Washington Update

Senate Committee Favorably Reports Out Prabhakar as OSTP Director

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, July 28, 2022
Arati Prabhakar’s appointment as President Biden’s science advisor and nomination to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was considered before the Senate Commerce Committee. She would be the first woman of color to serve in this position and possesses a doctorate in applied physics and a master’s in electrical engineering. Her career includes leading the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) before her most recent position as CEO of Actuate Innovation.

Committee Chair Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) opening remarks focused on emphasizing the need to include more women in science and engineering fields. She said, “We need more diversity in science. So addressing the gender, racial, and ethnic disparities in STEM needs to be a national priority. USICA [U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021] also requires the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop policy guidelines to ensure that federal research agencies improve outreach to minority serving institutions and improve their research and competitiveness. It requires efforts to reduce sex-based and sexual harassment involving recipients of federal research awards. USICA requires the director to establish an interagency working group to ensure that coordination among federal agencies and activities and key technology areas, which are vital to the U.S., continue to see leadership by the United States on a global basis.”

Prabhakar answered a variety of questions from senators during her nomination hearing. If confirmed as OSTP director, this position would allow her to see the entire chess board that is involved in science and technology in basic and applied research to answer real world problems. Her answers were based on her extensive background working in a national lab, leadership positions, background in national intelligence, and her desire to be a staunch partner with Congress if confirmed. She also addressed questions around improving research security and ethics, scaling up programs to link workers with skilled manufacturing positions, combatting climate change, and expanding opportunities for women and diverse communities in science, and coordination by OSTP on problems like the negative impact of common chemicals on the environment.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked her pointed questions on whether there was such a thing as “settled science” around gender affirming care as well as testing her scientific knowledge as to how carbon dioxide reduction has taken place in the United States. He said that her answer to the reduction question was not objectively scientific. Both he and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said natural gas production substituting for coal was the driving factor in decreasing U.S. emissions since 2005 by 15 percent and making the point of the current administration’s hostility toward natural gas production. Sullivan also asked for her commitment to make sure not to politicize science in any way, particularly as it relates to energy, oil, gas, fishing, and climate change, which she agreed to do.

On July 27, her nomination was favorably reported out of the committee.