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People: Clinton Names MIT Physicist To Influential OSTP Position

Later this month, the Senate is expected to confirm President Bill Clinton's June nomination of Ernest J. Moniz to be associate director for science of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), under director and presidential science adviser John H. Gibbons. Currently head of the physics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Moniz, 50, will replace nutrition biologist M.R.C. Greenwood, who resigned in May for personal reasons and has returned to the University of Ca

By | September 4, 1995

Later this month, the Senate is expected to confirm President Bill Clinton's June nomination of Ernest J. Moniz to be associate director for science of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), under director and presidential science adviser John H. Gibbons. Currently head of the physics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Moniz, 50, will replace nutrition biologist M.R.C. Greenwood, who resigned in May for personal reasons and has returned to the University of California, Davis. Confirmation hearings for the influential policy-making post will be held by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation under chairman Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.).

Working with Gibbons and Greenwood, Moniz was one of the principal framers of the administration's 1994 science policy report, "Science in the National Interest." The report was positively received by scientists as an expression of the administration's support for research and education, but was faulted for a lack of specifics concerning funding and the balance between basic and applied research (B. Reppert, The Scientist, Aug. 22, 1994, page 1).

Ernest Moniz LONG-TERM PLANNER: At OSTP, MIT's physics department head Ernest J. Moniz hopes to work with Congress to develop a science program that looks beyond current budget-cutting.


According to Moniz, the report was a solid endorsement by the administration for "investing" in basic science. Despite the prevailing budget-cutting orientation in Congress, Moniz sees a receptivity to this outlook on Capitol Hill.

"Through all the haze of contentious issues, the Congress has expressed a strong support for basic science research," Moniz notes. "There's obviously less agreement on some technology areas, to put it mildly. But, in what is going to be a difficult environment, both fiscally and politically, there is underlying that a clear thread of bipartisan support for basic research."

One of the biggest dangers in the current Congress's focus on fiscal austerity, Moniz warns, is that the future research capacity of the United States could be undercut. While accepting the political necessity of deficit reduction, he hopes to work with lawmakers to mitigate the potentially detrimental long-term impact on science of the process.

"Even with the underlying current of bipartisan support, the fact is that the extreme pressure on the budget is going to make things difficult," Moniz says. "It's clear that there will be some real choices made. Most [research areas] will experience the consequences of that, but we still have to implement long-term planning. We cannot stop building new capabilities.

"So, I would like to focus on trying to do longer-term planning through this period of budget balancing, on trying to reach a program that both the administration and the Congress can agree to, to make the investment so that we maintain our forefront capabilities. We can't sit back for 10 years and not start new programs while the operating budget is balanced."

Pending his confirmation hearings, Moniz declines to comment in detail on the far-reaching proposal made by House of Representatives Science Committee chairman Robert Walker (R-Pa.) to create a centralized Department of Science.

"But it's very clear that our current system, with its diversity of research support and research styles that have supported the missions of the various agencies, has fundamentally served us well," he maintains. "That does not mean that one should not reexamine it, listen, and discuss. But I do start from the point of view that our system has proved itself to be pretty effective."

Moniz received his B.S. in physics from Boston College in 1966 and his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Stanford University in 1971. From 1971 to 1972, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre d'Etudes Nuclèaires de Saclay in Gif-sur-Yvette, France, supported by the National Science Foundation. He was a research associate in the department of physics at the University of Pennsylvania from 1972 to 1973. He became an assistant professor of physics at MIT in 1973, an associate professor in 1977, and a full professor in 1983. Since 1991, he has been the head of the physics department.

- Franklin Hoke


(The Scientist, Vol:9, #17, pg.17 , September 4, 1995)
(Copyright © The Scientist, Inc.)

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