Presidential Administration: Structure and Status
The executive branch consists of the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, and the independent federal agencies. The power of the executive branch lies with the President of the United States. As stated in Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress, diplomacy with other nations, and negotiating treaties. The President has the power to sign into law or veto legislation passed by Congress. The President also appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet members.
The Cabinet consists of the head of each of the fifteen executive departments, such as Department of the Interior. These departments are responsible for the daily activities of the federal government along with the independent federal agencies. The independent agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, are part of the executive branch but their head is not a member of the Cabinet. For more information about the federal agencies, visit the background section of the federal agencies policy page.
The Executive Office of the President provides the President with the support and assistance in day-to-day activities. The Executive Office consists of many individual offices, which are managed by the White House Chief of Staff. Key actions by the White House of importance to the geoscience community are covered by this policy page.
White House Sponsors Science Activities
The week of October 18, 2010, was a momentous one for White House support of science. On October 18, the White House Science Fair saw dozens of middle and high school students presenting award-winning science fair projects in the State Dining Room. President Obama personally surveyed the projects, which included a solar-powered car and a water-conserving smart toilet, before giving the keynote address. The fair was part of the White House’s efforts to boost American students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
The following weekend, on October 23 and 24, the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival convened on the National Mall. An estimated half a million visitors had fun learning about science and engineering. Activities appealed to a broad range of interests and educational levels and were meant to provide take-away lessons and encourage critical thinking. The American Geological Institute shared a booth with the Geological Society of America, which featured hands-on activities related to earthquakes. Other member societies with booths included the American Geophysical Union (Earth in Space), the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (The Greatest Labs on Earth: Lakes, Streams, and Oceans), the National Earth Science Teachers Association (Learning About Earth and Space Can Be Fun!), the Paleontological Research Institution/Museum of the Earth (Exploring Ancient Seas), the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (Rocks Can Do What?) and the Soil Science Society of America (What’s a Four-Letter Word for Dirt?).
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren and other OSTP staffers spent Saturday morning sampling the festival offerings, which were sponsored by an array of public and private partners, including Lockheed Martin, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Academy of Sciences, as well as many universities and a group of Nobel Laureates. The event also billed figures in popular science, including Bill Nye the Science Guy and the cast of Mythbusters.
President Obama also announced the winners of the National Medal of Science, two of which work in the geosciences. Warren M. Washington is a renowned atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has pioneered computer modeling of climate change predictions. Marye Anne Fox, now Chancellor at the University of California, San Diego, is a physical organic chemist whose work focuses on environmental remediation. The prize is the most prestigious award in American science.
White House Launches Agency Challenge Web Site
The White House has released a new web site, Challenge.gov, which allows government agencies to post problems and challenge members of the public to solve them. This results-oriented initiative aims to spur innovation and creativity. So far, more than twenty agencies have posted challenges, including NASA, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Authors of winning submissions receive recognition, and sometimes prizes. A challenge posted by NASA seeks a robot prototype that can locate and retrieve geologic samples in varied terrain without human control, for a prize of $1.5 million.
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OSTP Adds Fourth Associate Director (9/10)
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) now has a full complement of four associate directors, with the confirmation of Dr. Carl Wieman. The Senate confirmed his appointment on September 16. Carl Wieman is a physicist and recipient of a Nobel Prize in physics. Wieman will be the Associate Director of Science and he joins Phil Coyle, Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, Shere Abbott, Associate Director for the Environment and Aneesh Chopra, Associate Director for Technology. Congress authorized four associate directors for OSTP, but President George H.W. Bush chose to nominate and have only two associate directors during his administration.
More information about the associate directors is available from an OSTP brief.
President Obama Establishes National Ocean Policy (7/10)
On July 19, President Obama issued a Presidential Order to enact the Ocean Policy Task Force’s final recommendations, which involve establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes (National Policy) and creating a National Ocean Council (NOC). The NOC, which will coordinate across the federal government to implement the National Policy, has received support from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of the Navy.
The final recommendations prioritize actions for the NOC to pursue, including ecosystem-based management, regional ecosystem protection and restoration, and strengthened and integrated observing systems. The National Policy prioritizes coastal and marine spatial planning and calls for a flexible framework to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, the coasts and the Great Lakes.
The full text of the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes is available at www.whitehouse/oceans.gov.
President Obama Releases National Space Policy (7/10)
On June 28, President Obama released a new national space policy. The report emphasizes the United States’ continued commitment to the collaborative, responsible, and constructive use of space, as well as the continued development of space systems to benefit national and homeland security. The report details a ‘bold new approach to space exploration,’ calling for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to engage in a program of human and robotic exploration of the solar system. According to the report, in coming years the U.S. will “accelerate the development of satellites to observe and study the Earth’s environment, and conduct research programs to study the Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere in order to study, monitor, and support responses to global climate change and natural disasters.”
Update on Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011 (6/10)
Congress has made little progress on twelve appropriation bills for the fiscal year 2011 budget and is not likely to complete the appropriations process before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, 2010. It appears more and more likely that there will be a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running on last year’s budget beyond the November elections. Congress may try to complete the 2011 budget in late November to early December.
In a flurry of activity on the last four days before the July 4th congressional recess, five House appropriation subcommittees convened to mark-up their appropriation bills. Bills were approved out of the subcommittees for the Legislative Branch, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State and Foreign Operations, Agriculture and Commerce, Justice and Science.
For science agencies, the House subcommittee approved a budget of $7.424 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fiscal year 2011. This is the same as the president’s request, however, the subcommittee moved some funding from the research account to the education account. For the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the subcommittee approved a budget of $19 billion. This is the same as the president’s request, however, the subcommittee reduced the budget for the Science programs by $300 million, so Science programs would receive $4.7 billion. For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the subcommittee approved a budget of $5.543 billion, which is essentially the same as the president’s request.
The subcommittee-approved budgets for these science agencies would mean healthy increases compared to fiscal year 2010, however, these budgets still need to be approved by the full committee, the House and the Senate.
More information about the House Committee on Appropriations work on the fiscal year 2011 budget is available at the committee website.
Obama Nominates New Director of MMS, Salazar Swears Him In (6/10)
Michael Bromwich was sworn in as the new leader of the reformed Minerals Management Service (MMS), now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy (BOE) on June 21, 2010. Although he was not given an official title, Obama has made Bromwich’s task clear: create an organization that monitors the offshore drilling industry. The appointment did not require Senate confirmation, and will not unless Congress adjusts the three agencies Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has created.
Bromwich graduated from Harvard in 1976, and received his JD from Harvard Law School, as well as a Masters degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the southern district of New York from 1983 to 1987, followed by an associate counsel in the Office Independent Counsel until 1989. Bromwich served as Inspector General for the Department of Justice from 1994 to 1999, where he oversaw a few major investigations, including the agency’s involvement in the Aldrich Ames case. He has been a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson since 1999.
