Questions for John Holdren Senate confirmation hearing to head Office of Science & Technology Policy


Climate Science Watch would like Senators to ask John Holdren a number of questions about climate science leadership under the Obama administration at his February 12 confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  Dr. Holdren is special assistant to the President for science and technology and director-designee of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Post by Rick Piltz

See previous posts here (Getting to know John Holdren, Part 2:  A compendium of CSW posts 2006-2009) and here (Marburgerâ??s legacy: John Holdren must restore credibility to the White House science office).

Holdren bio information here (Harvard) and here (Woods Hole Research Center).

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation
Nominations Hearing
Thursday, February 12, 2009, 10:00 AM
SR - 253 (Senate Russell Office Bldg) 
During this hearing, Committee Members will hear testimony from Dr. Jane Lubchenco, nominated to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at the U.S. Department of Commerce—also known as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—and Dr. John Holdren, nominated to be Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President.  The hearing will begin following the completion of the Committee’s 10:00 a.m. Executive Session.
Check the Hearings link on the Committee web site for witness written testimony and live and archived webcast of the hearing.
Our questions for Dr. Holdren:

Presidential Climate Science Leadership

Q:  What do you think of the idea of bringing leading climate scientists to the White House to meet with the President to talk about the likely consequences of unchecked global climate disruption for society and the environment?  After eight years of an administration that snubbed climate scientists while downplaying and misrepresenting the climate change problem, do you agree it would be good for the American people to see their President communicating, not only with members of his administration, but also with other leaders of the science community? 

Q:  President Obama has described climate change as a problem that must be treated with â??urgency” and as a matter of â??national security.â?  After years lost under the Bush administration, do you agree it would be good for the President to begin to address the American people directly, characterizing for them his understanding of what it is about climate change that makes it an urgent problem with national security implications â?? as a key element in mobilizing the public support that will be needed for very strong policy measures?

Role of Office of Science and Technology Policy Director / Presidentâ??s Science Adviser on Climate Change

Q:  The President has designated appointees in several high-level positions who will play leadership roles in dealing with climate change.  What do you see as your particular role, and that of OSTP, vis-a-vis the President’s special assistant for energy and climate Carol Browner and the new leadership at the Council on Environmental Quality, EPA, the Energy Department, and the State Department?  Do you have overlapping jurisdictions?  What is the division of labor going to be? 

Q:  You have said: â??Global climate change is increasingly recognized as both the most dangerous and the most intractable of all of energyâ??s environmental impactsâ??indeed, the most dangerous and intractable of all of civilizationâ??s environmental impacts, period.â?  Given the importance and the urgency of the climate change problem, how would you organize the OSTP to better position that office to come to grips with it?  Should there be an Associate Director for climate change?  Should you have a team of senior personnel within OSTP dedicated to working on climate change science and technology issues?

Q:  How would you assess the tenure of your predecessor, Dr. John Marburger?  What might you do differently in your relationship to the climate science program and the climate science community?

Scientific Integrity
(general topic with these questions focused on climate science communication)

Q:  Will will you do to ensure that the integrity and credibility of the climate science program and its communications are protected from the kind of inappropriate influence from the political and policy realms that we saw under the previous administration? 

Q:  Do you agree that public communications by federal climate scientists, including public speaking and communication with journalists and with Congress, should be unfettered by political controls? 

Q:  Do you agree that the authors of climate science reports commissioned by the White House or by federal agencies should have final approval over the contents of the reports, not subject to separate and nontransparent editing at the political level? 

Q:  What leverage will you have over agency program managers, other political appointees, and departmental public affairs offices that might be tempted to interfere with communications between federal climate scientists and the public, including Congress and the media? 

OSTP and U.S. Climate Change Science Program Leadership

Q:  The Global Change Research Act of 1990 gives the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy a leadership responsibility for ensuring that the federal multi-agency climate and global change research program is well-coordinated and effective in meeting its statutory mandates.  How do you see the role of OSTP Director vis-Ã -vis the climate science program?  Do you see the program as an important priority for your own time and energy as OSTP Director? 

Q:  How will your office support the program?  How will you oversee the program to ensure that its leadership in the federal agencies is accountable for coordinating and implementing an effective program?

Q:  What will you do to try to ensure that the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, the U.S. Group on Earth Observations (US-GEO), and the proposed National Climate Service get the appropriate level of resources (human and budgetary), and to ensure that programs are well-coordinated and that duplication and competition among programs is minimized?

Q:  The Climate Change Science Program currently has a coordination office that is funded by participating agencies.  The coordination office reports to agency representatives and has little direct authority to direct program priorities, interagency coordination, research budgets, or climate change communications.  One option under consideration is to place this coordination office directly in, or under the direct authority of, the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Do you believe this would be a good move?  Might that potentially subject the CCSP coordination office to being too influenced by policy considerations—given that OSTP is a White House policy office responsible for implementing the President’s policy agenda? 

Climate Change Science Program Research and Assessment Priorities
During its first 20 years, the federal climate and global change research program has focused the lionâ??s share of its efforts on advancing understanding of change in the physical climate system.  Great progress has been made in observing and projecting changes in the Earth’s climate system and identifying the human contribution.  But the program has devoted much less attention and fewer resources to studying the impacts of climate change on society and the environment, and to analyzing and designing effective mitigation and adaptation response strategies. 

Now the impacts of global climatic disruption are beginning to make themselves apparent, with much greater changes projected for the future.  Response strategies and eventual adaptation to climate change impacts â?? on water resources, in coastal areas, in our public health system, in our infrastructure, and so forth â??  will be necessary to manage the consequences of climate and global change that canâ??t be avoided.  Impacts will be evident at regional and local scales, and adaptation and response strategies will have to be implemented at these scales.

Q:  Do you agree that the research priorities of the climate science program should be directed toward a greater emphasis on climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptive management? 

Q:  Do you agree that the program should develop a capability to support work on the research and assessment issues connected with climate and global change mitigation options and strategies? 

Q:  Do you support re-initiating as an ongoing activity the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, with its focus on regions and sectors of the country and its network of interactions between scientists and stakeholders â?? and which was disbanded by the Bush administration after a first set of reports were issued around 2000? 

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