Nomination Hearing for Dresselhaus Goes Well President Clinton has nominated Mildred S. Dresselhaus to be the next Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. Last week, Dresselhaus appeared before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where she was warmly received by committee chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and other committee members. The next stop in the nomination process is the Senate floor, although when this will happen has yet to be determined.
Dresselhaus' prepared testimony provides insights into the approach she would take in this new position. She describes herself as a "working scientist for my entire career." Dresselhaus is currently an Institute Professor at MIT, with Electrical Engineering and Physics as her discipline areas. Dresselhaus noted that the focus of her research, the physics of solids, would have particular relevance to DOE's research in nanoscale science and engineering. She has "significant experience managing scientists," and told the committee that she is familiar with industrial research practices. Most of her research funding has come from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, as well as other DOE experience. Dresselhaus has been President of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was the Treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dresselhaus told the committee that she fully endorses DOE's FY 2001 initiatives, including the spallation neutron source; scientific discovery through advanced computing; and nanoscale science, engineering, and technology.
"My own goals for the Office of Science are three-fold," Dresselhaus explained. "First, I have high expectations for increasing the quality of the science, and the management of scientific research, sponsored by the Department of Energy. We can and should do the best science internationally in our critical mission areas and I am committed to pursuing that excellence. Second, I will make the Office of Science a place where people are excited about their jobs and give their all. My experience is that good morale is critical to the success of an organization and I will work hard to improve morale. And third, I intend to draw upon my diverse professional experience and contacts to bring best practices to the Office of Science in everything we do. My goal is to stimulate collaborations and promote better science in every way possible."
Dresselhaus received high marks from the committee members. Murkowski told Dresselhaus, "I certainly believe you are well qualified," a sentiment shared by Ranking Minority Member Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) who told her "how pleased we are that you have been nominated to this position. ...you are to be commended for taking this position."
Murkowski asked Dresselhaus about using performance standards, or setting targets, for basic research. She responded by citing her work on a report on how to evaluate basic research, saying that while it is not possible to hold such research to a timetable, that there are other ways to evaluate. Murkowski also expressed frustration about the impasse regarding storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, an issue not under the jurisdiction of the Office of Science. He added, "We have to depend on the scientific community in many cases to tell us the right thing to do," but then added, "you really do us a disservice" when this advice does not offer a single conclusion.
Bingaman's questions centered on the basic research performed at the nuclear weapons labs, now under the control of the National Nuclear Security Administration. "We are in danger of cordoning off the weapons labs," he said. Bingaman spoke of the importance of these laboratories being involved with the researchers supported by the Office of Science. Dresselhaus replied "I completely agree with you . . . they must have contact with the rest of the world." She pledged to do everything she could to maintain this relationship.
Coming into the hearing toward the end was Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho.) Craig was very complimentary of Dresselhaus, and said he was looking forward to working with her.
At the beginning of the hearing, Murkowski said he would work to bring this nomination to the Senate floor quickly. The full Senate has been very slow in acting on most nominations, and so it is difficult to predict when Dresselhaus will formally assume this position.
Richard M. Jones