Your Next America’s Top National Science Foundation Director May Be…

Since the Obama Administration has arguably hit a wall in naming nominees and getting them confirmed, I am particularly pleased by the news that there may be a nominee for the soon to be vacant Director’s job at the National Science Foundation.  As noted last month, current Director Arden Bement has submitted his resignation, effective June 1.  His term would have ended later in 2010, so the departure isn’t indicative of anything more than having the next job lined up well in advance.

ScienceInsider is reporting (though no formal announcement has been made as of this afternoon) that Subra Suresh, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Engineering Department, will likely be that nominee.  Not only is he the current dean, but he maintains an active research group (much like National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins).  His research focus is in nanobiomechanics.  While he will not come to the position with the same depth of administrative experience as many of his predecessors, he certainly seems poised to understand the significance of many new research directions that will blend disciplinary lines and require new ways of administering research.

Assuming the nomination is advanced soon by the President, and the Senate Commerce Committee sees fit to hold a confirmation hearing in a timely fashion (the second part is the much bigger if here), Dr. Suresh could be on the job by June 1.  I think that would be fabulous, but am steeling myself for the likely disappointment.  After all, we still don’t have all four associate directors at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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Bill Introduced to Boost International Scientific Exchanges

The Global Science Program for Security, Competitiveness, and Diplomacy Act of 2010 is a bill recently introduced by Representative Howard Berman (D-California).  You can read the text of the bill (H.R. 4801) online.

A major goal of the bill is to engage foreign scientists and engineers who have worked in weapons of mass destruction programs, or scientists and engineers in general from developing and Muslim countries.  The bill would set up grant programs to encourage collaborative research between U.S. federal science agencies and scientists and engineers in eligible countries.  Other grant programs would support capacity building, nonproliferation training, and increasing global access to scientific research journals.  The State Department and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will work together to manage these programs.

In addition, the bill will expand several existing programs to increase the scientific resources at the disposal of the State Department.  Separate programs would make it easier to have federal scientists serve in embassies abroad, to have tenured academics serve a fellowship in the State Department (this Jefferson program currently exists, contrary to bill language), and to have the kind of science envoys currently serving in the State Department and proposed by a separate bill in the Senate.  While the current capacity of Congress to pass anything is severely limited, suggesting that these programs may come about more from executive branch action, the increases in funding could certainly use Congressional approval.  Hopefully it will happen, but I am not optimistic it will happen this year.