FYI: Science Policy News

Trump Staffs Transition Teams for DOE and NASA

DEC 14, 2016
Although no one on the president-elect’s transition team has been publicly identified as a lead point of contact for science issues broadly or at the agency level, a few members of the landing teams for agencies including the Department of Energy and NASA have backgrounds in science and/or science policy.
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Director of FYI

Over the past two months, President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has been assembling agency-specific “landing teams” that are tasked with gathering information and recommending policy agendas and personnel selections for the incoming administration. The official transition website lists the landing team members announced to date here .

It is not yet clear how influential the DC-based landing teams will be with Trump’s New York-based inner circle of advisors. The landing team members are reportedly not in the running for Senate-confirmed positions, which if true, would mean that they may have little influence over future policy decisions. Nevertheless, the composition of the landing teams offer potential clues as to what policies the Trump administration may pursue.

No individual has been publicly identified as a lead point of contact for science issues broadly or at the agency level. However, a few members of the landing teams for agencies including the Department of Energy and NASA have backgrounds in science policy. The selection of former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head DOE as well as a controversial inquiry by the DOE landing team will be covered in a forthcoming FYI bulletin.

Department of Energy

Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, is leading the DOE transition team. One member of the team—Jack Spencer, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity—has written extensively about nuclear energy policy and energy R&D.

Notably, Spencer was co-author of a June 2016 report which recommended that the next president should eliminate the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, focus federal R&D on basic research, and reform the national lab system, among other actions. As reported in FYI #146 , another one of this report’s authors, James Carafano, is on the landing team for the Department of Homeland of Security. Spencer also contributed to a 2013 report on the national labs entitled “Reimagining the National Labs in the 21st Century Innovation Economy.”

The June report asserts that DOE is “notorious for spending R&D resources on commercial energy technologies that may be promising or exciting but are well beyond the constitutional role of the federal government,” and expresses skepticism about the value provided by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The report also argues that the labs should be given more independence and that the next president should “lead the way to consolidate labs and transfer others to non-federal entities, such as states, universities, or the private sector.”

The other landing team members are David Jonas, former general counsel of the National Nuclear Security Administration; William Greene, director of communications at DOE for Yucca Mountain during the George W. Bush administration; Mark Maddox, an acting assistant secretary for fossil energy at DOE during the George W. Bush administration; Travis Fisher and Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research; Martin Dannenfelser, Jr., a former staff member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Kelly Mitchell, a vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party.


Christopher Shank, until recently a senior staff member for the House Science Committee, is leading the NASA transition team. SpacePolicyOnline reports that he worked on space policy issues for the committee from 2001 to 2005 before joining the NASA leadership team during the tenure of Administrator Mike Griffin. He returned to Capitol Hill in 2011 to work as deputy chief of staff for Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and in 2013 rejoined the Science Committee, which Smith now chairs.

On Dec. 9, the transition team announced six additions to the landing team. Among them are Jack Burns , an astrophysics professor at University of Colorado Boulder and a vice president of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), an AIP Member Society. Burns was a member of AAS’s Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy for over a decade and served multiple terms as its chair. In a 2013 candidate statement prior to being elected as an AAS vice president, he noted that during his tenure the committee had been “proactive in rallying support for [the James Webb Space Telescope], for NASA’s planetary sciences, and for the grants program at the NSF.”

The other landing team members are Sandra Magnus, a Ph.D. materials scientist who is executive director of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics; Greg Autry, an entrepreneurship professor at the University of Southern California; Steve Cook, a vice president of corporate development at Dynetics; Rodney Liesveld, a former senior policy advisor for NASA; and Jeff Waksman, a Ph.D. physicist who was a research fellow for Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ).

Other names of note

A few other members of the agency landing teams have science policy backgrounds including—but not limited to—the following:

  • Kathy Benedetto, a geologist and former staff member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Ned Mamula, a Ph.D. petroleum geologist and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, are on the landing team for the Interior Department.
  • L. Roger Mason, Jr., a senior vice president for national security programs at Noblis, is on the landing team for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Mason has a Ph.D. in engineering physics and has served on the National Academies’ Intelligence Community Studies Board.
  • Harlan Watson, a Ph.D. physicist who was a longtime staff member of the House Science Committee and the State Department’s top official for climate change-related negotiations during the George W. Bush administration, is on the landing team for the Environmental Protection Agency.
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