Bromwich has had no involvement in energy issues or the offshore industry. He has had no connections with environmental organizations either. This lack of experience has caused some raised eyebrows, but it has been argued that an outsider is exactly what is needed for this period of transition.
Obama Announces Nomination for NSF Director (6/10)
On June 3 President Obama nominated Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dean Subra Suresh for the position of director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Suresh will replace Dr. Arden Bement Jr., who announced in February 2010 that he would step down on June 1 to return to Purdue University to head the new Global Policy Research Institute. Dr. Suresh was trained as a mechanical engineer, though his research has encompassed materials, nanotechnology and the life sciences. He has been the dean of MIT since 2007, but remains an active researcher in his field. The Senate needs to confirm the nomination before Suresh can become director of the NSF. Cora Marrett will serve as acting director in the interim.
President’s Nuclear Waste Commission Holds Public Meeting (5/10)
The President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, comprised of leading scientists, former public policy officials, and experts from the private sector and NGOs, met to discuss the best path forward on how to deal with existing and future nuclear waste. The commission heard many opposing arguments on the viability of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, the requirements for a geologic repository and how waste should be stored and transported in the interim.
There was general agreement from the commission and witnesses that there is a need for a geologic repository, whether we move forward with fuel reprocessing or not. Harvard scientist, Dr. Matthew Bunn, suggested the U.S. follow the lead of Finland and Sweden who have selected sites for waste repositories, with the support of the local community. Bunn and other witnesses, such as Corey Hinderstein, VP of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, stressed the fact that dry cast storage is a safe solution for interim storage and there is no need to act hastily on a long term solution. Information about the commission members, video archive of the entire hearing and copies of the witnesses’ presentations can be found here.
President Obama Requests Spending Cut Powers (5/10)
President Obama has sent a measure to Congress that would give the President the power to submit rescissions within 45 days of the passage of any spending bill. Congress would then be given the opportunity to vote on the rescissions without any amendments. The measure is similar to a line-item veto that Congress approved in the 1990s and the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional. House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) introduced the measure (H.R. 5454) on May 28, 2010.
Administration’s Task Force Begins Discussion of Carbon Capture and Storage (4/10)
The President’s Interagency Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Task Force held its first public meeting on May 6, 2010. The task force is suppose to provide a plan for developing 5 to 10 commercial CCS projects by 2016. Some called this goal too ambitious, while others indicated more optimism and stated that the various technologies already existed in part and just need to be put together. CCS is considered essential for coal-fired power plants. Coal accounts for about 51 percent of U.S. electricity generation and about 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
There are no coal-fired power plants with fully operational CCS systems even though the federal government has spent $4 billion on the technology and the private industry has invested about $7 billion. Some experts at the meeting suggested that another $3 - $4 billion needs to be invested in CCS development. Deploying the technology will also have costs with a price as high as $110 per metric ton of carbon dioxide called for at the meeting. Current legislation in Congress is considering a price closer to $20 per metric ton. In addition, a recent research paper (see summary item #22 below) questions the feasibility of geologic sequestration for mitigating climate change on a national or global scale.
The task force has a massive task ahead of them trying to understand the research, development and deployment needs and then trying to plan a practical, economical and feasible plan for commercial scale CCS. The task force will accept public comments until July 2, 2010.
Obama Seeks Input on Grand Challenges in Science and Engineering (4/10)
As part of President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation, the administration seeks ideas for how to apply science and technology to the “grand challenges” of the 21st century. The grand challenges, as defined by the Obama Administration, are in the areas of health, clean energy, national security, and education. For more information, see the February GAP Monthly Review article.
Join the dialogue on Twitter by replying to @whitehouse (using hashtag #whgc). For those not on Twitter, you can email your ideas to email@example.com.
Obama Announces Offshore Drilling Plan (3/10)
President Obama announced a new proposal for offshore drilling on March 31. The plan would open parcels of the outer continental shelf (OCS), which were previously blocked by a drilling moratorium. New land available for exploration and development is in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off of the north coast of Alaska. The Department of the Interior press release on the new OCS plan includes maps of the proposed regions to be opened for exploration. Any drilling would still be many years away because of needed exploration, regulatory requirements and other requirements. The Interior Department emphasized the need for science to guide exploration potential and environmentally responsible drilling. The U.S. Geological Survey would be involved in assessing offshore resources and seismic reconnaissance would help guide decisions on future drilling leases.
The administration’s move drew positive and negative criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, some Republicans felt ending the moratorium was a step in the right direction, but other barriers to drilling reflected the administration’s intent to implicitly continue the moratorium. Meanwhile, some Democrats were dismayed by the decision, arguing it would put America’s coastal environments and marine wildlife in danger. Opponents also claim that the economic benefits did not outweigh the risks.
Obama wants to move past the partisan divide on offshore drilling saying, “Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place,” he said, “because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.”
For more information, see the press release from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Request for Comments on President’s Grand Challenges of the 21st Century (2/10)
President Obama announced eight Grand Challenges of the 21st Century as part of his Strategy for American Innovation released in September 2009. Now the White House is soliciting public comments on those “grand challenges”, suggestions of others that need to be addressed, and ideas of partners and models to achieve these goals. Responses are due on April 15, 2010 to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on the “grand challenges” and the areas for comment is available in the White House request for information.
Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation encompassed three main themes: 1) Invest in the building block of American innovation to ensure the human, physical, and technological capital needed to perform; 2) Promote competitive markets that spur productive entrepreneurship; 3) Catalyze breakthroughs for national priorities in sectors like health, IT and advanced vehicles.
Within this strategy, the grand challenges aim to address key national priorities and generate economic benefit, interdisciplinary collaboration, and inspire students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The focus is on hard, unsolved scientific or engineering challenges that will have significant economic or societal impact and address an important national priority. Examples include: solar cells as cheap as paint, green buildings that produce all of the energy they consume, educational software equal to the best video games and as effective as a personal tutor, and others in the health and supercomputing fields.
Already more than 25 universities have signed up for the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, which will allow undergraduates to tackle these problems by integrating research, an interdisciplinary curriculum, entrepreneurship, international activities, and service learning.
In addition, the White House will work with Expert Labs, a non-profit independent lab affiliated with AAAS. They will collaborate with the technology community to develop better ways to harness American scientific and technological expertise, and encourage those interested in those fields to help inform public policy.
Obama Announces an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (2/10)
On February 3, 2010 President Obama called for an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to define a coordinated federal strategy to fast-track the development of clean coal technologies. The 14-member task force will be comprised of a senior officials designated to represent their respective cabinet level offices or executive office of the president. It will be co-chaired by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency representatives.
