Originally posted on the Nature news blog

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has a new leader. The Senate voted today to confirm astrophysicist France Córdova to lead the agency, roughly a year after former director Subra Suresh resigned mid-term.

Córdova was most recently the chairwoman of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents, which oversees the sprawling Washington DC-based museum complex, and a member of the National Science Board, the panel that oversees NSF. She has also served as president of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and as chancellor of the University of California, Riverside. During the 1990s, Córdova was chief scientist at NASA, working with then-administrator Daniel Goldin on his “faster, better, cheaper” plan for Earth and space research.

Her confirmation as NSF’s fourteenth director comes at a time of tight budgets that have frustrated researchers. On 4 March, for example, President Barack Obama released a budget request for fiscal year 2015 that seeks a meager 1% funding increase for the science agency, compared to the current funding level. NSF is also under increased pressure to demonstrate the value of its research, and its social science research division has come under attack from conservative politicians in the House of Representatives.

In an interview today with Nature, Córdova said that better communicating the importance of the basic research that NSF supports is one of her priorities as she takes the agency’s top job. “We have to better explain why we do what we do,” she said.

For more information, see our expanded news coverage in the 20 March edition of Nature.

This article is reproduced with permission from the Nature news blog. The article was first published on March 12, 2014.