In 1976, President Gerald Ford appointed physicist H. Guyford Stever as the first Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Having previously advised the military during World War II, and directed the National Science Foundation for four years, Stever became the first of a long line of advisors who counseled the White House on matters of science and technology—everything from disease outbreaks to climate change to nanotechnology.
His current counterpart John Holdren, formerly a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University, has performed the same service for Barack Obama since 2009, together with a 135-person team. And in a few short months, he will hand over his duties to someone else—a new appointee who will become President-elect Donald Trump’s scientific consigliere.
Who will that person be? No one knows.
“Any enquiries I’ve made has led me to believe that the transition process isn’t yet organized,” says Neal Lane from Rice University, who acted as OSTP Director under Bill Clinton. “I think the election was a surprise to everybody, and my guess is that they’re just discovering many of these offices for the first time.”
The appointment is crucial—as close to a cabinet-level position in science and technology as exists. “It’s an easy thing to say that it’s another bureaucratic office,” says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “but it’s a critically important voice for the broader science community within the administration.”