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Science Leaders in Place for 118th Congress

MAR 30, 2023
The new Congress has shuffled the leadership of many key committees that draft policy and budgets for federal science agencies.
Will Thomas
Spencer R. Weart Director of Research in History, Policy, and Culture
Mitch Ambrose headshot
Director of FYI

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Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) speaking at a House Appropriations Committee meeting last year. He is now the committee’s lead appropriator for the Department of Energy. (Image credit – House Appropriations Committee)

Congress has finished selecting the committee leaders who will steer policy and budgets for science agencies for the next two years. There have been significant shifts in some key positions owing to retirements, shuffled assignments, and the Republican takeover of the House. Additional details are available in FYI’s Federal Science Leadership Tracker .

Appropriations Committees

The appropriations committees in the House and Senate each have 12 mirror-image subcommittees that develop annual spending proposals for federal agencies. Most of these subcommittees have science portfolios within their jurisdiction, but only a few focus closely on science. The Energy-Water subcommittees cover the Department of Energy and the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittees are responsible for NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The subcommittee for the Department of Health and Human Services often pays close attention to spending on the National Institutes of Health.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are steering the full Appropriations Committee in the Senate, following the retirements of Sens. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Richard Shelby (R-AL). Meanwhile, Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have swapped roles atop the House Appropriations Committee. The four are on good terms and Murray and Collins have pledged to work together to bring spending bills to the Senate floor, but partisan dynamics could still overwhelm any desire for a smooth path to a final outcome. House Republicans are poised to press hard this year to reduce overarching federal spending levels, setting up a potential standoff with the Senate.

Energy-Water Subcommittees

The new subcommittee chair in the House, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), replaces Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) as its top Republican. Fleischmann represents the district that is home to Oak Ridge National Lab and has been a vocal supporter of the national lab system and energy R&D more broadly, co-chairing caucuses dedicated to national labs, fusion energy, and advanced nuclear technology. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) remains the subcommittee’s lead Democrat.

On the Senate side, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) returns for a final term as subcommittee chair before she retires from Congress at the end of 2024. She has served as the subcommittee’s top Democrat since 2011, prioritizing DOE’s work in renewable energy and nuclear nonproliferation programs. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) returns as ranking member, having taken on the role after Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) retired two years ago. Representing a state with major interests in oil and natural gas production, Kennedy has criticized efforts to steer the U.S. energy portfolio away from fossil fuels.

Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittees

The new subcommittee chair on the House side is Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), who represents a rural district in eastern Kentucky. Rogers is the longest-serving of all current members of the House and has chaired the subcommittee once before as well as the full committee. He has professed an interest in space dating back to the Sputnik era and said he originally intended to pursue a university degree in physics before being dissuaded by the mathematics involved. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) remains the subcommittee’s top Democrat. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) respectively remain the chair and ranking member of the Senate subcommittee.

Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittees

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has replaced Sen. Murray as chair of the Senate subcommittee and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) is the new ranking member, replacing retired Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a longtime advocate for NIH. On the House side, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) is the new committee chair, replacing another longtime NIH supporter, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). DeLauro continues to be the top Democrat for both the subcommittee and the full committee.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee

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House Science Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). (Image credit – Bill Ingalls / NASA, Committee on House Administration)

The House Science Committee has a broad jurisdiction covering most science policy matters outside biomedical and defense R&D. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) has taken over as committee chair, having served as ranking member for the previous four years. During that time, he maintained cordial relations with the committee’s Democratic majority, resulting in bipartisan assent for major science policy provisions in the CHIPS and Science Act. Lucas has often focused on weather-related policy, pointing to his own agricultural background to underscore his appreciation of improved weather and climate forecasts. This year, he is planning to update a major 2017 weather research law and develop legislation that would make NOAA an independent agency .

The new ranking member, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), has long been a member of the committee, but in recent years has been more focused on other committee assignments. Leveraging her background in immigration law, she previously led the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, where she unsuccessfully advocated for creating a special visa pathway for STEM graduates. Lofgren has cited her interest in advancing nuclear fusion as one of the main reasons she chose to succeed now-retired Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) as the Democrats’ Science Committee leader.

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee

The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s jurisdiction includes NASA, NSF, and Commerce Department science agencies.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) returns as chair of the committee, which she has led since 2021. In the previous Congress, she was a lead negotiator for the CHIPS and Science Act and an outspoken supporter of its $52 billion in subsidies for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and R&D. This year, she plans to advance legislation that would provide long-term policy guidance to NASA. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) has taken over as chair of the committee’s Space and Science Subcommittee from Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO).

