WASHINGTON — In the final hours of a lame-duck Congress, lawmakers on Wednesday confirmed the Trump administration’s nominees for science adviser and “drug czar,” following nearly two years in which those White House posts sat vacant.
The confirmation of Kelvin Droegemeier, a former University of Oklahoma professor, means the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy will have a director for the first time since the president’s inauguration in January 2017. Droegemeier, a meteorologist, has received largely positive reviews from the scientific community at large, including from John Holdren, the OSTP director during the Obama administration.
Under the Trump administration, the science office has seen its staff shrink and its role reduced, at one point leading a skeleton crew of former Obama administration staffers to step in and informally carry out some of its duties.
It remains to be seen, however, how big a role Droegemeier will play in an administration that has sometimes been skeptical of mainstream science, particularly on the issue of climate change. Beyond policy matters, the Trump White House has not followed through on its promise to continue the Obama-era tradition of a youth science fair each year, and has not pursued the 15-year tradition of hosting U.S. Nobel Prize laureates for an annual reception.
The Senate also confirmed James Carroll to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, giving the White House a top drug policy adviser amid a national epidemic in which 70,000 Americans die each year from drug overdoses. Carroll has filled the role in an acting position since February.
The Trump administration has identified the opioid crisis as a top priority, but lost its first ONDCP nominee to scandal and has in many cases sidelined the office while devoting much of its portfolio to Kellyanne Conway, one of the president’s top political advisers.
With a new class of legislators set to be sworn in on Thursday, the evening confirmations took place by voice vote in a nearly empty Senate — the product of a compromise between the chamber’s top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), and top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.).
When Congress reconvenes, its first task will to reopen a partially shuttered government. The current lapse in funding, the result of a dispute over funding for a controversial wall along the country’s southern border, has left most government health and science programs unaffected, but has forced much of the Food and Drug Administration to cease operations.