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The U.S. election is over. Who will hold key science leadership jobs?

It’s finally over. Come January, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the new president, and dozens of freshly elected lawmakers will join the new Congress (the 115th).

What will the election results mean for the leadership of the key agencies and congressional committees that shape U.S. science funding and policy?

Here’s a quick guide to who is in, who is out, and who is not going anywhere.

The Administration

Typically, a new president means an entirely new cast of cabinet members and political appointees—some 4000 senior positions across the federal government. Already, President Barack Obama has said he will ask his appointees to submit resignation letters that will take effect on Inauguration Day, 20 January.

That will clear the way clear for Trump to appoint his own science team, starting with a new White House science adviser and the leaders of science agencies. They include cabinet-level positions, such as the head of the Department of Energy (DOE); leaders of independent agencies including NASA; and the heads of the National Institutes of Health (part of the Department of Health and Human Services), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (which belong to the Commerce Department). All of these positions also require Senate confirmation, which can take time.

By tradition, however, the head of one major science agency—the National Science Foundation (NSF)—doesn’t automatically step down when the White House gets a new occupant. Although the NSF director serves at the pleasure of the president, the job also comes with a 6-year term. That means France Córdova, who was confirmed in March 2014, might remain until the runup to the next presidential election in 2020.

Speculation has already begun about who Trump might pick for most of the science leadership posts, but the campaign has offered few hard hints. And some science lobbyists wonder, given the Trump campaign's few apparent connections to the scientific community, how they will recruit candidates. "Where are they going to pull from?," asks Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs at American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. "With a more establishment Republican candidate you could maybe draw back to previous adminstrations and advisers. I just don’t know where the names are going to come from ... from an agenda setting standpoint [that] is the big unknown." Rumors do abound on his possible pick of energy secretary, with several oil and gas executives reportedly in the mix, including Harold Hamm, the head of Oklahoma-based Continental Resources, a leading fracking firm.


Republicans maintained control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, meaning they will appoint all committee chairs, hold a majority of seats on every legislative panel, and have extensive control over what legislation comes to a vote. In the House, Republicans will control at least 236 seats, a comfortable majority (the party now has 247). In the Senate, Republicans will have a smaller edge: at least 51 seats, and at most 52.

Senate Democrats have so far picked up two seats, in Illinois, where Tammy Duckworth defeated Republican incumbent Mark Kirk, and in New Hampshire, where Democrat challenger Maggie Hassan has declared victory over incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte. In Louisiana, Republican John Kennedy will face Democrat Foster Campbell in a December runoff election.

Although Republicans will continue to control the Senate, there will be changes in the leadership of some science-related legislative panels.

On the Environment and Public Works committee, for example, Senate rules prevent current chair James Inhofe (R–OK)—a prominent critic of climate science—from serving another term. A likely replacement is Senator John Barasso (R–WY), who like Inhofe is a strong supporter of the fossil fuel industry. The panel’s senior Democrat, Barbara Boxer (D–CA), is retiring; many Congress watchers expect her to be replaced by Tom Carper (D–DE), an outspoken advocate for government action on climate change.

On the Senate appropriations panel—which sets federal spending—the head of the subpanel that sets the budget of the National Institutes of Health survived a re-election scare. Senator Roy Blunt (R–MO) held off an unexpectedly strong challenge from Democrat Jason Kander. Blunt has been a strong supporter of spending on biomedical research.

The appropriations panel will be losing its senior Democrat, Barbara Mikulski (D–MD), a strong advocate for spending on space science and other fields, who is retiring. It is not clear who will replace her; possibilities includes Senators Patrick Leahy (D–VT), Dianne Feinstein (D–CA), Patty Murray (D–WA), and Jon Tester (D–MT).  

In the House of Representatives, one big change will come atop the Appropriations Committee. Chair Harold Rogers (R–KY) is term-limited. His likely replacement is Representative Rodney Frelinghysen (R–NJ), who has extensive experience working on science-related budget issues.

Another leadership change will occur on the House Energy and Commerce committee, where Representative Fred Upton (R–MI) is term-limited. The panel has a broad purview, including environmental issues and aspects of biomedical research. Possible replacements include Representatives Joe Barton (R–TX), John Shimkus (R–IL), and Greg Walden (R–OR). Barton led the panel from 2004 to 2007 and served as its senior Republican from 2007 to 2009, who has been a critic of the conduct federal science agencies in the past. 

With reporting by Jocelyn Kaiser.