State Department Appoints Top S&T Adviser After Long Vacancy
The State Department has selected maritime technologist Patricia Gruber to serve as its most senior science adviser, a prominent science and technology diplomacy role that has not been officially filled since 2021.
Gruber, whose appointment was announced last month, will directly advise Secretary of State Antony Blinken and work to build STEM capacity within the department, anticipate S&T trends that impact foreign policy, and build departmental relationships with scientists and technologists domestically and abroad.
Most recently, Gruber was the chief scientific officer for the Office of Naval Research’s global outreach arm, ONR Global, leading around 50 scientists and engineers who support international research collaboration and serve as technical liaisons to operational fleets. She also previously served as ONR’s director of research.
In addition to working for the government, Gruber has previously worked in the private sector and academia. She started her career at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories and Marconi Communications. She was also deputy director of the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University and vice president of maritime systems at Battelle, a nonprofit organization that operates many national labs. Gruber holds a doctorate in applied marine physics from the University of Miami.
In a press release, the State Department described Gruber’s appointment as a demonstration of Blinken’s “commitment to ensuring that scientific and technology expertise is infused into the work of the department at all levels.” Gruber takes over from Allison Schwier, who had been acting science and technology adviser since the beginning of the Biden administration and will now be Gruber’s deputy.
The role was also left vacant for a long period during the Trump administration, which waited until its final year to appoint Mung Chiang, then the engineering dean at Purdue University.
Blinken has stated that he wants to leave the State Department with stronger technology diplomacy capabilities than when he started. In a speech laying out his technology diplomacy vision in 2021, he said the department needs to become “much better at anticipating the foreign policy implications of the next wave of innovation, and the wave after that,” adding that he wants to “shape the strategic tech landscape, not just react to it.”
Blinken created an Office of the Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology in January to “provide a center of expertise and energy to develop and coordinate critical and emerging technology foreign policy,” with a focus on subjects such as biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and quantum information technologies, according to a department press release.
The department has not yet announced who will serve as the envoy, only naming historian Seth Center as deputy envoy. Blinken said at the office’s creation that it would work in close coordination with other bureaus and offices across the department that are engaging on technology topics central to foreign policy.