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Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE

New Faces in Congressional and Administration Leadership


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: With Cabinet confirmations complete and congressional committee chairs chosen, the dust is starting to settle in Washington. Many of the key players on issues affecting the geosciences have changed in both Congress and the Administration. This special update provides a snapshot of the new leaders.  Freshly confirmed Secretaries of the Interior and Energy are in place along with the new EPA Administrator, but virtually all non-Cabinet level appointments are still waiting to be filled, including the president's science advisor. In the House of Representatives, a six-year term limit for committee chairs, set in 1995 when Republicans gained the majority has taken effect, resulting in a sizeable turnover.  The Senate has experience less change in terms of committee chairs, but the even split between the parties has led to numerous shifts in committee procedures and assignments.


January was an active month for musical chairs in Washington. President Bush and his transition team focused their early efforts on getting the Cabinet in place and confirmed, a process that was completed February 1st with the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Bush announced his intentions for many of the Cabinet slots well before his inauguration on January 20th, and a number of Senate confirmation hearings had already taken place before Bush was sworn in as president. Of particular interest to the geosciences are Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

But the transition is far from over, and many other positions important to the geoscience community have yet to be filled. The new administration is still full of Clinton holdovers serving on an acting basis while the White House Office of Presidential Appointments -- headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Clay Johnson -- runs nominations through arduous background checks. For example, Norton is the only appointment at the Department of the Interior with the rest of the political hierarchy still in flux.

No action has taken place on the president's science advisor, who also serves as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Bush has not announced his intended leadership for many federal agencies of interest to the geoscience, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many scientific organizations have been encouraging the administration to fill these positions quickly so that science funding will be a priority in the president's first budget request later this spring. Two key science leaders who have been re-appointed are U.S. Geological Survey Director Charles "Chip" Groat and National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell. NASA Administrator Dan Goldin (appointed in 1992 by the first President Bush) has also been retained, but it is not clear for how long.

Cabinet Positions

Before becoming Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton spent eight years as Attorney General of Colorado.  She served in the Reagan Administration as the Interior Department's Associate Solicitor. Often described as a protege of then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt, Norton was supported by property rights groups and opposed by environmental groups. The Senate confirmed her nomination on January 30th in a 74-25 vote. A bio is available at

New Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is a former Senator from Michigan who was defeated in the November elections.  As a senator, Abraham supported legislation to help boost domestic petroleum production, to speed up development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site, and to eliminate the department that he now heads. Several of his former colleagues stated in his confirmation hearing that he has his work cut out for him by taking over the helm of an agency that many in Congress see as over-extended with a poorly defined mission. He was unanimously confirmed. A bio is available at

Also unanimously confirmed was former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  During her tenure as governor, Whitman worked to balance environmental protection with economic interests.  She endorses voluntary compliance by industry instead of top-down regulatory enforcement.  At her confirmation hearing, she said: "We will offer the carrot first, but we will not retire the stick." A bio is available at

President Bush has nominated campaign manager Joe Allbaugh as the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a position that President Clinton gave Cabinet status.  The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Allbaugh on February 13th.

House of Representatives

When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives at the start of the 104th Congress in 1995, one of their first reforms was to establish six-year term limits for committee chairs. With those six years up in 2001, a few committee chairs sought waivers -- most notably Judiciary Committee chair Henry Hyde (R-IL) -- but the House leadership turned them down. As a result, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has traded his chairmanship of the House Science Committee for the top slot on Judiciary, opening up his old job for moderate New York Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert. The Science Committee has jurisdiction over several key geoscience-related agencies and programs, including NASA, NSF, DOE research programs, the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Boehlert has pledged to increase the committee's profile and, by extension, the profile of science in Congress. His initial focus will be on science education, energy policy, and the environment with a series of hearings planned for March. New subcommittee chairs include former research physicist Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) atop the Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards; and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who holds a doctorate in physiology, atop the Subcommittee on Energy. Returning are Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI). More at

Rep. James Hansen (R-UT) will take over the chairmanship of the House Resources Committee with former chair Rep. Don Young (R-AK) staying on as Vice-Chairman. Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY) will continue as chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.  Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) is the new chair of the Subcommittee on Water and Power; Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) will chair the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands; Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) will chair the Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans; and committee newcomer Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO) will chair the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.  Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV) has been announced as the new Ranking Minority Member on the committee.  More at

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) chairs the renamed Energy and Commerce Committee (a return to its former name, which was shortened in the 104th Congress to just Commerce). The name change reflects a shift in jurisdiction to focus more on energy policy and environmental regulations.  Subcommittee jurisdiction and names have also shifted in the transition.  Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) chairs the renamed Energy and Air Quality (formerly Energy and Power) Subcommittee, which has authority over a range of topics including national energy policy, nuclear energy and waste, the Clean Air Act, and electricity deregulation.  Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-OH) now chairs the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. More at

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) takes over as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee after edging out the more Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) despite Petri's greater seniority.  Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) chairs the Subcommittee on
Education Reform, which faces the challenge of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was not completed in the last Congress.

In the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) will remain chairman of the committee, but the subcommittee chairs have played musical chairs.  Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH) moves from the Interior Subcommittee -- where he was a long-standing champion of the USGS -- to the more powerful Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee.  Rep. Joe Skeen (R-NM) moves from the Agriculture Subcommittee to the Interior Subcommittee.  Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) will take over as chair of the Commerce-Justice Subcommittee (jurisdiction over NOAA).  Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-AL) will replace Rep. Ron Packard as chairman of the Energy and Water Subcommittee (DOE).  Rep. James Walsh (R-NY) will remain as chair of the VA-HUD Subcommittee (NSF, NASA, EPA). More at


Without six-year term limits, most Senate committees have the same leadership they had in the 106th Congress. But the power-sharing deals brokered in response to the 50-50 party split mean that committees will conduct their business in new ways. Committees have equal representation of Republicans and Democrats, and both the chair and the ranking Democrat will have the authority to bring legislation to the floor for debate and vote, a right that had previously been available only to the chair.

Although few full committee chairs changed, quite a few subcommittee chairs have new occupants. In the Appropriations Committee, the defeat of Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) opened up the chairmanship of the Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which is now headed by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT). Three senators join the committee: Mike DeWine (R-OH), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). More at

Over at the Senate Commerce, Science, And Transportation Committee, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) is the new chair of the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, which has jurisdiction over NSF, NASA, NEHRP, and USGCRP. More at

The Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee keeps the same leadership -- Chair Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) --  but gains six new senators: Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Richard Shelby (R-AL). More at

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as the new Ranking Minority Member, along with five other new faces to the committee: Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Jon Corzine (D-NJ), and Arlen Specter (R-PA). More at

Special update prepared by Margaret Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: American Geophysical Union Alert 01-02, EENews, U.S. House or Representative website, U.S. Senate website, and The Washington Post.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted February 10, 2001

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