea served as Senior Technical Advisor in the office of the Principal Deputy Director and was the DOE-wide representative on the NBS Biodefense Coordination Team (BCT). The BCT worked closely with the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate interagency efforts and conduct the annual U.S. biodefense enterprise assessment that included analysis of programs across 17 departments and agencies. Dr. Bruckner-Lea served on the interagency policy committees and working groups to continue to ensure that DOE world-class capabilities were recognized and included where appropriate. Her leadership on these working groups contributed greatly to the development of U.S. Government policies, strategies, and implementation plans, and required effectively interfacing with leaders across DOE, the National Security Council, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.”