With a new president comes a new director of the National Science Foundation. We’re all waiting, so when will President Donald Trump appoint his new director? If he honors the six-year term of Obama’s choice, confirmed in March 2014, it wouldn’t be until his first term is nearly over.
President Trump has been hard at work selecting his cabinet for his upcoming inauguration. In many cases, as within the U.S. State Department, Trump has rooted out incumbent figures and replaced them with fresh faces in an effort to “clean house.”
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 26, 2017
Typically, incoming presidents honor the six-year term of the incumbent National Science Foundation director. Now the science world wonders whether Trump will wait until 2020 to select a new NSF director and what that person might look like.
A Brief Look Into the National Science Foundation Director
The NSF is the government agency that holds the wallet on federal funding for research and education in all of the non-medical fields of science and engineering (The medical fields receive funding through the National Institute of Health). The agency has an annual budget of $7.03 billion, making it an enormous source of financing for research and development, and making its director a crucial figure for U.S. research efforts.Currently, France A Cordova directs the National Science Foundation.Click To Tweet
Since her confirmation in March 2014, France A. Córdova is the National Science Foundation director. The agency is a cornerstone of innovation in the US. Its director is responsible for the budget, operations, and the timely appointment of a director is key to keeping the flow of innovation. As mentioned earlier, incoming presidents usually allow the NSF director to serve out a six-year term.
Some critics say Trump’s unconventional attitude toward science could upend the previous administration’s appointee’s six-year term. However, to be fair, Trump has made no mention of his plans for the NSF, other than to mention that research funding will take a back seat to other concerns.
Government funding and a supportive, science-first attitude are crucial to keeping pay rates for researching positions high enough to attract high-quality talent to the field. In Industry 4.0, Trump will need America to be producing technology that is the envy of the world, and the NSF is his tool to do that.
The Science Community Waits With Bated Breath
Trump’s victory in the presidential election has been nothing if not contentious. It would be out of form if there weren’t fervent supporters and detractors of the man, and if he decides to replace the NSF director early, you can expect the response to be aggressive.
On the political side of things, you have Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Sen. Paul lambasted the NSF in December with a report to the inspector general that showed over a million dollars in wasted spending by the NSF. The NSF disputed the findings of the report, but how Rand’s actions will affect Trump is up to politics. If Trump sides with Paul and other supporters of RNC control over the NSF, it will influence the future of research in the U.S, possibly resulting in the loss of funding as the belt is tightened on the NSF’s budget.
It could even lead to an early replacement pick for NSF director.
Which brings us to the folks in America’s R&D department. Many scientists don’t want to see good work get wasted, such as environmental and biological research that has led to the improvement of public health and the environment.
As many as 2300 scientists penned an open letter to Trump asking him to consider their ideas when considering the direction of U.S. policy. One of their biggest fears is drastic cuts to their funding, which would be a hit to the R&D sector of the country, possibly dissuading new talent from seeking work in the U.S. Other fears surround the lack of appreciation for important scientific theories by those associated with Trump, such as Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the creation theory.
Nobody is surprised that all eyes are on Trump, and that includes those of the scientific community. Whether he breaks with tradition and replaces the NSF director or not, he has the ability to spur or delay scientific progress in the U.S.