Report offers advice to McCain, Obama on science and technology appointments

WASHINGTON -- The importance of research in solving many of our national challenges, including economic ones, was emphasized today in a new report titled SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOR AMERICA'S PROGRESS: ENSURING THE BEST PRESIDENTIAL APPOINTMENTS IN THE NEW ADMINISTRATION. The report, sent to John McCain and Barack Obama with guidance for whomever is elected president in November, provides suggestions on filling key science appointments after the election. Issued by the independent and nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, the report lists approximately 80 high-level science and technology appointees who will be crucial in advising the new president on issues that range from energy to health care to economic growth. It also urges members of the scientific community to serve in these positions, and suggests ways to make it more attractive for well-qualified people to do so.

"The new administration and the nation will need exceptionally able scientists, engineers, and health professionals to serve in the federal government," said John Edward Porter, chair of the committee that wrote the report, a former congressman from Illinois, and a partner at Hogan and Hartson, Washington, D.C. "We hope that scientists and engineers will welcome this opportunity to bring fresh ideas and new energy to our nation's agenda, and we hope that Congress and the incoming president will reduce the obstacles to attracting the best and brightest people to these jobs."

Immediately after the election, the president-elect's highest S&T priority should be to select a confidential adviser on science and technology, who will help identify and recruit the best candidates for key appointments, participate in budget decisions for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, and provide guidance in the event of a crisis, the report says. This adviser should be appointed the assistant to the president for science and technology promptly after the inauguration, and nominated as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The director should be included in cabinet discussions about the scientific and technological aspects of broader policy decisions.

The report recommends that the president and Senate accelerate the appointment process for S&T leadership to reduce the personal and financial burdens on nominees and to allow important positions to be filled swiftly. Congress and the Office of Government Ethics should simplify procedures aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest in appointees, which have become unduly complex over the years. And scientific and professional societies should more actively reach out to the president's science adviser and other senior administration leaders to provide input that broadens the pool of candidates for appointments.

In addition, the report urges the incoming president to ensure that his administration makes the process for appointing people to federal advisory committees explicit and transparent, and stresses that those chosen to provide S&T expertise should be selected solely for their knowledge, credentials, and professional and personal integrity.

The report is the latest in a series of reports issued by the Academies on the presidential appointment process, each delivered during a presidential election year.

Source: National Academy of Sciences