Washington Update

President Biden Announces Key Science Appointments

By: Jennifer Zeitzer
Wednesday, January 27, 2021

On January 15, the Biden transition team issued a press release announcing the names of individuals who would be serving in key science roles for the incoming administration, including several names familiar to the research community. The next day, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduced the members of the science team in a video message.

Eric Lander, PhD, will serve a dual role as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Presidential Science Advisor, a cabinet rank position for the first time. Lander is the first life scientist appointed to this role. He currently serves as Director of the Broad Institute at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was also co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for eight years under former President Barack Obama, where he worked closely with Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, and interacted with then Vice President Biden. In announcing that Lander would join the administration, President Biden referenced Franklin Roosevelt’s letter to Vannevar Bush in 1944 (“Endless Frontier”). He also revealed that he sent a similar communication to Lander posing five key questions regarding the use of science and technology to benefit American society.

Sociologist Alondra Nelson was nominated as Deputy Director for Science and Society at OSTP, a new position. Nelson is president of the Social Science Research Council and a faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Frances Arnold and Maria Zuber were tapped to serve as the external co-chairs of PCAST. This is the first time the committee will be led by two women. Arnold is an expert in protein engineering, and the first U.S. woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Zuber, a planetary scientist, is the first woman to lead a National Aeronautics and Space Administration spacecraft mission and has chaired the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation.

Kei Koizumi will serve as chief of staff for OSTP. Koizumi held senior roles in OSTP during the Obama Administration and at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, both before and after leaving the White House.

Biden also said he will retain Francis Collins, MD, PhD, as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Although there has been no official announcement, it appears that Ned Sharpless, MD, will continue to serve as Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at NIH for the time being. The NCI Director position is a Presidential appointment. President Donald Trump nominated Sharpless for the Director position in June 2017 and he took office in October of the same year.