WASHINGTON, DC, June 26 - In a move many scientists felt has been too late in coming, President George W. Bush announced his intention Monday evening to nominate physicist John Marburger as the next director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
"We're very pleased that he has decided to name a science advisor," said Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "We were getting a little worried." Former President Clinton had a science advisor in place within a few weeks of his first inauguration in 1992.
The lack of an effective advocate for basic science in the Bush Administration may have contributed to lower funding for science during the most recent budget negotiations. The National Science Foundation and other research programs--with the exception of the NIH--saw flat or reduced funding for 2002. Scientists are hopeful that basic research will take a higher priority now that Bush has appointed an OSTP director.
"It's important to have someone supporting broad-based funding for fundamental science, like the kind of programs funded by the NSF," said Howard Garrison of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. "If we had that kind of leadership from within the Administration, we'd all be better off."
Marburger has served as the director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Brookhaven, New York, since March 1998. Although his own research interests lie in laser phenomena and nonlinear optics, Marburger's responsibilities as director have also included biology-related projects. Brookhaven, with its national synchrotron facility, is a key participant in the Structural Genomics Initiative spearheaded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at NIH.
Marburger's strong credentials in both research and education, which also include serving as dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California from 1976 to 1980, should allay some concerns that Bush has been slighting academic scientists in his appointments. As OSTP chief, Marburger will serve as a co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, joining Floyd Kvamme, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist appointed co-chair by the President in March.
But Bush has yet to appoint a permanent NIH director, leaving many concerned that the leadership is not in place to set policy and research priorities. The acting director, Ruth Kirschstein, stepped in after the departure of Harold Varmus in January 2000, but Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson has said a new NIH director probably wouldn't begin work until next year.
The Marburger appointment has scientists feeling more upbeat. "We're looking forward to a good relationship with him," Garrison said. "We're optimistic, and hope we'll have as good a relationship with him as we had with his predecessors."