Senate Committee Approves Top White House Tech Advisor

Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier appears before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation as the nominee to be the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.

Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier appears before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation as the nominee to be the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. NASA

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Office of Science and Technology Policy hasn't had a permanent leader since the last administration.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved Kelvin Droegemeier to become the White House’s top tech advisor.

As director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Droegemeier would counsel the president on domestic and international tech issues and coordinate the administration’s efforts to advance artificial intelligence, space exploration, public health and other STEM areas.

OSTP has operated without a chief since President Trump took office in January 2017.

“There are a number of critical issues facing the country that will benefit from the input of the White House science advisor,” said Ranking Member Bill Nelson, D-Fla. He added he was happy to hear Droegemeier “is eager to work [on] climate change and committed to ensuring that science is free from politics.”

A meteorologist by training, Droegemeier currently serves as Oklahoma’s Science and Technology Secretary. Last month, he stepped down as vice president of research at the University of Oklahoma.

In his confirmation hearing on Aug. 24, Droegemeier highlighted a handful of areas where he’d focus his efforts as OSTP director, including “commercially risky but transformative” research, expanding partnerships with industry and academia, and education initiatives for building a 21st-century workforce. He also stressed the need to balance international collaboration with ethics, especially for controversial topics like artificial intelligence.

“Global research is not a zero-sum game, and all progress is valuable,” he said. “But American leadership ensures that American values remain at the forefront of technological development.”

Droegemeier also committed to reconvening the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology after its charter expired last year. The body, which weighs in on White House STEM initiatives, would initially focus on topics with a “high likelihood for significant short-term impact,” he told Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D.

Droegemeier now awaits confirmation by the full Senate.

With the top office at OSTP vacant, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios has served as the de facto head of White House tech initiatives for the last year and a half. As OSTP’s top-ranking official, Kratsios has called for deregulating the tech sector and investing in advanced manufacturing, clean energy and space exploration.