President-elect Joe Biden is starting to announce nominees to prominent science positions in his administration. As the U.S. grapples with the consequences of the last four years of the Trump administration undermining science and harming already marginalized groups at every turn, it is crucial that the Biden team choose highly qualified leaders who bring strong scientific expertise and who reflect the values and diversity of the nation. During the campaign, Biden said that his administration would “choose science over fiction”; now is the time to fulfill that campaign promise. We need leaders who can rebuild our nation’s scientific infrastructure, repair the damage to our credibility, ensure science is guiding agency actions, and help address long-standing inequities in access to science and government support.
Given the long history of science advisors and cabinet positions held by white men, we are heartened that the incoming administration has made an explicit commitment to build a diverse administration that is intersectional, with women, nonbinary individuals and people of color elevated to senior positions. 500 Women Scientists strongly supports the appointment of outstanding women for leadership positions within the Biden-Harris administration; we know these women will be incredible assets to the administration, will value science, and will serve the nation with honor and dignity.
This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many enormously talented and qualified people to choose from, but we are especially enthusiastic to support the following people for a Biden-Harris Science Squad (and if the goes to someone else for any of these positions, the women on our list would still be excellent candidates for other roles in the administration).
White House Science Advisor: Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D.
Current position: University Distinguished Professor at Oregon State University
On the science squad because: There is no one more qualified for this position than Lubchenco. She has the science chops as a marine ecologist with expertise in oceans and climate change and has worked in the government as the U.S. undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under President Obama. She also served on the inaugural Obama science team during 2009–2013 and 2014–2016 was the first U.S. State Department science envoy for the oceans. Lubchenco has also collaborated with industry, communities, civil society, academia and faith-based organizations to address a variety of environmental challenges.
Note: The OSTP Director should be elevated to a Cabinet level position, as President-elect Biden has previously suggested. Given the need for bold and progressive climate action, we recommend someone with a strong background in climate change science and a record of leadership in environmental justice—areas the administration has named as top priorities.
White House Council on Environmental Quality: Cecilia Martinez, Ph.D.
Current position: Co-founder and Executive Director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED)
On the science squad because: The organization Martinez leads, CEED, provides research and analytic support to environmental justice groups and coalitions. They helped shape and launch the Equitable and Just Climate Platform in 2018, which centers the needs and concerns of those most affected by pollution. Martinez was part of Biden's Climate Engagement Advisory Council helping to mobilize voters around climate, was an advisor on developing his policy plan to combat climate change and is now leading the CEQ agency review team for the Biden transition team. She was recently named in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
Environmental Protection Agency: Heather McTeer Toney, J.D.
Current position: Senior Director for Moms Clean Air Force
On the science squad because: Toney, an attorney and former local elected official, has worked with the EPA in two separate roles between 2009 and 2017. She was the chairwoman of the EPA's Local Government Advisory Committee, and then in 2014, she was appointed by President Obama to serve as the regional administrator for the EPA Southeast Region. She has a strong record of using science to guide EPA policy and she will be a great advocate for science agenda at the agency. Since 2017, Toney has led field operations and grassroots organizing efforts focused on environmental justice and air pollution and has argued that combating climate change and protecting the environment are racial justice issues.
Secretary of Energy: Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Ph.D.
Current position: Senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; advises national laboratories, energy investment funds and start-ups
On the science squad because: She is a nuclear scientist well-versed in the priorities for the Department of Energy (DOE), including managing the U.S.’s nuclear resources, supporting an innovation research agenda and overseeing large-scale scientific programs. With her experience as the DOE undersecretary during the Obama administration, Sherwood-Randall could hit the ground running in an agency that is in need of a leader who will support DOE employees and protect their scientific integrity.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator: Dawn Wright, Ph.D.
Current position: Chief Scientist, Esri
On the science squad because: She has a deep and stellar scientific background in oceanography and geography and has both academic and private sector chops directly applicable to NOAA’s work on oceans, satellites, weather and atmospheric science. Wright has provided guidance to federal science programs and has served on NOAA’s Science Advisory Board and the National Academy of Sciences Ocean Studies Board. She is also committed to equity and inclusion and will help foster a diverse and vibrant culture at NOAA.
Secretary of the Interior: U.S. Representative Deb Haaland, J.D.
Current position: U.S. Representative for New Mexico’s 1st district
On the science squad because: As an attorney, politician, and one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, Haaland has demonstrated leadership both nationally and for communities in New Mexico. She sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources, earned a J.D. in Indian Law and has worked with the private sector to successfully advocate for environmentally friendly practices. She has a strong record of supporting science and making evidence-based decisions. The U.S. Department of the Interior needs the experience and perspective of Rep. Haaland at the helm.
Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State: Frances Colón, Ph.D.
Current position: President and CEO, Jasperi Consulting
On the science squad because: Colón is a climate and international environmental policy expert who has diligently worked to keep science front and center in foreign policy dialogues and has used science as a tool for global engagement. She was the deputy science and technology adviser to the secretary of state from 2012 to 2017, was also the highest-ranking Hispanic scientist at the State Department at that time, and led the Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas (ECPA), an initiative to accelerate sustainable energy in the Americas. Colón is also a loud and proud advocate for the advancement of women and girls in STEM as evidenced by several bold initiatives she has led and created throughout her career.
Domestic White House Climate Change Advisor: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D.
On the science squad because: Johnson is a climate policy expert who advised the Warren campaign on the development of the Blue New Deal, the co-editor of a book of essays called All We Can Save that features the writings of women climate leaders and the co-host of a climate podcast called “How to Save a Planet” focused on everyday climate solutions. She is committed to working for climate justice and broader inclusion in the climate movement.
Domestic White House Climate Change Advisor: Leah Stokes, Ph.D.
Current Position: Stokes is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
On the science squad because: Stokes is an expert in public policy, with a focus on energy, environment and climate change. She has written a book Short Circuiting Policy that examines the roles interest groups play in weakening U.S. clean energy laws, and she launched a climate podcast called “A Matter of Degrees” focused on climate. She is a leader in her field and has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring climate action is inclusive, equitable and just.
The U.S. federal government is in dire need of new talent, and many important science positions have been empty or underutilized under the Trump administration. There is an opportunity to build back better by leveraging the full diversity of scientists and people who can bring their lived experiences to these critical government positions. There is a squad of exceptionally qualified women and nonbinary scientists who are ready to support the Biden administration, many on the 500 Women Scientists team.
No matter who is ultimately confirmed to the many open science positions within the federal government, we expect Biden appointees to embody the change we want to see. We expect them to use science to inform policy. We expect them to lift the voices that have been overlooked and marginalized. We expect them to use science to protect people and communities, not corporations. We expect them to work tirelessly to create a safer and more equitable world.