The task force will be named within 180 days of this announcement and then begin developing a comprehensive plan to develop cost-effective CCS within 10 years, with 5-10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016. The task force will look at coordinating existing administrative authorities and programs, including building international collaboration on CCS. Obama named comprehensive energy and climate legislation as the largest incentive for CCS, and this task force will prepare for the low carbon energy transition and spur investments into CCS in the near future.
Obama Wants to Raise Math Standards in No Child Left Behind (2/10)
President Obama would like to see reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind. The NY Times and the Washington Post are reporting the reform will propose higher math standards. Obama’s goal is to have state benchmarks for math and reading set at a level necessary to ensure future students are “college- and career-ready.” This is in contrast to the previous ESEA, signed in 2002, where states set standards without federal guidance. Some say that led to states setting lower goals in order to have a greater number of schools meet the benchmarks.
As part of this effort, the House Committee on Education and Labor announced an open and transparent bipartisan rewrite of ESEA is getting underway. As part of that process, the committee is soliciting input and suggestions. The deadline for submitting comments to the committee is March 26, 2010.
New NEPA Guidelines Draft Includes Greenhouse Gases (2/10)
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed new guidelines for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including guidance on when and how federal agencies must consider greenhouse gases. In addition, CEQ proposed three other areas for modernization: clarifying the appropriate use of “Findings of No Significant Impact” or FONSI, clarifying use of categorical exclusions, and enhancing the public tools for reporting NEPA activities. The guidelines are open for public comment for 45-90 days after their release on February 18, 2010. Read the draft guidance and submit your comments on the CEQ site.
The new draft comes as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of NEPA. Enacted in 1970, NEPA recognizes that many federal activities affect the environment and mandates that federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions. NEPA emphasizes public involvement in governmental decisions relating to the environment by increasing transparency and ease of implementation.
President’s Nuclear Waste Task Force Announced (1/10)
On January 29, 2010, the Department of Energy announced the 15-member blue ribbon commission that will provide advice and recommendations on nuclear storage, processing and disposal. The commission will be led by Lee Hamilton, a former Member of Congress and chairman of the 9-11 commission, and Brent Scowcroft, a former Air Force general and presidential advisor. Below is a list of the other members including one member of the geoscience community, Allison McFarlane.
- Mark Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO
- Vicky Bailey, Former Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Former IN PUC Commissioner; Former Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs
- Albert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, UCLA
- Pete V. Domenici, Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; former U.S. Senator (R-NM)
- Susan Eisenhower, President, Eisenhower Group
- Chuck Hagel, Former U.S. Senator (R-NE)
- Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute
- Allison Macfarlane, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
- Dick Meserve, Former Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Ernie Moniz, Professor of Physics and Cecil & Ida Green Distinguished Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Per Peterson, Professor and Chair, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California - Berkeley
- John Rowe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exelon Corporation
- Phil Sharp, President, Resources for the Future
President’s Science Council Meets (1/10)
The next meeting of PCAST is scheduled for March 12, 2010 and public comments related to this meeting should preferably be submitted two weeks in advance of the meeting.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met on January 7, 2010. The council focused on five topics: research and development at the Energy Department, health policy, environment activities of the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Administration’s science, technology and innovation policy. The webcast is available for viewing online and all past meetings, including public comments are available at the PCAST web page.
President’s Educate to Innovate Initiative (1/10)
President Obama hosted the recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Mentoring at the White House on January 6, 2010. He took the opportunity to highlight and summarize his “Educate to Innovate” initiative. The initiative is a “nationwide effort by citizens, non-for-profits, universities, and companies … to help us move to the top of the pack in math and science education”
The administration will leverage agency resources to help with this initiative. The President announced five new public-private partnerships and two agency initiatives.
Another component of the initiative is National Lab Day, a nationwide initiative to bring hands-on learning into communities across the country. The initiative is a year-long series of training and activities with a culminating week of coordinated events planned for May 2010.
Another component of this initiative is the USA Science and Engineering Festival, a hands-on science celebration on the National Mall in Washington DC on October 23-24, 2010.
The American Geological Institute and other geoscience societies are part of these initiatives. Others are encouraged to participate as the initiatives allow for activities throughout the country and throughout the year.
President Obama’s State of the Union (1/10)
On January 27, 2010, President Obama gave his first State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in Washington DC. He focused on improving the economy and reducing unemployment. At about the mid-point of his speech he turned his attention to encouraging American innovation and noted that in 2009, the government made the largest investment in basic research funding in history. He noted that innovation is particularly important in energy and called for support for nuclear power plants, advanced biofuels and clean coal. He called for “making tough decisions” on opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development and asked for passage of a comprehensive energy and climate bill.
Regarding climate science, President Obama said “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”
The President also focused on education, calling for reform to raise student achievement and inspire students to excel in math and science. He called for the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with these reforms in mind. Turning to higher education, the President said “To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let's take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years –- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”
He concluded his speech by discussing some of the most difficult tasks facing the nation, health care reform, budget deficit reduction, reducing partisanship, fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nuclear weapon threats and civil rights.
Obama Signs Bill To Raise Debt Limit by $290 Billion (12/09)
On December 28, President Obama signed into law H.R. 4314 to raise the U.S. debt limit from $12.104 trillion to $12.394 trillion. Despite misgivings about the rising deficit, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 60-39. Several senators voted in favor only after a guarantee that there will be debate at the end of January about creating an independent bipartisan commission to explore ways to control the deficit. Obama’s budget is still expected to raise the deficit by at least $1 trillion this fiscal year, so the debate will discuss another proposal to increase the debt limit by enough to last through 2010. The debt ceiling has been raised three times in the past two years, and the House already agreed to a $13 trillion limit earlier this year.
Obama Will Attend Copenhagen (11/09)
The White House announced that President Obama will participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen from December 7-18, 2009. The President believes a meaningful agreement might be possible at the conference based on the Administration’s work on climate change so far and the progress made with the leaders of China and India. President Obama has stated that he is prepared to suggest a target reduction of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 followed by a 30 percent reduction by 2025 and a 42 percent reduction by 2030 that complies with the House climate change bill and a partial draft of a Senate bill. The Administration is working with Congress to pass climate legislation, however, the Senate has recently decided to delay further work on a bill until the spring of 2010.
Many Cabinet secretaries and top officials of the Administration will be attending the conference as well. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner all plan to go. The delegates will give keynote addresses at events that highlight the actions taken by the Obama Administration thus far to address climate change, create a new energy future, and transition into a clean energy economy.
Nominations: Directors Named for NIST and Surface Mining (11/09)
Patrick Gallagher was named Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce in November. NIST’s mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology. In addition, NIST is the lead agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Gallagher has served as deputy director of the agency since 2008. He has a PhD in physics from the University of Pittsburgh.
