Just days before being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Joseph Biden announced the senior members of his science team, led by ASCB member and Broad Institute President Eric Lander, who will lead the team as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). In that position, Lander will hold the title of Presidential Science Advisor.
In a first, Biden is also elevating the position of Presidential Science Advisor to a Cabinet level position, meaning Lander will attend and participate in all Cabinet meetings. Lander’s appointment marks the first time a biologist will lead the OSTP, historically led by physicists, and the first time a biologist will serve in the position of science advisor, a position created by President Franklin Roosevelt and first held by Vannevar Bush.
Along with being an ASCB member, Lander served as chair of the Joint Steering Committee for Public Policy, now the Coalition for the Life Sciences, which the ASCB founded, from 1996 to 2001.
OSTP was created by Congress in 1976 to provide the President and the executive branch with scientific and engineering advice, particularly in relation to economic, foreign policy, health, and environment policies that a president must consider. Over time, the office has also grown to serve as the coordinator of science policy activities among the various federal science agencies. The attention given to OSTP, even where its offices are located in the White House complex, has sometimes served as a bellwether for the value a president places on science. The promotion to Cabinet-rank makes it clear what role science will play in the Biden administration.
Before taking the position, Lander’s nomination must first be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In addition to Lander, Biden announced that Alondra Nelson will serve as OSTP Deputy Director for Science and Society, and Frances Arnold and Maria Zuber will serve as co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Biden also announced that Francis Collins will remain in his position as Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Collins has served in that position since first being nominated by President Obama in 2009 and renominated by President Trump.
After announcing the appointment, Biden sent a letter to Lander with five questions for Lander to consider. The role of the questions, Biden said, is to help “make recommendations to our administration on the general strategies, specific actions, and new structures that the federal government should adopt to ensure that our nation can continue to harness the full power of science and technology on behalf of the American people.” You can read the full letter at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/a-letter-to-dr-eric-s-lander-the-presidents-science-advisor-and-nominee-as-director-of-the-office-of-science-and-technology-policy.
The questions are:
- What can we learn from the pandemic about what is possible—or what ought to be possible—to address the widest range of needs related to our public health?
- How can breakthroughs in science and technology create powerful new solutions to address climate change—propelling market-driven change, jump-starting economic growth, improving health, and growing jobs, especially in communities that have been left behind?
- How can the United States ensure that it is the world leader in the technologies and industries of the future that will be critical to our economic prosperity and national security, especially in competition with China?
- How can we guarantee that the fruits of science and technology are fully shared across America and among all Americans?
- How can we ensure the long-term health of science and technology in our nation?
About the Author:
Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org