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Presidential Administration: Structure and Status (1/14/13)

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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.

Recent Action

 

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Previous Action

Changes Coming in Cabinet Leadership (11/12)
While the re-election of President Obama generally means no major upheavals of policy for federal agencies, it is unknown who among the President's cabinet will continue to serve for a second term to implement these policies.

Those who may step down include Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It is unclear who would fill any vacancies at this point.

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Background

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 (About)

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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Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy staff.

Background section includes material from the various Executive Office websites.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on January 14, 2013


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