Skip to main content
Our People

Tara O'Toole, MD, MPH

Former Director

Professional Profile

Tara O’Toole is Senior Fellow and Executive Vice President at In-Q-Tel (IQT), a private, non-profit strategic investment firm that links the US Intelligence Community and venture-backed start-up firms on the leading edge of technological innovation. IQT invests in start-up companies that have developed commercially viable products that will deliver novel and disruptive, ready-soon technologies (within 36 months) that could effectively address some of the nation’s most significant problems. Dr. O’Toole is leading a strategic IQT initiative to explore opportunities and risks likely to arise in the next decade as a result of advances in the biological sciences and biotechnologies, with a particular focus on detection of and defense against biological attacks.

From 2009-2013, Dr. O’Toole served as Under Secretary of Science and Technology (S&T) at the Department of Homeland Security, the principal advisor to the Secretary on matters related to science and technology. During her tenure, Dr. O’Toole established strong collaborations with the Department’s operational components to ensure that R&D projects addressed users’ top priority needs. High profile “Apex Initiatives” pioneered new partnerships between S&T and DHS operations, and successfully delivered innovative technologies to meet DHS’ urgent operational needs, including the use of advanced, “Big Data” analytics by Immigration Control and Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection.

Dr. O’Toole also established a rigorous and transparent performance review process to evaluate S&T’s diverse portfolio of R&D projects which ranged from biodefense to explosives detection to cybersecurity and protection of first responders. To make the most of a limited budget and expansive scope of responsibilities, S&T created a technology foraging initiative, designed to scan the horizon of existing technologies and adapt or adopt technologies others had already invested in, thereby greatly increasing return on investment and speed transition to field use. Under Dr. O’Toole’s leadership, S&T created the Department’s first division of cybersecurity research, a division devoted to delivering technologies to first responders, and systems engineering division. She won approval and funding from the Administration and Congress to begin construction of  an urgently needed, long -delayed high containment laboratory for emergent and contagious animal diseases. In 2013, a time of severe, widespread budget cuts, Congress appropriated a 25% increase in S&T’s budget, affirming S&T’s value to homeland security. Technologies delivered to use during her tenure covered the broad range of DHS missions.

In the decade before becoming Under Secretary, Dr. O’Toole founded and directed two university-based think tanks devoted to civilian biodefense. She was a professor of Public Health and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which was the first academic center devoted to biosecurity policy and practices and played a major role in defining the nature and consequences of major biological threats, both natural and deliberate.  In 2003, the Center and its staff became affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh, while remaining based in Baltimore. Dr. O’Toole was CEO and Director of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. The BSPH Center for Health Security is today a recognized leader in the fields of biosecurity and mass casualty preparation and response. Its work has and continues to inform many US government and international policies and practices.

From 1994-98, Dr. O’Toole served in President Clinton’s administration as Assistant Secretary for Environment Safety and Health in the Department of Energy. In this role, she oversaw vulnerability assessments of the chemical and fissile materials that had been stored at the US nuclear weapons complex or stranded in place with the cessation of nuclear weapons production. She worked to establish a more efficient and effective approach to workplace and environmental safety at DOE sites, was the government lead of a comprehensive study of Cold War experiments involving human exposure to radiation, and led the US delegation to Russia to begin joint studies of pollution left in the wake of Soviet nuclear weapons production.

From 1989-93, Dr. O’Toole was a senior analyst at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Prior to OTA, she practiced internal medicine in community health centers in east Baltimore as part of the US Public Health Service.

She received her BA from Vassar College, her MD from the George Washington University School of Medicine and an MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is board certified in internal medicine and occupational and environmental medicine.

Dr. O’Toole is a past Chair of the Board of the Federation of American Scientists, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.