FYI Developing New Tool to Track Government Science Leaders

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23 September 2016

FYI developing new tool to track government science leaders

This fall, US voters will be picking far more than one person to lead the country. They also will be endorsing an administration—the army of political appointees responsible for overseeing federal departments and agencies, including the government’s science and technology enterprise.

It is sometimes easy to forget this in election cycles that are hyperfocused on individual candidates. Although most career civil servants will have the option of staying on into the next administration, the new president will have the authority to nominate on the order of 1,000 new officials to high-level positions.

A few dozen of these roles entail stewarding the federal science and technology portfolio. Among them are five positions within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, responsible for coordinating R&D budgets and initiatives across the government, as well as top slots at federal agencies that fund science, such as the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and NASA. Most of the officials in these and other positions remain unknown to the general public. However, they wield significant influence over scientific research priorities, funding, and advice.

In addition to turnover in the executive branch, there could be a considerable leadership churn in Congress. If Democrats win control of the Senate or the House, leadership of committees with jurisdiction over science will change.

Some significant shifts will occur even if Republicans retain control of both chambers. For example, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a longtime champion of NASA who was instrumental in saving the Hubble Space Telescope from an early demise, is retiring. The person appointed to replace her as the top Democrat on the appropriations committee could have significant implications for science funding at the space agency.

To help FYI readers keep track of who currently occupies these leadership roles and who is slated to replace them, the FYI team is developing a Federal Science Leadership Tracker. Analogous to the Federal Science Budget Tracker that FYI launched this spring, the Leadership Tracker is meant to be a comprehensive source of information about key federal officials and advisors relevant to the physical sciences.

Although changes in committee leadership will not become clear until the new Congress convenes, and presidential nominations will begin to trickle in only after the inauguration, the Leadership Tracker already provides a snapshot of the current leadership landscape. The tracker will be updated on a rolling basis as current appointees depart, new committee leaders emerge, and nominees make their way through the Senate confirmation process.

A beta version of the Leadership Tracker is now live on the AIP website here. Please send any feedback about this page to mambrose [at] aip.org.