The Senate Commerce Committee approved Arati Prabhakar to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the first woman of color and immigrant to hold the position, Wednesday.
Senators urged Prabhakar, who previously served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to coordinate agencies’ competing emerging technology priorities during her nomination hearing July 20.
Her proposed appointment will now proceed to the Senate floor for a simple majority vote.
President Biden nominated Prabhakar for the post on June 21 to replace Acting Director Alondra Nelson, who filled the vacancy left by Eric Lander when he resigned over disrespecting and demeaning staff and women, in particular, according to multiple staffers’ accounts.
“While I am happy to see another accomplished woman at the forefront of the federal government’s scientific community, I am just as heartened by her commitment to put people at OSTP first, and I am pleased to support her nomination,” said committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ahead of the vote. “If confirmed, she will be tasked with elevating OSTP’s role to ensure the U.S. remain a global leader in STEM, increasing investments in R&D, promoting greater diversity in the sciences, improving our weather forecasting capabilities, and protecting our scientific research.”
Prabhakar expressed hope the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) would be made law — allowing her to establish a working group coordinating activities in key technology areas like artificial intelligence and quantum computing — at her nomination hearing.
She also said fundamental research should be conducted openly for the benefit of the research community, while product development and applied work protected from foreign competitors like China.
USICA would also require agencies to submit comprehensive science and technology strategies.
“One thing I want to do is respect and honor those different missions, and then I want to knock down barriers to help those different parts of our federal R&D enterprise achieve those missions,” Prabhakar said at her nomination hearing. “And I want to knit them together, so that they can do the things together that they can’t do separately.”