Joseph Pizarchik was named Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) in the Department of the Interior after months of delay due to an anonymous hold and opposition from environmentalists. Pizarchik was previously the director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Mining and Reclamation where opponents say he supported environmentally harmful coal waste disposal practices such as dumping coal-ash in abandoned mines. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar defended Pizarchik, suggesting that Pizarchik would be essential to balancing between domestic coal production and environmental sustainability. Pizarchik explained his actions by saying he used high-quality data to ensure the waste sites would not contaminate groundwater resources. The OSM has oversight of coal and hardrock mining and is currently reviewing the effectiveness of a Bush Administration rule aimed at protecting waterways from mountaintop mining removal practices.
Nominations: USGS and ARPA-E Directors Confirmed (10/09)
On October 21, 2009 the Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for the directors of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Marcia McNutt is confirmed as the first female director of the USGS. McNutt was previously the CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California. She received her B.A. in physics from Colorado College and her PhD in Earth Sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She has taught at MIT, Stanford University, and University of California, Santa Cruz. She also has previous work experience with the USGS having started at the USGS as part of the earthquake studies team soon after graduate school. McNutt starts on November 5, 2009.
One of McNutt’s top priorities is to survey the underwater resources off the U.S. coast. Though her background and focus has been primarily in marine geophysics, she promised she would not forget the land. A full write-up of her confirmation hearing can be found here.
Arun Majumdar is confirmed as the first director of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program. ARPA-E was started in 2007 to fund high-risk, high-reward research that can develop clean energy technology. Majumdar has been the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a professor of engineering and materials science at University of California, Berkeley. His research focus has been energy efficiency technology and nanotechnology applications to limiting heat loss in electricity production.
Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize, Climate Policy Cited (10/09)
President Obama has become the third sitting U.S. President to win the Nobel Prize for Peace. According to the Nobel committee, one contributing factor in his win was Obama’s “more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.”
Obama has been credited with changing the official U.S. stance on climate and committing to solve the issue at a global level. More broadly, Obama has worked to re-engage the international community after a rift created by U.S. abstention from the Kyoto protocol.
In just the tenth month of his presidency, Obama’s win has met with widespread surprise. Groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have congratulated the President, but maintain that there is much work to be done, a fact Obama pointed out himself. Many others have criticized the win as based on expectations rather than actual accomplishments.
NPS and CEQ Nominees Confirmed (9/09)
Two additional members of the Obama Administration were confirmed this month. Gary Guzy is the new Deputy Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and Jonathan Jarvis is the new Director of the National Park Service (NPS).
Guzy will be working under CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley on coordinating federal environmental efforts among agencies and overseeing the National Environmental Policy Act. Guzy worked as an EPA counsel during the Clinton Administration on making greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles subject to the Clean Air Act.
Jarvis is a biologist with 30 years of experience with the NPS. He is the first director with a biology background, which he has used to promote good science and address climate change in his career. Jarvis was previously the Pacific West regional director responsible for overseeing 56 national parks. He recently admonished the Bureau of Land Management proposal for dozens of solar plants in Nevada due to NPS concerns over the water supplies.
His confirmation was initially opposed by Senate Republicans who worried that the Department of the Interior was too vested in interest groups and Jarvis’ stance on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park is too strict. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has since mollified the issues.
Nominations Update for State, DOI, DOE, and EPA (8/09)
The Obama administration continues to fill-in with 6 more science and environment nominees confirmed in early August. Positions within the State Department, Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were filled.
Kerri-Ann Jones was confirmed as the assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs with the State Department. Jones has been the director of international science and engineering at the National Science Foundation as well as serving in the White House Office of Science and Technology during the Clinton administration.
Robert Abbey was confirmed as director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within DOI. Abbey has eight years prior experience as the BLM Director for Nevada and is leaving his current post as a Western land and resource strategies consultant to return to BLM.
Wilma Lewis is the new DOI assistant secretary in charge of land and mineral management. Lewis will oversee the BLM, Minerals Management Service, and Office of Surface Mining. She has previously been serving as the DOI inspector general.
James Markowsky is the DOE assistant secretary for fossil energy. He is a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on America’s Energy Future, lending his expertise gained as an executive at American Electric Power Company, Inc.
Warren “Pete” Miller is the DOE assistant secretary for nuclear energy and director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. He is a research and administrative retiree from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Colin Scott Fulton is the EPA assistant administrator after serving as acting deputy administrator for almost a year. He has worked for the EPA since 1990 and prior to that served as an environmental prosecutor at the Justice Department.
White House Memo on Science and Technology Priorities (8/09)
It has become a tradition for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to release a memo every summer about the Administration’s priorities in science and technology for the coming fiscal year. Keeping with that tradition, the Obama Administration released a memorandum on August 4, 2009 for the heads of the executive departments and agencies from the Director of Office Management and Budget, Peter Orszag and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren.
The priorities for fiscal year 2011 include applying science and technology to grow the economy; promoting innovative energy technologies to reduce dependence on imported energy and to mitigate the impacts of climate change; applying biomedical science and technology to promote health and reduce health care costs; and assuring the needed technologies for national security and non-proliferation.
The full memo can be viewed here.
President's Science Advisors Meet for First Time (8/09)
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) held its first meeting in Washington DC on August 6 and 7, 2009. The 21-member council is chaired by Harold Varmus, former Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and was hosted by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren.
The first day was devoted to discussions about health care and energy and the environment, reflecting the priorities of the public, the Administration and the Congress. The energy and environment discussion included comments about climate change and science education, two issues that have become intricately tied to the nation’s future. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, provided an overview of his department and initiated an intriguing discussion about the need for the Energy Department to effectively develop transformative energy solutions through basic and applied research plus related technology development. Chu suggested that visionary basic research funding at the Energy Department is no longer available and that the applied research granting process is flawed. Chu asked PCAST to review the funding process at the Energy Department and offer the Administration guidance on ways to improve the process.
The second day was devoted to outlining the objectives of PCAST and discussing PCAST subcommittee reports. Of particular interest to the geosciences community are initiatives of the education, security and energy subcommittees. The STEM Education Subcommittee will pursue studies on ways to increase the number of science teachers, improve science curricula, initiate science standards, improve technology for science teaching and consider the increasingly important role of community colleges in higher education. The International Security Subcommittee will pursue studies of space debris hazards, issues related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and related issues for weapons labs and support for science within the Department of Homeland Security. The Energy and Environment Subcommittee will pursue studies in carbon offsets, climate observations, energy research and development and climate adaptation.
National Oceans Policy Task Force Hosts Public Meetings (8/09)
The White House Interagency Oceans Policy Task Force kicked off its nationwide tour in Anchorage, AK on August 21. The task force was established by President Obama in June to develop recommendations for a national ocean policy that ensures protection, maintenance, and restoration of oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes. As part of this process, the task force is holding public meetings over the next two months in various coastal and Great Lakes states.
