The task of appointing new S&T agency officials at the onset of
the second Bush Administration is not nearly as complicated as it was
four years ago. While some top level positions need to be filled, such
as those of the NASA Administrator and NIST Director, many of the key
S&T officials remain in place.
Before the November election, a report was released by the National
Academies addressing the process of making presidential appointments
to top science and technology positions and federal S&T advisory
committees. Entitled "Science and Technology in the National
Interest: Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee
Science and Technology Appointments," the 205-page report is
available at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11152.html.
John Porter, a former Member of Congress, chaired the eleven member
committee that produced this report.
Two previous Academy reports have been issued on the S&T appointment
process, although they only examined agency positions (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2000/fyi00.127.htm).
The latest report also reviews appointments to federal S&T advisory
committees. Since President Bush was reelected and did not have to build
an entirely new administration, this FYI will center on the committee's
recommendations regarding advisory committee appointments.
In releasing the report, Porter, Frank Press and Richard Meserve discussed
what the committee reviewed and did not review. Porter referred to charges
made by critics that the Bush Administration has politicized the process
of appointing S&T officials and advisory committee members (http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/106.html).
Speaking generally, Porter said it was "vital" that the members
of S&T advisory committee positions be seen as impartial and independent,
and that it was "inappropriate to ask" prospective committee
members about their party affiliation, election votes, or policy positions.
Scientists should not be excluded from advisory committees because of
their personal views, he said. Meserve commented that there are approximately
1,000 federal advisory committees, of which one-half involve an S&T
component. Many researchers are unaware of how the advisory committee
system works, Meserve stated, and feel shut-out of the process. Porter
and Meserve stressed that the committee made no investigation or assessment
of the current Administration's practices, Porter saying that it was
"not within our realm [to determine] if there have been misjudgements
Porter made an important distinction between various types of advisory
committees. If a president is seeking policy advise, it is acceptable
for a prospective committee member's policy or political views to be
considered. If science and technology expertise is sought - and not
policy options - Porter reiterated that it was "simply not appropriate"
to ask political questions in the recruiting process, and under some
circumstances it could be illegal. The report went into more detail;
the following are three of the report's seven recommendations on advisory
"When a federal advisory committee requires scientific
or technical proficiency, persons nominated to provide that expertise
should be selected on the basis of their scientific and technical knowledge
and credentials and their professional and personal integrity. It is
inappropriate to ask them to provide nonrelevant information, such as
voting record, political-party affiliation, or position on particular
"Presidential administrations should make the process
for nominating and appointing people to advisory committees more explicit
and visible and should examine current federal advisory committee appointment
categories to see whether they are sufficient to meet the nation's needs."
"To build confidence in the advisory committee system
and increase the willingness of scientists and engineers to serve, department
and agency heads should establish an appointment process supported by
explicit policies and procedures and hold staff accountable for its
The committee found "little progress had been made on the recommendations
of the 2000 report," but was more hopeful about the utility of
the latest endeavor. "This report will sell itself" because
of the times we are in, Press predicted. Meserve added that "we
are trying to sensitize" the Administration, with Porter saying
that the OSTP Director John Marburger had been briefed on the report,
and was very interested in reviewing and implementing its recommendations.
Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics