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Bill Richardson's Big Picture

When President-elect Barack Obama introduced New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson yesterday as his nominee to be secretary of commerce, both men emphasized that getting Americans back to work would be job #1. But don't be surprised if Richardson, a former secretary of energy under Bill Clinton, also finds a way to strengthen the science agencies within his realm.

Despite its name, the Department of Commerce has a sizable research portfolio as the home of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It also houses the U.S. Patent Office, the Census Bureau, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. A former aide predicts that Richardson, an early casualty in the Democratic presidential primary, will push his staff for ideas to build up the department in ways that will also bolster science.

"He's always loved the idea of linking science to economic development," says the aide. "He's done it in New Mexico, and he did it at Energy." But don't look for Richardson, who at one point had hoped to be named secretary of state or even Obama's vice president, to come up with the plan himself. As his track record shows, he doesn't do details.