The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is tasked with unifying 20 federal agencies and more than 140 laws that address ocean policy. By next month the group plans on releasing its recommendations, with a full framework for improved stewardship, and effective coastal and marine planning out by the end of the year for President Obama’s consideration. Two previous oceans commissions strongly recommended creating overarching ocean policy during the Bush administration, however, no significant progress was made within the Executive or Legislative branches toward a unifying policy.
Supreme Court Nominee Faces Environmental Questioning (7/09)
Supreme Court Justice Nominee Sonia Sotomayor was questioned on environmental issues on several occasions during her confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary committee in July. When questioned about Kelo v. City of New London, a case which affirmed the right of local and state governments to take private property for economic development purposes, she indicated that she would defer to the court ruling in the future because it set precedent on the issue. She was also asked about the Supreme Court reversal of her 2007 decision in Riverkeeper v. EPA. The case focused on whether the Clean Water Act precluded EPA from using cost-benefit analysis to determine the best technology available to protect fish from power plant water intakes. Sotomayor again responded that she would uphold the precedent set by the Supreme Court.
She said she could not speak to why a case between electric utilities and environmentalists regarding greenhouse gas emissions has remained on the Second Circuit Court docket since 2004 because the case is still pending, but indicated it is partially due to waiting for the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. On environmental issues, her record does not show her consistently siding with either business or environmental groups. Sotomayor repeatedly told the committee that she would uphold precedent established by the court and would not try to change the laws that Congress had enacted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination and the full Senate will debate and vote on her confirmation in the first week of August before the chamber leaves for its August recess.
Nominations Update for NASA, DOI, DOE and State (7/09)
The Senate confirmed Charles Bolden as the new director of NASA. He has flown on four space missions as an astronaut for NASA since 1980. He holds a bachelor’s in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s in system management from the University of Southern California. His goals for NASA are to build the investment in the International Space Station, develop the new launch systems, enhance the technological leadership in understanding the Earth environment and inspire the next generation of kids.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved the nominations of two Department of the Interior (DOI) officials, but they still await full confirmation. The nominations of Bob Abbey to be the director of the Bureau of Land Management, and Wilma Lewis to be the assistant secretary for land and mineral management were initially held up by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) over a disagreement with the Obama Administration on a copper mine. However, he has since dropped his hold on the candidates.
The committee is also planning to vote on the nominees for two senior Department of Energy positions early in August. Warren “Pete” Miller is nominated to be the assistant secretary for nuclear energy, and would also be responsible for the radioactive waste office. Miller is a professor at Texas A&M and a retired Los Alamos Laboratory employee. James Markowsky is nominated to be the assistant secretary for fossil energy, which includes overseeing the carbon capture and storage initiatives. He is active on the National Research Council and chairs a National Academy of Engineering committee on energy and electrical power systems. He holds degrees in mechanical engineering and industrial management.
Kerri-Ann Jones has been nominated as the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Jones, a molecular scientist with her PhD from Yale University and prior experience working for the Clinton Administration, could be key in upcoming negotiations on climate change, polar affairs, and ratification of the Law of the Sea. Most recently Jones was the director of international science and engineering at the National Science Foundation.
Obama Nominates Director for USGS (7/09)
On July 9, 2009 President Obama announced his nomination of Marcia McNutt as the next director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). McNutt would replace acting director Suzette Kimball and become the first female director of the USGS. In addition to managing the agency that employs 8,800 people, McNutt would be the Science Advisor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who applauded Obama’s nomination. Salazar described McNutt as a “world-class scientist” with valuable experience as chief scientist on many oceanographic expeditions and as chair of the President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration convened by President Clinton.
After receiving her Ph.D. from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla in 1978, McNutt worked on earthquake prediction at the USGS in Menlo Park, California. After 3 years, she moved east and served on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty as the Griswold Professor of Geophysics and became Director of the Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering at MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanography Institution. In 1997, she became president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and has been a geophysics professor at Stanford since 1998. She is a past-president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and is a fellow of AGU, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Association of Geodesy. She is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Update on Nominations for DOI and DOE (6/09)
On June 19, 2009 the Senate approved three nominees, without much delay or controversy, for top positions within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and Energy, Efficiency, and Renewable Energy (EERE). Anne Castle, a prominent water rights and natural resources lawyer from Colorado, will oversee the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as the DOI Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. William Brinkman, a physicist from Princeton, will be the Director of the Office of Science at DOE. Catherine Zoi, a former chief of staff for the Clinton White House Office on Environmental Policy and manager at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will be the Assistant Secretary for EERE at DOE. Her nomination was the only one to draw any concern, with some Republicans worried about Zoi’s allegation that the coal and oil lobbies were preventing clean energy from thriving. After expressing her hopes to work with those industries though, her nomination was forwarded without objection.
A new nomination was also announced. President Obama nominated Bob Abbey as the BLM Director within DOI. Abbey has been praised by environmentalists and industry leaders for his 32-year career at the BLM. He has been touted for his management of the Nevada mining industry, and the anticipated diplomatic manner in which he will handle issues of energy projects on federal lands. Abbey is now waiting on his confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Administration Issues a Mountaintop Mining Memorandum (6/09)
The Obama administration issued a memorandum on June 11 calling for an end to streamlined mountaintop coal mining permits and increased protection of waterways. The memorandum does not prohibit mountaintop mining. It aims to improve oversight, modify the “nationwide permits” to protect waterways in Appalachia, and curb the most environmentally damaging techniques through a collaborative effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and Department of the Interior.
This follows an announcement in March 2009 that the EPA would begin reviewing pending permits from the USACE. A week later after the announcement, the U.S. District Court in West Virginia found the USACE erroneously allowed companies to dump mining waste into rivers and streams. The USACE permits were issued under a “nationwide permit” allowed for projects believed to have little environmental impact. The court ruled, though, that the USACE did not conduct proper environmental impact assessments. In May the EPA concluded that of the 48 permits it reviewed, 42 are allowed to proceed and 6 are put on hold.
On June 22, in a separate case, the Supreme Court ruled that mine waste site permitting rights are given to the USACE, not the EPA, under the Clean Water Act. This case involved an Alaskan gold mine dumping tailings into a nearby lake, and it is unclear how this will affect the mountaintop coal mining debate.
Regulations.gov Wants Your Opinion (6/09)
The Regulations.gov Exchange was created as part of the Open Government Initiative recently established by the White House to bring greater transparency, participation, and collaboration in how the government can better serve the public. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the leading partner agency of Regulations.gov and the Regulations.gov Exchange. Regulations.gov is the on-line source for citizens to search, view, and comment on regulations issued by the U.S. government. The Exchange is the on-line forum for the public to explore designs and features proposed to improve the website. You can share your suggestions on how the Regulations.gov can best meet your needs by posting your thoughts on www.regulations.gov/exchange/ from now until July 21, 2009.
