The House Science Committee has commenced business under its new Democratic majority, which has granted all five of its subcommittee leadership positions to new committee members.
At a brief business meeting on Feb. 6, the House Science Committee officially commenced its work for the 116th Congress, with the Democrats in charge of its agenda for the first time in eight years. The committee has jurisdiction over much of the science-related legislation that passes through the House and it is a focal point for science policy debate in Congress. The committee’s first hearing of the year is scheduled for tomorrow and will address the current status of climate science.
This year’s committee has a very different look from the one that concluded its business late last year. There are currently 13 new committee members, of whom 11 are new to Congress, with room remaining for two additional Republican members. None of the committee’s five subcommittees will be chaired by its ranking Democrat from the previous Congress. On the Republican side, only two subcommittee chairs from the previous Congress have remained on as ranking member.
Despite these changes, there will still be substantial continuity. Many of the most active committee members are returning, and the committee’s new chair, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), has been its ranking Democrat since 2010 and a member since she joined Congress in 1993. She is the first woman and first African American to lead the committee in its 60 year history.
New arrivals take up subcommittee gavels
Image credits – House Science Committee
While Johnson provides the committee with considerable institutional memory, its new subcommittee chairs are all recent arrivals to Congress. Notably, all of them gained their seats by flipping traditionally Republican districts. All less than 50 years old, they are also relatively young, and two are under 40. Four of the five chairs — and nine of the Democrats’ 22 members — are women, which is a marked contrast with the 15-member Republican roster, all of whom are men.
Research and Technology Subcommittee
The chair of the Research and Technology Subcommittee is Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI), who represents a suburban Detroit district and is co-president of the House Democrats' freshman class. Her panel has jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It also has broad jurisdiction over matters such as innovation policy, computing and communications, and STEM education.
Working primarily in economic development policy, Stevens has held a variety of positions in and outside of government. She was chief of staff of the auto industry task force that the Obama administration set up following the 2008 financial crisis. More recently, she held a senior position at UI Labs, a Chicago-based organization that works to bring university and industry experts together to integrate digital methods into manufacturing and urban infrastructure.
Stevens has expressed a strong interest in science and technology policy. She recently tweeted that a March 2017 article on President Trump’s proposed budget cuts for science motivated her to run for Congress. In April 2017, she spoke at the March for Science satellite event in Detroit. Following her election victory, she told a Michigan newspaper she hoped to land a spot on the Science Committee to help her advance such goals as promoting technical skills training and technology transfer to industry.
Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee
Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), an attorney and an executive, is chair of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over NASA, commercial space activities, and aviation-related research. From 2005 to 2008, she was head of communications and government affairs for the Space Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate and advocate on behalf of the space community. She also worked for a year as director of marketing and congressional relations for a startup company that developed small satellites.
In an interview with Politico late last year, Horn noted the aerospace industry has a major footprint in her Oklahoma City district. She also said she is interested in shoring up the U.S. satellite infrastructure for communications, navigation, and weather observation. This was also a major focus of fellow Oklahoman, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, when he chaired the Science Committee’s Environment Subcommittee during his time as a Republican congressman.
This Congress, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) is chair of the Environment Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over science activities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency as well as over issues such as climate change.
Talking about her assignment to the Science Committee in a recent radio interview, Fletcher said, “There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for us to talk about technological innovations in the energy industry, in renewables, talk about various climate technologies. And I think that our job on that committee is to listen to the scientists and the people who know.”
In the November election, Fletcher, an attorney, defeated Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who orchestrated large budget increases for NASA as chair of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the agency’s budget. Asked about her own support for NASA’s activities in November, she replied, “It's critical that we support scientific research and exploration. I think that it's something that we don't see as much in this administration and this Congress. There’s really a kind of antipathy for science.”
The new Energy Subcommittee chair, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), is the only subcommittee chair not completely new to the committee and Congress. He is, though, a relative newcomer, having won his seat in a special election one year ago. He represents a Pittsburgh-area district not far from a branch of the National Energy Technology Laboratory and worked as an attorney following service in the U.S. Marine Corps. In a statement following his selection as chair, he remarked, “In my district, energy means family-supporting jobs and cutting-edge science.” The subcommittee has jurisdiction over R&D activities at the Department of Energy.
Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), a former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, is leading the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. She represents a district just west of New York City previously represented by former House Appropriations Committee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). In a statement, Sherrill remarked, “I am proud to lead the subcommittee in support of the independence and integrity of science and scientists advancing the fields of energy, space, and transportation.”
Other new Democratic members of the committee are: Reps. Sean Casten (D-IL), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Katie Hill (D-CA), Ben McAdams (D-UT), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA).
Casten, notably, has a master’s degree in biochemical engineering and co-founded a company specializing in the recovery of waste energy from industrial plants. He represents a suburban Chicago district close to both Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab. He is also a member of the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Republicans also shuffle some subcommittee slots
There are fewer new faces among the committee’s Republicans. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is now the party’s ranking member of the full committee. At last week’s business meeting, he outlined a series of general priorities for the committee, including harnessing innovation to improve energy efficiency, supporting research at national laboratories, promoting computing technology and cybersecurity solutions, improving access to STEM education, and maintaining U.S. leadership in space exploration.
At the subcommittee level, Reps. Randy Weber (R-TX) and Brian Babin (R-TX) are continuing on as the top Republicans on the Energy Subcommittee and Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, respectively. Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS), an obstetrician who has been in Congress and on the committee for two years, is the new ranking member of the Environment Subcommittee. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), a real estate developer, is the new ranking member of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. He joined Congress and the committee after winning a special election in May 2017 for the seat previously held by Mick Mulvaney, who left Congress to become White House Budget Director.
Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN) is the new ranking member of the Research and Technology Subcommittee. New to Congress, Baird previously served in the Indiana House of Representatives and is the owner of a farming business. He began his career as a livestock specialist with the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service after earning a doctorate in animal science monogastric nutrition from the University of Kentucky in 1975.
Other new Republican committee members are Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), who served on the committee earlier in his congressional career; Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), a businessman who is new to Congress and best known for his time as a professional football player; and Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), a former Green Beret and the owner of a small defense analysis business who is also new to Congress.