After filling a position that was previously vacant for more than two years, the new director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) said he is ready to enact changes that will push the U.S. to new frontiers in science.
During the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting on Feb. 15, Kelvin Droegemeier, PhD, made his first public speech since the Senate confirmed him on January 2, explaining his approach to his new job.
“I would like to propose three pillars for this bold era,” he said during the speech at the event in Washington D.C. “The first pillar is to understand the R&D ecosystem in a new context and undertake long-term planning looking farther down the road and the future.
“The second pillar is to ledge the collective strength in our system through innovative partnerships that provide value to all and to the taxpayers of America. And third, and of great importance is to ensure our research environments are safe, welcoming and accommodating, free from harassments from all kind, able that retain the best and diverse talent, provides security for our national interests and maximize the contributions of our intellectual endeavors.”
Droegemeier, who is an atmospheric scientist by trade, has focused most of his research career on extreme weather events, including using computer simulations to learn more about how thunderstorms develop. He also previously served on the National Science Board between 2004 and 2016, after being appointed by both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
After leaving the position vacant for more than a year and-a half into his term, President Donald Trump nominated Droegemeier in August 2018.
While he is the first OSTP director who is not a physicist, the Droegemeier appointment was generally viewed as a positive on both sides of the aisle, including by AAAS CEO and former Democratic Congressman Rush Holt, who introduced him prior to the Feb. 15 speech.
The OSTP was created in 1976 with a mandate to advice the President on science and technology policy impacts on both international and domestic affairs.
Droegemeier explained that for science to flourish, both private and public entities should be involved.
“There’s been a really sharp rise of basic research being funded by the private sector,” he said. “In 2015, for the first time in the history of this country, the private sector funded more basic research than did the federal government. Now, that didn’t happen because the federal stopped funding basic research but because American companies have the freedom to be creative and to invest and to explore new ideas.”
He also explained how he wants to bring a “portfolio” approach to the agency.
“You look at A.I., it’s a very broad thing,” he added. “So how do you capture where we’re at today and think about where we’re going? Getting a handle on this as a portfolio is a real challenge but in my view, we’re able do that, it will really help us to think about how to invest and move forward. What’s beautiful about the portfolio approach is it does not require some wholesale change and how we actually structure our budget.
“The portfolio approach will allow for a thoughtful and effective allocation of federal resources, especially for early stage research which is something the government must play a vital role in but now views through the lens of work being funded in the same areas by the private sector, nonprofits and by the academic community itself,” he added.
Droegemeier also explained how he views the role of his agency moving forward.
“I believe OSTP is well positioned to facilitate a conversation at a national level and I truly believe it can empower our businesses, unleash a lot of capabilities and also greatly benefit our universities,” he said. “Additionally, policy changes such as those involving intellectual property and those of you who worked with private companies know how challenging this–challenging this can be.
“The Trump administration is focusing on this and I believe the resulting changes are going to really make a difference in improve our ability to translate research outcomes from the laboratory for the private sector,” he added.
Finally, Droegemeier said a culture change must take place for the science community to truly reach its potential.
“And finally for the third and final pillar, we must provide safe, welcoming and accommodating environments for performing research,” he said. “It is absolutely imperative that everyone who cares about the future of science.
“Whether to the laboratory or in the field, in the studio or in a focus group, the standard of behavior that we expect from the scientific community must apply everywhere research is conducted. Preventing sexual harassment is a community-wide effort and I look forward to working with you and others across the enterprise to tackle this issue head on and to fix it.”