After going longer than any other modern president without an official science adviser, President Donald Trump drew guarded praise Wednesday for his decision to appoint to the post Kelvin Droegemeier, University of Oklahoma vice president for research and an extreme weather expert.
Droegemeier, who also serves as Oklahoma's secretary of science and technology in Gov. Mary Fallin's cabinet, spent 12 years on the National Science Board, serving under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
"Dr. Droegemeier will be working in a challenging environment, not least because he is starting so late in the game, but I think he has the skills to get a lot done nonetheless," said John Holdren, professor of environmental policy at Harvard University, who served as the Obama White House's chief science adviser. Holdren called him "a solid choice."
"He's been a serious climate scientist, and he's been a serious science adviser to people in positions of influence."
Others who favor strong action on climate agreed.
"He is an experienced scientist with an impressive record of public service," said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy. "The Senate should move quickly to vet and consider his nomination so that the vacuum of science advice within the White House can begin to be filled."
Before Trump's 18-month stretch without a White House science advisor, President George W. Bush set the record for the longest science adviser vacancy at just over nine months. Congress created the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which the science adviser directs, in 1976. But presidents have had chief science advisers dating back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The first White House science adviser, engineer and inventor Vannevar Bush, oversaw wartime scientific research and development, including the Manhattan Project.
Droegemeier has been outspoken about the need to invest federal dollars in scientific research and to end partisanship over scientific issues.
"This committee has already addressed one of the greatest long-term threats to American innovation: You've made science bipartisan again, countering rhetoric that has at times made the research community feel under siege," Droegemeier said at a Congressional hearing on the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which Obama signed before leaving office last year.
France Córdova, an astrophysicist who directs the National Science Foundation, said in an emailed statement that Droegemeier is "as energetic as the tornadoes he studied."
"As a board member, he always did his homework, asking great questions and providing NSF with valuable guidance on policy and strategy," said Córdova, an Obama appointee who was asked by Trump to stay in the position. "During his recent time as Oklahoma's secretary of science and technology, Dr. Droegemeier demonstrated his willingness to work as a force for unity on science and engineering policy, showing that research is apolitical, and yields benefits to all Americans."
Droegemeier, a meteorologist, worked with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a fellow Oklahoman, on legislation related to weather when Bridenstine was serving in Congress. And when Bridenstine came under fire for his past statements about climate change after his appointment to the NASA post, Droegemeier defended him: "He absolutely believes the planet is warming, that [carbon dioxide] is a greenhouse gas, and that it contributes to warming," Droegemeier told Science magazine. Bridenstine has since said his views have evolved after learning more about the science.