Science surges in the House

Published December 01 2018

Again this month, I’m ceding this space to science writer John Arnst, who offers
something weightier than my holiday baking tips. — Comfort Dorn, managing editor

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, a former nurse, is set to lead the House science committee in January.

When the dust settled after this year’s midterm elections, six of 22 first-time Congressional candidates with science backgrounds had won their races, including Sean Casten, a former biochemist who will represent Illinois’ sixth district.

What’s more, for the first time since 1995, it looks like the U.S. House science committee will be overseen by a member of Congress with a scientific background.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, a former nurse who was first elected to Congress in 1992 and became the first female and first African-American ranking member of the committee in 2010, is poised to take over the committee in January, when chairs are elected. The last representative with a scientific background to hold the position was George Brown, a former engineer from California who chaired the committee from 1991 to 1995.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology oversees NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The outgoing chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is known for espousing disbelief in climate science. He used his position to subpoena NOAA officials for data related to climate change research and subpoena state attorneys general and members of the Union of Concerned Scientists for correspondence about investigations into the fossil fuel industry.

In a statement released on election night, Johnson laid out three priorities, should she be elected to lead the committee: to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and federal research funding; to address the challenge of climate change; and to restore the credibility of the science committee as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to policymaking.

“I am heartened that Democrats will be in the majority in the 116th Congress, and I cannot wait to get to work,” she stated. “If I am fortunate enough to be elected chair of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, a committee that I like to call the ‘Committee of the Future,’ I know that there is much that we can accomplish as Democrats and Republicans working together for the good of the nation.”

John Arnst John Arnst is ASBMB Today’s science writer. Follow him on Twitter.