By Laura M. Szymanski, GSA Science Policy Fellow

On the last full day of the 115th Congress, 02 January 2019, the U.S. Senate voted to approve several White House nominations.

The individuals approved are Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Daniel Simmons to be the Department of Energy’s (DOE) assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Teri Donaldson as the DOE’s inspector general, Mary Neumayr to head the Council on Environmental Quality, and Alexandra Dunn as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assistant administrator for Toxic Substances.

Many of these now-confirmed individuals for their respective positions were voted favorably out of committee over the summer of 2018, but a full vote by the Senate was stalled due to outside forces following the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Specifically, meteorologist Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier was nominated by President Trump on 31 July 2018 to be director of the of the White House OSTP.  As the OSTP director, Dr. Droegemeier will advise the president on science, technology, and engineering related issues and oversee coordination of federal science policy.

Dr. Kevin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Photo credit: University of Oklahoma
Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Photo credit: University of Oklahoma

Dr. Droegemeier’s nomination had been well received by academic and science groups and had general bipartisan support.  GSA supported the nomination of Dr. Droegemeier and joined other scientific societies in signing a letter to Congress to signify that support and further signed a letter to urge Congress to move swiftly on the vote to confirm the nominee.

At the time of his nomination Dr. Droegemeier held the positions of Regents’ Professor of Meteorology, Weathernews Chair Emeritus in Applied Meteorology, and Teigen Presidential Professor at the University of Oklahoma.  Dr. Droegemeier received his PhD (1985) and Master of Science (1982) in Atmospheric Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology with Special Distinction from the University of Oklahoma (1980).  Dr. Droegemeier returned to the University of Oklahoma in 1985 as an Assistant Professor of Meteorology where his research over the past 33 years has focused on numerical weather forecasting, and from 2009 to 2018 he served as the Vice President for Research.

Dr. Droegemeier has a long record of federal and state government service.  At the national level, he served on the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF) and provides science policy advice to Congress and the President, under President George W. Bush and President Barack H. Obama. He served as the Vice Chairman of the Board from 2012 to 2016. At the state level, he was appointed by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to the Governor’s Science and Technology Council from 2011 to the present and as the Cabinet Secretary of Science and Technology from 2017 to the present.  He has provided congressional testimony to U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives multiple times on topics including appropriations and budgets, the state of hurricane research, and recommendations for the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act.

At the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on August 23rd led by Chairman Sen. John Thune and Ranking Member Sen. Bill Nelson, Dr. Droegemeier received bipartisan support from senators.

At the confirmation hearing only support was shown for Dr. Droegemeier and his statement of “science has no politics” was echoed throughout.  Support for his nomination by Norman Augustine, former US undersecretary of the Army, and Neal Lane, former director of OSTP for President Bill Clinton, was provided to the committee and reiterated during the meeting.

The nominee was asked questions on topics including sexual harassment in academic science; science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) education; broadband and spectrum policy; advocating for science integrity; and climate change.  Many Senators asked questions on the topic of conducting science free from political interference. Specifically, Senator Thune asked, “What do you think is the appropriate role of science in guiding policy”, from Senator Nelson, “What steps are you going to take to ensure that federal science is conducted and communicated free from political interference”, and from Senator Cruz, “What are your views on whether questions of science should be driven by political agendas in Washington” and “Should questions of policy concerning science be dictated by actual data and evidence rather than political agenda?”  Dr. Droegemeier responded to these questions by affirming that science is important in informing policy and science should be conducted free of political interference and with the highest integrity.  He further stressed the importance of presenting the President and others with unbiased scientific results for effective decision- and policy-making.

Following the confirmation hearing, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on September 5th vote was unanimous to approve Dr. Droegemeier’s nomination.

As 04 September 2018 was the first day of the hearings for the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, other nominations were held from a full-Senate vote.

The Senate approval of Dr. Droegemeier as the director of the White House OSTP comes nearly 2-years into the administration.  Often the individual that holds this position is named Science Advisor to the President, but it is unclear if this will happen.

The Senate did not approve President Trump’s pick to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Barry Myers, Lane Genatowski for director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, Christopher Fall for director of the DOE Office of Science, David Vela for director of the National Park Service, or Bill Bookless for principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The nomination of Barry Myers to lead NOAA was met with resistance from Democratic and some Republican lawmakers due to potential conflicts of interest as Myers is the CEO of AccuWeather.  AccuWeather is a commercial forecasting company and there were concerns that Myers would limit publically available data from the National Weather Service, a branch of NOAA.

On 01 January 2019, the day before the full-Senate vote on nominations, Barry Myers resigned as CEO of AccuWeather and divested from the company.

Nominees that were not confirmed by the 115th Congress will need to be renominated by the President for consideration by the 116th Congress.