The committee’s new top Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), is likely to be more combative than his predecessor, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who is now ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. Cruz has already rallied against nominees for key agency positions and led a group of Republican senators in blasting the Biden administration for creating extra requirements for companies that accept semiconductor manufacturing subsidies, such as guaranteeing their employees access to childcare services.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

The Senate Energy Committee has jurisdiction over the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, except for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Returning as committee chair, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is emerging from a two-year period in which he was a pivotal dealmaker in passing both partisan and bipartisan laws that are providing hundreds of billions of dollars to accelerate adoption of clean energy technologies. He is now threatening to withhold support for the administration’s nominees to press it to quickly implement those laws’ domestic sourcing requirements and bolster fossil fuel production alongside renewable energy. The new chair of the committee’s Energy Subcommittee, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), prefers a far more aggressive approach to combating climate change, but Manchin will ultimately set the committee’s agenda.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) remains the committee’s top Republican. Although he is less likely than Manchin to support policies and nominees backed by Democrats, the two have similar outlooks on fossil fuels and have cooperated to advance the fortunes of nuclear energy. As an advocate for Wyoming’s uranium interests, Barrasso has focused on advancing new reactor designs and creating domestic supplies of the more-enriched uranium many of those designs call for.

Armed Services Committees

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Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) leads a subcommittee that oversees most Defense Department R&D programs as well as a select committee focused on strategic competition between the U.S. and China. (Image credit – U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann / DOD)

Oversight of Department of Defense R&D programs is conducted by a handful of subcommittees of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) is the new lead Republican for the House Cyber, Information Technologies, and Innovation Subcommittee and has expressed strong interest in accelerating the transition of technology prototypes into equipment procurement programs. He is also one of the longest-standing congressional proponents of protecting DOD-funded R&D from exploitation by the Chinese government, which will be a focal point of the new House committee on China that he also chairs.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is the subcommittee’s new lead Democrat and shares Gallagher’s concern with the military’s slow pace in fielding new technologies. Representing a Silicon Valley district, he has also expressed a desire to help DOD build bridges with tech companies.

The counterpart panel in the Senate is the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, where Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has replaced Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) as chair and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) returns as ranking member.

Each committee also has a Strategic Forces Subcommittee that covers space-based assets, missile defense, and nuclear weapons, including DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) is the House subcommittee’s new top Democrat and has begun to question DOD’s focus on hypersonic weaponry, suggesting that the department has not clearly articulated how it will use the technology and that such weapons are “fundamentally destabilizing.” However, Moulton has generally encouraged DOD to expand support for emerging technologies and basic research in his role as co-chair of the committee’s bipartisan Future of Defense Task Force, which released its final report in 2020 and a progress report last year.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) now chairs the House subcommittee, returning as its top Republican, and Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) respectively return as chair and ranking member of the Senate subcommittee.

House Select Committee on the CCP

House Republicans have established a new committee formally titled the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party, chaired by Rep. Gallagher. The committee does not have authority to advance legislation but will explore a range of issues that is apt to include competition in technology, intellectual property theft, and controls on academic exchanges.

Gallagher is a former Marine and holds a doctorate in international relations from Georgetown University. He has indicated the committee will chart how to “selectively decouple” the U.S. and Chinese economies, arguing that close economic engagement with the country has failed to result in a constructive relationship. Some Republicans have taken a hard line on such decoupling, calling for steps such as preventing Chinese students from studying science at U.S. universities. However, Gallagher and Committee Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) have signaled their desire to proceed in a bipartisan manner.

Intelligence Committees

Although much of its work is behind closed doors, the Senate Intelligence Committee has in recent years sought to raise public awareness about efforts by the Chinese government to exploit the U.S. research system. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), who return as its chair and ranking member, have conducted a “roadshow” to brief leaders in the academic and corporate sectors on the issue. They have also recently expressed interest in reforming the National Counterintelligence and Security Center to better protect key technologies and have been probing whether more should be done to vet foreign students and researchers. The committee is also interested in improving the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor science and technology advancements abroad .

Returning as its top Republican, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) now chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Jim Himes (D-TX) became the committee’s new top Democrat after Republicans expelled Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) from it. Himes previously led its Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research (STAR) Subcommittee, which explored ways intelligence agencies could better make use of new technologies. The new Republican majority has renamed that panel the National Security Agency and Cyber Subcommittee and it is now led by Reps. Darin LaHood (R-IL) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

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