Short List For Obama Science Adviser Expected in "Weeks at Most"

The most prominent scientist in President-elect Barack Obama's transition team says that the group reviewing the White House science shop is under tight pressure to make suggestions for who should be the science adviser to the new president. Chemist Mario Molina told ScienceInsider in an interview that his four-person squad, inspecting the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is expected  to provide transition staff with the names of qualified candidates as well as rationales for each "in a matter of weeks."

A Nobel prize–winning climate expert from the University of California, San Diego, Molina says the team is seeking candidates who follow "the sentiments of statements President-elect Obama said on the campaign." (In an October letter to the National Academies, Obama said he'd install an "exceptionally talented" science adviser at the level of assistant to the President. That's a higher status—and presumably more influence—than the current science adviser has.) Molina says his team will work to help hire a "high-level science adviser hopefully close to the Cabinet level ... but all we can do is make suggestions."

Molina and his colleagues on the review team, who include former Clinton administration officials Rosina Bierbaum and Tom Kalil and Federation of American Scientists staff member Michael Stebbins, will also provide policy guidance and "strategic ideas" to the transition staff on how to make them happen. Current White House science adviser Jack Marburger eliminated two deputy positions in the office in 2001, which some critics say reduced the clout of the science adviser's team. Molina says that was a mistake. He adds: "It's not just the number of people in the team but how effectively their input is integrated in the White House."

But Molina, who keeps a working laboratory in San Diego as well as a nonprofit environmental organization in Mexico City, says he is not interested in the science adviser spot. "I think I can be most effective outside the government," he says.