Trump Names Oklahoma Academic as Science Adviser

Kelvin Droegemeier is a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma. Kelvin Droegemeier is a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma. Sue Ogrocki/AP

After 18 months of complaints about his lack of a White House science adviser, President Trump on Tuesday announced that he would name a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Kelvin Droegemeier, who is currently vice president for research and Regents’ Professor of Meteorology on the campus in Norman, is also the Oklahoma state government’s cabinet secretary of science and technology. The nomination received bipartisan praise.

Droegemeier’s federal experience includes co-founding and directing the National Science Foundation’s Science and Technology Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, as well as its Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, according to the White House statement. In addition, he served two six-year terms (four years as vice chairman) on the National Science Board under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

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The nominee is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, whose CEO, former Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., praised the pick. “Science and technology are embedded in almost every issue that the president deals with, and since 2016, we’ve urged the nomination of a respected scientist or engineer,” he said in a statement. “Kelvin Droegemeier is such a scientist; his work cuts across many disciplines from meteorology to cybersecurity, and he has demonstrated many years of public service at the interface of science and policy.”

Holt also praised Droegemeier’s “ability to work in a bipartisan fashion and across many parts of the government, experience that will serve the president and our nation well.”

Equally enthusiastic was John Holdren, the top science adviser to President Obama, who told Government Executive that Droegemeier is “a very solid appointment, both as senior scientist in the domain of atmospheric science, but also as someone with extensive experience speaking science to power.”

He will have challenges “working in that environment,” Holdren added, “all the more because he is starting later than any previous science adviser and because he has, to put it charitably, a difficult boss in President Trump.” But Holdren said he thinks Droegemeier “has the skills to get a lot done in that office, whether or not he ends up having an influential direct relationship with the president.”

Droegemeier, who must win confirmation in the Senate, was also hailed by his home-state Republican senators. “Dr. Droegemeier is an incredibly capable researcher and a highly qualified scientist,” said Sen. James Lankford. “Kelvin Droegemeier is a proven leader in science and technology and an excellent choice to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy,” said Sen. James Inhofe.

The announcement of Droegemeier’s appointment came the day the defacto head of Trump’s White House science operations, Michael Kratsios, joined with White House budget director Mick Mulvaney in a memo to agencies outlining the administration’s research and development priorities for the coming year. They include artificial intelligence, quantum computing, 5G broadband and national security technology, as well as space commercialization.

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