Task Force Begins Consideration of NASA Manned Missions (6/09)
The presidential task force set-up to examine the future of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) human space flight program held their first public meeting on June 17, 2009 in Washington DC. The committee received comments from NASA plus some of its international partners in human space flight, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (RSA). There were also presentations from representatives from the aerospace industries, Orbital and SpaceX, as well as an upstart company called Direct Launcher. Direct Launcher supports a new design that would replace the Ares-I Crew Launch Vehicle and the Ares-V Cargo Launch Vehicle with a single “Jupiter” launcher.
Members of Congress, including Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and David Vitter (R-LA) and Representatives Pete Olson and Ralph Hall, both republicans from Texas, provided remarks or written statements to the committee. The members expressed general support for human space flight, concerns about job losses in human space flight-related NASA centers and industries, and gratitude to the committee for taking on the difficult task of developing a strategy for future human space flight in tough economic times.
Additional public meetings will be held on July 28 in Huntsville, AL and July 30 in Cape Canaveral, FL. The task force hopes to complete their review and submit a report to the Administration in the fall. The public is strongly encouraged to submit their comments about the U.S. human space flight program through the task force web site’s bevy of online tools.
Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine is the chair of the ten member task force. Other members include former astronauts, scientists, engineers, industry executives and one retired Air Force general. Dr. Christopher Chyba, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences and International Affairs at Princeton University and a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is a member of the task force and affiliated with the geosciences community. His security-related research focuses on nuclear proliferation, nuclear weapons policy and biological terrorism. His planetary science and astrobiology research focuses on the search for life elsewhere in the solar system and he was an associate professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University before moving to Princeton.
More information can be found at the Human Space Flight Review website and the public is encouraged to submit their comments or questions via multiple web-based tools provided on their homepage.
Charles Bolden Nominated to Head NASA (5/09)
President Obama nominated Charles Bolden to be the next Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Bolden was an astronaut at NASA in the 1980s and 1990s and flew on four missions, including the mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope, the first Spacelab mission devoted to “Mission to Planet Earth” and the first joint U.S.-Russia shuttle mission.
After leaving NASA he returned to the Marines and ended his military career as a major general. He then worked for ATK, which manufactures the solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle and the next generation shuttle. He has also served on the board of Gencorp Inc, which owns a company that is building the engines for the next generation shuttle.
Bolden has a bachelor’s of science degree in electrical science from the United States Naval Academy and a master’s of science in systems management from the University of Southern California.
His recent work with aerospace industries with ties to the next generation space shuttle may cause some difficulties in his confirmation. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has not set a date for Bolden’s confirmation hearing as of the end of May, however, Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) have expressed their support for the candidate in press releases.
President Obama Makes Treaty Requests to Senate (5/09)
On May 11, 2009 the Obama Administration notified Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Foreign Relations Committee, of a list of pending treaties that the Administration would like the Senate to take action on. All but one of these pending treaties has the support of past Presidents but has not been ratified by the Senate.
In April, President Obama asked the Senate for advice and ratification of the Annex VI on Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Annex VI). The annex establishes rules and procedures relating to liability arising from failures of Antarctic operators to protect the environment. This is the only treaty on the list that has not previously been presented to the Senate by a President.
Among the many other treaties that President Obama requests action on are two treaties of interest to the geosciences community: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty of 1996 (CTBT) and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 Agreement on Implementation (UNCLOS).
The American Geophysical Union and the Seismological Society of America have a joint position statement on the CTBT. The statement supports the seismic verification abilities of the international monitoring system and notes the value of the system to improve understanding of Earth processes, help earthquake mitigation efforts and enhance the international exchange and access to data.
In 2007, the Executive Directors of the American Geological Institute and the American Geophysical Union joined with the co-chairs of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, James Watkins and Leon Panetta, and a very diverse group of public and private sector representatives in a joint letter to the Senate requesting ratification of the UNCLOS. The UNCLOS would help improve understanding of ocean and seafloor processes while improving access to data, enhancing exploration and enhancing international cooperation.
A press release about President Obama’s request for Senate consideration of the Antarctic Treaty annex is available from the White House press page.
A PDF copy of the letter from the Administration to the Senate of treaty priorities is available from the Ocean Law web page.The joint letter in support of the UNCLOS and other materials in support of the treaty are available from the Ocean Law LOS Coalition page
President’s Task Force Seeks Comments on Scientific Integrity (4/09)
The following federal register notice appeared on April 23, 2009 in volume 74, number 77 on page 18597.
On March 9, 2009, the President issued a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on the subject of scientific integrity. The memorandum requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to craft recommendations for Presidential action to ensure scientific integrity in the executive branch. This notice solicits public input to inform the drafting of those recommendations. The notice asks a series of questions to help guide the public in responding to this request.
There is a 21 day period for public comment from April 23, 2009 to May 13, 2009.
You may submit comments by any of the following methods: Web Site: http://www.ostp.gov. Click the link to "Scientific Integrity" and follow the instructions for submitting comments electronically. Electronic Mail: email@example.com.
All members of the geosciences community are encouraged to view the full notice online and consider providing comments as appropriate and related to the six specific principles listed in the full notice. A link is also provided below in the Key Federal Register section of this Monthly Review.
President Obama Addresses the National Academy of Sciences (4/09)
President Obama became the first President since John F. Kennedy to address the National Academy of Sciences during his first year in office when he spoke at the 146th annual meeting of the Academy on April 27, 2009. While recalling the importance of the “sputnik moment” during Kennedy’s lifetime, the most urgent and Earth shattering message in his pro-science speech was a call for a commitment of greater than 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for research and development.
He called for such a commitment to science in these tough economic times, recalling efforts by President Lincoln in tough times more than a century ago. Obama said “Lincoln refused to accept that our nation's sole purpose was mere survival. He created this academy, founded the land grant colleges, and began the work of the transcontinental railroad, believing that we must add -- and I quote -- "the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery... of new and useful things."” Likewise, Obama noted, “Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.”
Among the President’s new initiatives is one called “RE-ENERGYSE” (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), that will be jointly funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. The program will provide education opportunities in energy careers and energy research through curricula, creative uses of technology for teaching, partnerships between the public and private sector to educate students and undergraduate to post-graduate fellowships for college-level education, research and training.
The full text of the speech and a fact sheet are available from the White House website.
President’s Science Council Announced (4/09)
During President Obama’s speech at the National Academy of Sciences, he also announced that the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) has been named.
PCAST will be co-chaired by John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project; and Harold Varmus, President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, former head of the National Institutes of Health and a Nobel laureate.
