Perspective

The changing landscape of science in Washington, D.C.

Guest Column | Rana Fine, University of Miami

14 August 2009  •  During my term as chair of the UCAR Board of Trustees, it has been exciting to witness the changing landscape in Washington, D.C., regarding the prominence of science. It is also rewarding to see how the UCAR community has been benefiting from these changes. The tone was set by President Obama in his inaugural address, when he stated that "it's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and work to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology."

The president wasted no time establishing a national agenda with science as a priority and appointing a top-notch science team led by physicist John Holdren, the president's science advisor and head of the Office of Science and Technical Policy. Holdren is also co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In April, President Obama appointed 20 of the nation's leading scientists and engineers to this council. They include UCAR board member Rosina Bierbaum (University of Michigan) and community members Mario Molina (University of California, San Diego) and Daniel Schrag (Harvard University).

Rana FineRana Fine, the 2009 chair of the UCAR Board of Trustees, is a professor of marine and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Miami.

UCAR's trustees meet three times a year, twice in Boulder and once in Washington. Our May meeting in the capital was attended by several of the administration's top scientists, including Holdren. Perhaps what most differentiated our meeting with Holdren from our past meetings with science leaders was his open and straightforward style. Rather than lecture the board, he began by asking us a series of questions about climate issues on which he sought advice. After a lively hour-long discussion, Holdren invited board members to follow up the conversation through e-mail. Among the issues of particular interest were the relative roles of government, foundations, nongovernmental organizations, NCAR, and other partners in tackling the difficult challenges of climate adaptation, regional assessment, and sustainability. The forum at the annual UCAR members' meeting this October will continue discussions from last year on how our community can help local and regional planners adapt to climate change and associated severe weather.

We also met with Jane Lubchenco, the newly appointed undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere and new administrator of NOAA. A zoologist and marine ecologist from Oregon State University, Lubchenco shared with us her plans for NOAA and the agency's progress in developing a national climate service. Also meeting with the board was microbiologist Anna Palmisano, the associate director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science for the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER). Along with NSF, BER is a major contributor to NCAR's Community Climate System Model, and it supports the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program, which produces CCSM-relevant observations.

Convening in Washington each spring makes it possible for UCAR trustees to meet with members of Congress, a process facilitated by the UCAR Office of Government Affairs, or OGA (www. ucar.edu/oga)and its director, Cynthia Schmidt. In our interactions on the Hill, we make the case for the importance of our science for society and build personal connections with congressional members and their staff who are from our districts and who are on key science committees. We discuss science-related issues Congress is working on and those we would like to see brought forward. This past May, we had the opportunity to discuss the climate and hurricane research bills with members of the House and Senate. Throughout the year, Cindy and her staff keep the UCAR community attuned to pending legislative issues of interest to our community. Although much of OGA's work occurs behind the scenes, it includes some of the highest-impact functions performed by UCAR for our community.

The time and interest conveyed by federal science leaders in meeting with the UCAR Board of Trustees this year reaffirms the high regard in which scientists at NCAR, UCAR, and UCAR-affiliated universities are held. This is an exciting time for the UCAR community to be part of and engaged in some of the most important issues—severe weather and climate change—facing our nation today.

Rana Fine, the 2009 chair of the UCAR Board of Trustees, is a professor of marine and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Miami.