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Novelli, ’81, Talks Internet, iPhones, and International Trade at MLaw Roundtable

Novelli, '82, Talk​s Internet, iPhones, and International Trade at MLaw Roundtable

By Amy Spooner
March 30, 2016

Making the economic case for technology and free trade, or for addressing issues like climate change, can overcome siloed thinking, Catherine Novelli, '82, told students at a recent roundtable discussion.

It's a case that Novelli makes repeatedly as the undersecretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment. In her two years at the State Department, Novelli has led the Obama administration's efforts to develop and implement policies concerning economic growth, energy, oceans, the environment, and science and technology. She also is the State Department's senior coordinator for international information technology diplomacy, which draws on her expertise as the former vice president of worldwide government affairs at Apple Inc.

"Governments are concerned with the economic prosperity of their people, and we are arguing that prosperity can take many forms," she told students from Michigan Law and from the Ross School of Business. "While most leaders have a global view, it can be harder for people at the ministry level to think holistically. I think the United States has an opportunity to lead by example." Novelli cited the State Department's Global Connect Initiative, which was launched in 2015 with the goal of bringing 1.5 billion new Internet users online by 2020, as a case study in how policy stems from an alignment of technology and economic interests. The department has garnered global buy-in for the program because economic analyses show the corollary between Internet connectivity and an increase in countries’ gross domestic products. Similarly, Novelli said discussions at the recent UN Climate Change Conference about reducing greenhouse gas emissions couldn’t have moved forward without simultaneously discussing the need for technology that will support the effort. "If we're going to be effective at solving problems, we can't look at issues in silos," she said. "Pulling all the pieces together allows us to make the most compelling arguments for change."

Novelli also applauded U-M's own efforts in breaking down cross-functional barriers. Earlier in the day, she met with leaders of the University of Michigan's Energy Institute and toured MCity, the University's testing facility for autonomous vehicles, which she called "a great example of what can be accomplished when people with different expertise work together."

During the interactive discussion at the Law School, Novelli also fielded questions about the dispute between her former employer, Apple, and the U.S. government over unlocking the iPhone of one of the perpetrators of last December's mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. She noted that the ever-changing nature of technology makes it difficult to legislate the balance between national security and citizens' constitutional rights to privacy. Furthermore, publicizing specific reasons for wanting to invade individual privacy can undermine national security, she said. "The security concerns our country faces are real, and people expect law enforcement to keep them safe. But right now there's a cognitive dissonance concerning what's required to do that."

She also discussed the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and asked students for their thoughts about why many in Michigan and other Midwest states oppose it. Novelli, an Ohio native, said that she understands what happens to factory towns when factories close. However, she noted that unemployment is down and close to a million new manufacturing jobs have been created in the past two years. "The TPP will give us access to new markets that comprise more than 40 percent of the world’s GDP, and that’s going to help protect jobs here."

Novelli has plenty of experience negotiating trade deals and garnering support back home—she served as assistant U.S. trade representative for Europe and the Mediterranean prior to working for Apple. "I strongly believe that open and fair trade is important to our welfare," she said. "The pace of change is increasing, so our economy needs to be flexible. Railing against change isn’t going to prevent it from happening; it’s only going to leave us behind."

In the coming years, the State Department Legal Advisor's office will participate in the Law School's on-campus recruiting and interviews for law students interested in diplomatic careers. For more information about recruiting and public-sector career planning, visit​.

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