On Aug. 23, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing to consider the nomination of Kelvin Droegemeier to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Both the chair and ranking member of the committee Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., highlighted Droegemeier’s extensive experience, serving on the National Science Board, at the University of Oklahoma and as the Secretary of Science and Technology in Oklahoma.
In a short introduction of Droegemeier, Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., said that one of Droegemeier’s most important statements was that, “Science has no politics … It’s just the facts that you’re looking at.”
Politicization of science
Because the Trump administration has largely been seen as anti-science, many senators asked how Droegemeier would ensure that scientific evidence is taken seriously.
In his testimony, he emphasized the importance of both fundamental and applied research, new models of public-private partnerships to move research into the economy and an education framework that produces a diverse, capable STEM workforce.
Chairman Thune questioned Droegemeier about the nominee’s opinion on the appropriate role of science in guiding policy, to which he said that science needs to be shielded from political interference. Droegemeier also pledged that he will present unbiased scientific results to President Donald Trump and other government officials.
Droegemeier additionally highlighted the rise in international competition, especially from China, but cautioned that competition should not preclude the US from embracing international collaboration. “Global research is not a zero-sum game,” he said, “but American leadership ensures that American values remain at the forefront of technological development.”
Sen. Gardner, R-Colo., then probed him on ensuring that the U.S. stays competitive with China. In response, Droegemeier pointed to China’s history of predatory trade practices and theft of intellectual property and research results. He also cautioned that while welcoming foreign researchers into the U.S. has been an important part of the scientific enterprise, it must be done carefully.
Sexual harassment in science
When asked by ranking member Nelson about sexual harassment in science, Droegemeier highlighted the importance of the National Academies report on sexual harassment in science on bringing more attention to this problem and the National Science Foundation’s release of Important Notice No. 144.
“This kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “We owe all of our researchers a safe environment in which to work and NSF put an important stake in the ground.” Droegemeier then stated that he would bring other federal agencies into the conversation and take what the NSF is doing and promulgate it throughout all research agencies. “Nothing is more important than making sure we have safe environments.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., questioned the nominee on climate change and the potential actions that he would take to combat this pressing issue. Droegemeier, however, did not use the term “climate change.” He instead discussed climate and weather forecasting as it relates to ensuring that communities include the proper infrastructure to remain resilient to weather events.
Droegemeier reiterated his belief that science has to be conducted without political interference in response to Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who wanted assurance that government scientists who agree that humans are the dominant cause of global warming will not be punished, removed or intimidated by White House officials.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s, R-Texas, asked if Droegemeier believed that there is only one acceptable view on climate issues. Droegemeier responded that there are multiple views to him and that he welcomes all points of view.
“As a scientist I get very concerned and I’ve read articles where they say this particular view of science, not climate, is absolutely settled. Science rarely provides immutable answers about anything. We have to be open and inclusive of all points view… Science is the loser when we tend to vilify and marginalize other voices,” he said.
Additional questions for Droegemeier covered broadband internet, regulatory burden, and initiatives to increase STEM education for both postsecondary and vocational training. The Senate committee will move to approve nominations on Aug. 29.
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has voiced support for Droegemeier’s nomination to head the OSTP. Read the full statement here.
View a recording of the full hearing and nominee written testimonies here.