Below are the biographical sketches of five members of PCAST with the closest ties to the geosciences from the White House press release. Only one has a degree in the geosciences, Professor Dan Schrag from Harvard.
Rosina Bierbaum, a widely-recognized expert in climate-change science and ecology, is Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. Her PhD is in evolutionary biology and ecology. She served as Associate Director for Environment in OSTP in the Clinton Administration, as well as Acting Director of OSTP in 2000-2001. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Christopher Chyba is Professor of Astrophysical Sciences and International Affairs at Princeton University and a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences. His scientific work focuses on solar system exploration and his security-related research emphasizes nuclear and biological weapons policy, proliferation, and terrorism. He served on the White House staff from 1993 to 1995 at the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy and was awarded a MacArthur Prize Fellowship (2001) for his work in both planetary science and international security.
Mario Molina is a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego and the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as well as Director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment in Mexico City. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for his role in elucidating the threat to the Earth's ozone layer of chlorofluorocarbon gases. The only Mexican-born Nobel laureate in science, he served on PCAST for both Clinton terms. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.
Ernest J. Moniz is a Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, Director of the Energy Initiative, and Director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at MIT. His research centers on energy technology and policy, including the future of nuclear power, coal, natural gas, and solar energy in a low-carbon world. He served as Under Secretary of the Department of Energy (1997-2001) and Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1995-1997).
Daniel Schrag is the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University and Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is also Director of the Harvard University-wide Center for Environment. He was trained as a marine geochemist and has employed a variety of methods to study the carbon cycle and climate over a wide range of Earth’s history. Awarded a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 2000, he has recently been working on technological approaches to mitigating future climate change.
Please visit the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy website for more information about PCAST and OSTP.
More Federal Agency Nominations (4/09)
**Department of Agriculture
President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have nominated Rajiv Shah to fill the position of under secretary of Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since 2001, Shah has served as the director for the Agricultural Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has extensive experience in developing programs and initiatives to combat poverty and hunger worldwide. He received his M.D. and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.
**Department of Energy
On April 17, 2009 President Obama nominated William F. Brinkman to lead the Department of Energy Office of Science. Brinkman has most recently been working as a senior research physicist at Princeton and has a wealth of experience in the private and public sectors, including vice president of research at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. Brinkman earned his Bachelors degree and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Missouri.
Kristina Johnson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as the undersecretary for the Department of Energy (DOE). If confirmed, Johnson would lead DOE initiatives to promote energy efficiency and renewable energies. She would oversee the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, which includes oversight of efforts to develop and demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration. Before working at Johns Hopkins, Johnson was the dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University from 1999 to 2007. She also served on the engineering faculty at the University of Colorado-Boulder from 1985 to 1999. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering at Stanford.
President Obama has nominated Ines Triay to fill the position of assistant secretary of the Department of Energy Environmental Management Office (EMO). Triay has a wealth of experience with clean-up efforts from Cold War weapons programs. She has been the EMO’s acting assistant secretary since November 2008 and has served as the principal deputy assistant secretary since October 2007. Triay would take over the often beleaguered $5.8 billion clean-up program that has been listed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as “high risk” and vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse. Triay received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Miami (FL).
**Federal Emergency Management Agency
President Obama has nominated Craig Fugate to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Fugate has served as head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) since 2001, a position in which he directed statewide relief efforts following eight major hurricanes that battered Florida in 2004 and 2005. Fugate’s entire career has focused on emergency services. He started as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic, eventually directing Alachua County (FL) emergency services for a decade before moving to FDEM. Fugate’s nomination will require Senate confirmation.
**Office of Science and Technology Policy
On March 4, 2009 President Obama announced his choice of Sherburne Abbott to serve as the associate director of environment at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Abbott currently directs the Center for Science and Practice of Sustainability at the University of Texas-Austin, and has extensive experience in sustainable development issues, including service as the chief international officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Abbot received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Baltimore’s Goucher College and a master’s degree in environmental science and natural resources policy from Yale.
Department of the Interior Continues To Fill Leadership Positions (4/09)
The number of nominations and appointments from western states continues to grow at the Department of the Interior (DOI) as Secretary Ken Salazar appointed two New Mexicans, Ned Farquahar and Deanna Archuletta, and President Obama nominated yet another Coloradan, Ann Castle, to fill key positions. Other positions that do not require confirmation have been filled with several westerners and many with specific connections to Colorado. Filling out the staff at DOI has moved relatively rapidly and while it is not unusual for staff to come from the Secretary ’s home state and from the west, some senators are asking for consideration of people from other areas of the country.
The number of Coloradans caused Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to quip at a recent confirmation hearing that "We're a little concerned about this Colorado cabal that seems to be settling in", while Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) noted “…I feel a need to point out that New Hampshire also has mountains, fly fishing, coastal marshes, but I confess no prairie dogs and no oil rigs”. Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with fellow committee member, Shaheen, are responsible for vetting the Interior nominees in confirmation hearings before committee-approved members are brought to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Unfortunately, David Hayes, the nominee for the deputy secretary for Interior may have a long wait as Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) has put a hold on his nomination over the suspension of oil and gas leases in Utah by the Interior Department.
There has been movement on nominations and appointments of DOI’s five major divisions: Lands and Minerals; Water and Science; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Indian Affairs and Policy, Management and Budget. Lands and Minerals has oversight of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) while Water and Science has oversight over the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation.
For Lands and Minerals, President Obama has nominated Wilma Lewis as assistant secretary and Ned Farquhar has been appointed as deputy assistant secretary, a post that does not require Senate confirmation. Lewis, a native of the Virgin Islands has served as a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and as the Interior’s inspector general. At Interior from 1993 to 1995, Lewis focused on the underpayment of royalties on federal mineral leases, the recovery of delinquent coal reclamation fees and environmental violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. She has a law degree from Harvard.
Farquhar is an environmental advocate who recently served on President Obama’s transition team for the Department of the Interior and was a former advisor to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Prior to that post, he served as a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Albuquerque, NM. In that position, Farquhar helped develop strategies for the Western Climate Initiative, a program formed by 7 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces to develop and implement a greenhouse gas cap and trade system set to begin 2012. Farquhar is an advocate of renewable energy and has indicated that he would like to limit conventional coal from expanding into new markets. Farquhar has held leadership roles for several environmental advocacy groups and state agencies in Alaska, Vermont, California, and New Mexico, and has also taught courses at the Universities of New Mexico and Vermont. Farquhar earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1980 and master’s degree in Geography from Cambridge University in 1982.
For Water and Science, the nominee for assistant secretary is Coloradan Ann Castle. Castle is a partner at a Denver law firm were she works as a water attorney. Castle has worked on a wide variety of water rights and resources issues in the West, and was identified as one of the best water lawyers in the nation by Best Lawyers in America in 2007 and 2008. Castle earned her bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and her law degree from the University of Colorado.
