At the end of October, almost 180 science, education and business groups – including UC Davis – sent a letter to Senators Barack Obama and John McCain urging them to appoint a science adviser with a cabinet rank by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.
The letter notes that many issues – health care, energy, economic competitiveness, climate change – require sound scientific advice, making it “critical that the next president seek out and rely upon sound scientific and technological advice early and often in the new administration.“
President Bush appointed his science adviser, John H. Marburger III, several months into the administration, and neither the Bush nor the Clinton administration gave their science advisers cabinet rank.
The letter urges the President-elect to appoint an adviser to the cabinet with the title Assistant to the President for Science and Technology so “this individual can participate immediately in coordinating relevant policy and personnel decisions relating to science and technology.“
The letter was sent to both candidates on Oct. 30 – although now Obama is the relevant recipient.
The effort was spearheaded by The American Association for the Advancement of Science and The Association of American Universities.
“The letter is about appointing a science adviser early and raising the status of the science adviser in the White House,” said Barry Toiv, spokesperson for AAU. “During the campaign, Senator Obama said he plans to do both of these things, so we hope that will be the case.“
UC Davis is a member of the 62 public and private research universities of the AAU, a nonprofit organization that addresses issues between research universities and the federal government.
UC Davis was notified of the letter when the AAU sent out one of its periodic alerts for members to consider. Karl Engelbach, director of federal government relations at UC Davis, received the request and after reviewing it made a recommendation to Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, who agreed to endorse it.
“Because science is so important to our nation – critical to economic development and to maintain competitiveness – science will play a critical role in the future,” Engelbach said. “Because of that I thought it was important for the president to include a cabinet position.“
UC Davis receives federal research funding as well as federal financial aid.
“Federal research dollars are really critical to campus – overall [the campus] receives almost $300 million per year for federal funding or research activities on our campus,” Engelbach said.
AAU and AAAS have been working together since early in the presidential election with other members of the scientific community to ensure that issues related to science were taken up in the campaign.
The decision to draft a letter was a complement to other efforts to elevate science-related issues higher on the candidates‘ agendas. While it did not achieve its original goal of having a debate between Obama and McCain solely on science issues, the Science Debate 2008 organization did successfully manage to raise the profile of science issues in the campaign, Toiv said.
“Senator Obama did not make a commitment on cabinet rank but he did indicate that the science adviser would have higher status in the White House,” Toiv said.
The AAU has prepared and submitted a list of potential candidates for the position to the administrative transition team, Toiv said.
“We are hoping right now to get the attention of transition teams once they are formed and get response about their intent,“said director of the Center for Science Technology Congress at the AAAS Joanne Carney. “The President-elect in the past stated [he would] nominate a science adviser soon, so we’re hoping to get that narrowed down by the time of inauguration.“
Carney said since the letter was sent so close to the Election Day they were not expecting an immediate response.
“[The position] allows them to participate in cabinet meetings, given the fact that there are so many national issues that intersect with energy science and technology security,” Carney said. “These are issues discussed in cabinet meetings.“
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