Holdren, Lubchenco confirmed for Obama posts

It’s taken a while, but last night the Senate officially confirmed two of President Obama’s science picks: John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco.

There was about a month-long hold on Holdren’s confirmation as the president’s science adviser. You can peruse the blogosphere for speculations about why, but suffice it to say it wasn’t because the Senate had grave reservations about his qualifications. When the vote finally took place, Holdren won unanimous confirmation.

Beginning today, Holdren directs the Office of Science & Technology Policy, an organization created by Congress in 1976. It advises the White House on the impacts of science and technology on domestic and international affairs; leads interagency efforts to develop and implement “sound science and technology policies and budgets;” works with the private sector to ensure federal investments in research and development aid the economy, protect the environment, and bolster national security; and analyzes the scale and effectiveness of federal R&D efforts.

Holdren comes to Washington from Harvard where he held an endowed chair in environmental policy and served as director of a program on science, tech, and public policy at the university’s Kennedy School of Government. He had a joint appointment in Harvard’s department of Earth and planetary sciences and served as director of the independent, nonprofit Woods Hole Research Center.

Starting his career as an aerospace engineer with Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., Holdren eventually moved over to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he worked as a theoretical physicist. Afterward, he joined the faculty at Caltech. In 1973, he co-founded — and eventually co-directed until 1996 — an interdisciplinary graduate program at  UC-Berkeley that focused on the scientific, technological, economic, and sociopolitical dimensions of energy and the environment.

In addition to his day jobs, Holdren has served on a host of R&D advisory panels to government. These panels include the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences, which he chaired for a decade (beginning in 1994).

Lubchenco has just been made undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. As such, she becomes the first woman  — and first ecologist   to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In that capacity she will oversee a budget of $4 billion and staff of 12,800.

A tireless advocate for improving the understanding and protection of our marine world, Lubchenco accepted her new post with this statement: “With hard work and the best science as our guide, NOAA can spur the creation of new jobs and industries, revive our fisheries and the economies and communities they support, improve weather forecasting and disaster warnings, provide credible information about climate change to Americans, and protect and restore our coastal ecosystems.” Yep. Sounds just like her.

A member of the faculty of Oregon State University for more than 30 years, Lubchenco has also served as president of the International Council for Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America. She served as a presidential-appointee for the National Science Board, which advises the president and Congress and oversees the National Science Foundation.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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