Biden Designates Acting White House Science Officials

Biden Designates Acting White House Science Officials

In the wake of Eric Lander’s forced departure, President Biden today named an acting Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and an Acting Presidential Science Adviser. The latter carries Cabinet rank for the first time in history. Lander filled both positions, but for now they are split between the woman who had been OSTP Deputy Director and the recently retired Director of the National Institutes of Health.

Lander was basically fired last week after a White House investigation found credible evidence supporting claims that he treated OSTP staff very disrepectfully. Biden had said when he swore in his new officials on Inauguration Day that anyone behaving that way would be fired on the spot. After Politico reported that Lander had received only a slap on the wrist, pressure mounted for stronger action and Lander handed in his resignation.

Biden has decided to split the jobs of OSTP Director and Presidential Science Adviser for the time being. Lander’s deputy, Alondra Nelson, will be acting OSTP Director. Francis Collins, who just retired as NIH Director after 12 years on the job, will be Acting Presidential Science Adviser.

Alondra Nelson, Acting Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Photo credit:

Nelson is the first OSTP Deputy Director of Science and Society. A sociologist, she was the Harold F. Linder Chair and Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and president of the Social Science Research Council. Previously she was professor of sociology at Columbia University and its inaugural Dean of Social Science. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Medicine.

Francis Collins, Acting Presidential Science Adviser. Photo credit: NIH

Collins led NIH for 12 years under three presidents — Obama, Trump, and Biden. A physician-geneticist,  he led the Human Genome Project (in which Lander played a major role) and retired as NIH Director less than two months ago on December 21. He was elected as a member of the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) and the National Academy of Sciences, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, the National Medal of Science in 2009, and the Templeton Prize in 2020.

As acting Presidential Science Adviser he will also serve as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The White House said that in choosing Nelson and Collins, Biden “has doubled down on science.” He sees OSTP driving science and technology solutions “to our greatest challenges” especially creation of an “ARPA-H research and discovery agency, the building of support for a Cancer Moonshot 2.0, the search for a new head of NIH, and the broad advisory work of PCAST.”

ARPA-H is a proposed Advanced Research and Projects Agency-Health at NIH patterned after DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA. Cancer Moonshot was initiated in 2016 when Biden was Vice President and reinvigorated two weeks ago as Cancer Moonshot 2.0. Its goal is to “end cancer as we know it.”

OSTP is one of the four components of the Executive Office of the President most involved in space policy and programs, along with the National Space Council, National Security Council, and Office of Management and Budget. Ezinne Uzo-Okoro is OSTP’s Assistant Director for Space Policy.

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