The New Look of Leadership in the Nation's Capitol (4/01)

The following column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the April 2001 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologists . It is reprinted with permission.

As of this writing, the new Cabinet and congressional committee chairs have been selected, but most of the non-Cabinet level appointments are still to be made. Of significant interest to the geoscience community are the appointments of Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. Although many important positions have not yet been filled including the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) who serves as the President’s science advisor, and leadership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Charles “Chip” Groat has been re-appointed as Director of the U.S.Geological Survey (USGS) as has Rita Colwell as Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Cabinet
Of the above-mentioned appointments, clearly the most controversial was that of Gale Norton. She had served during the Reagan Administration as an Associate Solicitor for the Interior Department and is considered to be a protégé of then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt. While Norton, who has been Attorney General of Colorado for the past eight years, was strongly supported by property rights groups; environmental groups opposed her with equal vigor. Her Senate confirmation by a vote of 74-25 reflected the strength of her opposition. In dramatic contrast, Christine Todd Whitman to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Spencer Abraham as Secretary of Energy (DOE) were both confirmed unanimously. Whitman, while Governor of New Jersey, was known for her efforts to balance economic interests with environmental protection. She favored voluntary compliance by industry as opposed to regulatory enforcement. Abraham, who lost his Senate seat in Michigan in the November elections, is in the unique position of leading an agency that he attempted to legislatively abolish. As a Senator he supported legislation to boost domestic petroleum production, and to accelerate development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site. It should be interesting to observe his activities at the agency and with his former congressional colleagues who believe the agency is unnecessary and saddled with a poorly defined mission. Also confirmed by the Senate was Joe Allbaugh as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency had been elevated to cabinet status during the Clinton Administration, but no word yet on its Cabinet status in the new administration. Allbaugh served most recently as President Bush’s campaign manager.

House of Representatives
One of the earliest actions of the Republicans in 1995 after they gained control of the House in the 104th Congress was to limit the term of committee chairs to six years. Now that those terms have come to an end, a few committee chairs were reluctant to relinquish their coveted roles and sought waivers to continue their leadership positions. House leadership rejected all such requests. As Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) leaves his position as chairman of the House Science Committee to take over the Judiciary Committee, the chairmanship goes to moderate New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert. The Science Committee has jurisdiction over many important geoscience programs and agencies, including NSF, NASA, DOE research programs, the National Weather Service, The National Institute for Standards and Technology, the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Boehlert has promised to strengthen the committee to elevate the profile of science in Congress. He is considered a moderate Republican with a record of environmental protection. When he chaired the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee he joined other moderate Republicans and Democrats on environmental policy, often to the dismay of western conservatives. Boehlert has scheduled a series of March hearings to focus on science education, energy policy, and the environment. The new subcommittee chairs include former research physicist Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) as head of the Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards; and physiologist Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) to lead the Subcommittee on Energy.  Ehlers was the first research physicist elected to Congress. His expertise was instrumental when the 105th Congress rewrote the nation’s science policy in the report entitled, “Unlocking Our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy.” Bartlett was a research scientist; inventor and professor who worked on the team that contributed to the successful Moon landing.

Since the Senate does not have specific term limits, most committees retained the leadership they had in the 106th Congress. But as a result of the 50-50 party split, Senate leaders developed a power-sharing deal so that committees will now have equal representation from both parties as well as equal staffing. Although there will be a Republican chair, the ranking Democrat will also have the authority to bring legislation to the floor for debate and vote, a right previously restricted only to the chair.

Other significant changes include the move of Conrad Burns (R-MT) to be chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee.  Sam Brownback (R-KS) will take over as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, which has jurisdiction over NSF, NASA, NEHRP, and USGCRP.

By the time this article is published most of the appointments throughput the federal sector should have been made. The Republican plan to limit government spending while shrinking the size and scope of government should also be taking shape. We will also know how successful the scientific agencies have been in restoring several programmed budget cuts. And we may know the fate of a highly volatile issue certain to surface in the 107th Congress. The possibility of opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

This column is a bimonthly feature written by John Dragonetti, CPG-02779, who is Senior Advisor to the American Geological Institute’s Government Affairs Program.  This column was adapted from a Special Update put out by AGI’s Government Affairs Program

This article is reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist, published by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. AGI gratefully acknowledges that permission.

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

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted May 13, 2002

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