The transition to the second term of the Obama Administration has resulted in a number of key administration officials choosing to leave, most notably the Secretaries of State and Defense. The administration’s top science policy official, though, suggested over the weekend that he plans to stick around.
“People always ask me what the job is like,” said John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), during a panel session on dealing with uncertainty in science policy-making at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston on Saturday. “And I always say it’s a mixture of exhilaration and frustration, but exhilaration is still winning.”
Holdren was responding to a question about the expected departures of a number of scientists from postions in the administration, such as Jane Lubchenco as administrator of NOAA and Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy. “My prediction is that many of those will be replaced by scientists of comparable distinction,” Holdren said.
As for his own work, Holdren described working for a president more interested in details on science and technology issues than he anticipated. He said there’s long been a rule of thumb that you don’t give a president a memo more than two pages. Holdren adhered to that rule in his first memo to President Obama. “It came back with his handwriting scrawled across the top: ‘Where’s the rest?'” Holdren recalled. His average memo to the president, he said, is now five to six pages.
“It helps to have a boss who knows how and why science and technology matter, and therefore makes sure you are in the room when you need to be in the room” to provide input on relevant issues, Holdren said, indicating the president was such a person. “The degree of success that you can have in this position does depend on your relationship with the boss and also with your relationship with the other senior advisors around the president.”
Holdren did not discuss space policy specifically during the session, and did not stick around for questions afterwards, citing another meeting. However, his comments did suggest that Holdren will continue to have a key role in shaping those issues for some time to come.