Deanna Archuletta, board chairwoman of the Bernalillo County (NM) Water Utility (BCWU), has been appointed as deputy secretary for Water and Science. As board chairwoman of the BCWU, she was responsible for overseeing one of the nation’s largest water treatment projects. Archuletta also served on the Obama Administration’s DOI transition team. Keeping with the theme of new DOI appointees with strong environmental backgrounds, Archuletta served as the southwest regional director for the Wilderness Society before moving to BCWU. Archuletta received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and communications from the University of Washington in 1997 and her master’s degree in sociology from the University of New Mexico in 2000.
For Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Tom Strickland, a former U.S. attorney in Colorado, has been confirmed as assistant secretary while Will Shafroth has been appointed as deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks under Stickland. Shafroth is a fourth-generation Coloradan, who served as the first executive director of the Great Outdoors Colorado in the late nineties.
For Policy, Management and Budget, Rhea Suh, has been nominated to be assistant secretary. She has worked on Western ecosystems at two foundations and also served as a senior legislative assistant to former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).
For the Bureau of Reclamation, Michael Connor, who earned his law degree from the University of Colorado and has been the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's general counsel since 2001, has been nominated to head the agency.
In other key positions that do not require confirmation, Steve Black now serves as Salazar's counselor for energy. Black was formerly Colorado's deputy attorney general for natural resources and the environment before becoming legislative counsel in Salazar's Senate office. Laura Davis, who served as deputy chief of staff for former Congressman Mark Udall (D-CO), will become chief of staff for the Interior deputy secretary. So as soon as David Hayes gets a vote on the floor and assuming approval, he will have a chief of staff waiting for him.
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There are several key executive offices that affect the geoscience community. Below is a list of those offices, followed by more detailed information about each office, geoscience programs and offices within the department, and links to the official websites.
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
Nancy Sutley, Chair of the CEQ (About)
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) within the Executive Office of the President was established as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 to coordinate the efforts of federal environmental activities and to ensure that federal agencies consider the health of the public environment before making decisions. The Chair of the CEQ serves as the President’s top environmental policy advisor. The CEQ reports annually to the President on the state of the nation’s environment, oversees federal agencies actions regarding environmental impact assessments, and settles disputes between federal agencies related to these plans. More broadly, CEQ is responsible for ensuring federal agencies remain in compliance with NEPA.
About the Chair
Prior to her appointment, she was the Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment for the city of Los Angeles, California. As Deputy Mayor, she served on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as Chair for the Water Planning and Stewardship Committee and member of the Executive Committee, Special Committee on Bay-Delta, Communications and Legislation Committee, and the IRP Steering Committee. Sutley worked for California Governor Gray Davis as Energy Advisor, managing state and federal regulations, legislative affairs, finances and press relations. She served as Deputy Secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations in the California EPA from 1999-2003. She advised on water and air pollution policy, and established budget and legislative priorities. During the Clinton Administration, Sutley worked for the EPA as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Regional Administrator in San Francisco and special assistant to the Administrator in Washington, D.C. Sutley received her Bachelors degree from Cornell University and her Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University.
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Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
John Holdren, Director of OSTP (About)
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was established by Congress in 1976 to advise the President and others within the Executive Office of the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. OSTP works to lead interagency efforts to implement science and technology policies and budgets and with the private sector, the science and higher education communities, and state and local governments to achieve these goals.
About the Director
Prior to this appointment John Holdren served concurrently at Harvard as professor of Environmental Science and Policy in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy the Kennedy School of Government, and as director of the Woods Hole Research Center. Previously he was a professor of Energy and Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. With advanced degrees in aerospace engineering and theoretical plasma physics from MIT and Stanford, Dr. Holdren is highly regarded nationally and internationally for his work on energy technology and policy, global climate change, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
John Holdren, Eric Lander, and Harold Varmus, Co-Chairs of PCAST
On April 27, 2009, President Obama announced the new President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The 35 member council within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) draws experts from industry, academia, research institutions, and nonprofit organizations. PCAST was originally established in 1990 to enable the President to receive advice from the private sector and academic community on technology, scientific research priorities, and math and science education.
About the Co-Chairs
Prior to this appointment as OSTP Director, John Holdren served concurrently at Harvard as professor of Environmental Science and Policy in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy the Kennedy School of Government, and as director of the Woods Hole Research Center. Previously he was a professor of Energy and Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. With advanced degrees in aerospace engineering and theoretical plasma physics from MIT and Stanford, Dr. Holdren is highly regarded nationally and internationally for his work on energy technology and policy, global climate change, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Eric Lander is the Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Professor of Biology at MIT, Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and former member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. He was one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship and is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine.
Harold Varmus is the President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Varmus served as the Director of the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 1999 and in 1989 was the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering studies of the genetic basis of cancer. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine and recipient of the National Medal of Science.
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National Science and Technology Council (NSTC)
The National Science and Technology Council was created by Executive Order No. 12881 in 1993 to be a Cabinet-level Council to coordinate on matters of science and technology policy in the executive branch. The NSTC is chaired by the President and made up of the Vice President, the Director of OSTP, Cabinet Secretaries and Agency Heads with significant science and technology responsibilities, and other White House officials. This council establishes the national priorities within science and technology that have jurisdiction under the executive branch. It develops research and development packages to be distributed among the relevant federal agencies with the goal of achieve several national targets. The NSTC is comprised of four committees: Science, Technology, Environment and Natural Resources, and Homeland and National Security as well as various subcommittees to achieve their mission.
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Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy
Carol Browner, Director
The Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy was created by President Barack Obama to coordinate administration policy on energy and climate change. President Obama has appointed Carol Browner as the first director of the Office.
About the Director
Carol Browner served as EPA Administrator during the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 2001. From 1991 to 1993, Browner was Secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation. She won praise for dealing effectively with difficult issues involving wetland protection, hazardous waste disposal, and Everglades cleanup. From 1986 to 1988, Browner worked in Washington for then-Senator Lawton Chiles, the late Governor of Florida. She also served as Legislative Director for then-Senator Al Gore. Browner graduated from the University of Florida in 1977 and then earned a degree from its law school. She served as General Counsel for the Florida House of Representatives Government Operations Committee in 1980.
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Sources: White House: The Administration website.
Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Rachel Poor, and Linda Rowan, Government Affairs staff; Stephanie Praus, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Joey Fiore, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Mollie Pettit, AGI/AAPG Fall 2009 Intern; Elizabeth Brown, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Elizabeth Huss, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Kiya Wilson, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; and Matthew Ampleman, AGI/AAPG Fall 2010 Intern.
Background section includes material from the various Executive Office websites.
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Last updated on November 5, 2010