Obama, science, and a new team in Washington
President-elect Barak Obama has built a fascinating team to deal with science, environment, and energy issues.Skip to next paragraph
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Among the newest additions: Jane Lubchenco, a highly regarded marine scientist from Oregon State University; and John Holdren, director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of government.
And lest we forget the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), we have Harold Varmus, former head of the National Institutes of Health and a Nobel laureate, along with Eric Lander, a key player in the human-genome project who also is founding director of a joint program between MIT and Harvard that focuses on using genomics in biomedical research.
Dr. Varmus's nomination to PCAST brings the number of Nobel laureates among Obama's nominees to two -- including Steven Chu, currently head of the Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory and Obama's pick to head the Department of Energy. Varmus and Dr. Lander will co-chair PCAST, along with Dr. Holdren.
Folks have called this a "dream team" for science policy. And it may well be. But some specialists caution that resumes don't always translate into effective governing or policymaking. That remains the unanswered question with this group, they say.
The answer in large part hinges on Obama's picks people for second and third-tier appointments -- folks who will be the deputy secretary, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries at these agencies. These are the folks who have more direct contact with individual program managers whose minions implement new policies. It's a bit like the chain of command on a naval vessel. Sure, there's a captain and subordinate officers. But the people who really run the ship day in and day out are the chief petty officers.
Another challenge this administration may face is one of inflated expectations. Roger Pielke Jr., a science policy specialist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, looks overseas for one example. During a phone chat, he pointed to the celebration among environmentalists and climate activists in Australia when Kevin Rudd took over there as Prime Minister in 2007.