On August 1, President Trump made his nomination for a Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). This position requires Senate confirmation. Once the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee gives their approval, he will need to be confirmed by the full Senate. This nomination is not controversial and, in fact, has won widespread praise. His confirmation hearing is set for August 23 (that’s right, that’s Thursday); you can listen and watch.
Kelvin Droegemeier received his PhD in atmospheric science in 1985 from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has been on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma for his entire academic career, and is currently the university’s vice president for research. He is a well-known meteorologist, and focused his research on modeling and predicting extreme weather.
His scientific, policy, and political work have been well documented by other sources, as has the reception his nomination has received in the science community. You can read elsewhere about his many accomplishments. See, for example, the good account by the American Institute of Physics, and an article in The Atlantic. Not only are scientists voicing approval, but so too are universities; see statements by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Universities, for example. Google searches will give lots more information about him, and on the widespread support for his nomination.
Droegemeier is nominated to be Director of OSTP. Congress established the OSTP (including the position of its Director) in the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-282), signed into law by President Ford. The act states, “The primary function of the OSTP Director is to provide, within the Executive Office of the President [EOP], advice on the scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of issues that require attention at the highest level of Government.” Its mission has three parts: first, to provide the President and senior staff with accurate, relevant, and timely scientific advice; second, to ensure the policies of the Executive Branch are informed by sound science; and third, ensure that the scientific work of the Executive Branch is coordinated to provide the largest benefit to society.
Traditionally, the OSTP Director is also the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. In the latter position, Droegemeier could give confidential advice to the President on matters of science and technology. What are these positions, what is OSTP? So glad you asked! A little primer on OSTP might be helpful.
Though the OSTP was only established in 1976, Congressional acts having to do with science date to the beginning of our nation. Congress passed its first science and technology policy related act, regarding patents, in 1790. The history of the relationship between the federal government and science and technology is complex and interesting, and I plan to write more about it soon (maybe in The Notices? Maybe here?). Beginning in the 1930s, presidents used a variety of advisors who gave their counsel without statutory authority. In the early 1970s, Nixon chose to end this practice. Against this background, Ford chose to establish the OSTP through legislation, to make permanent an advisory body within the White House. Most of you will know that we’ve been waiting a long time for this nomination. Indeed, OSTP has been without a director for nearly 600 days, the longest vacancy since the position’s creation in 1976. You will note that President’s Clinton and Obama both had chosen their science advisor in advance of their inauguration.