Wicker Remarks at Nomination Hearing for Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Nominee Dr. Arati Phrabhakar

July 20, 2022

Click here to watch Wicker’s remarks. 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today delivered the following remarks during the nomination hearing for the Director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Nominee Dr. Arati Phrabhakar.

Remarks as delivered:

Thank you, Senator Cantwell. This hearing is likely to get heated today because the air conditioning isn’t working well. I’ve taken my coat off. On the other hand, today’s confirmation hearing for Dr. Arati Prabhakar to be Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy recognizes her distinguished career in both the public and private sectors, including as head of DARPA and NIST. 

The vacancy at OSTP resulted from the resignation of its previous Director.  A White House investigation concluded that Dr. Eric Lander engaged in bullying and intimidation of subordinates, and his behavior contributed to a toxic work culture at OSTP. This issue was raised and dismissed at first, but then verified.  If confirmed, and I expect she will be, Dr. Prabhakar’s first job will be making sure that everyone at OSTP is treated with fairness and dignity and that workplace standards are met.  I look forward to hearing how she plans to chart a new course for the future of OSTP.

Improving OSTP’s work culture will also require preventing any improper outside influence on a government agency.  A Politico report from March of this year detailed the outsized role played by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt during Mr. Lander’s tenure as OSTP Director.  We should applaud philanthropy in the service of scientific progress, but there is something unseemly about a well-connected billionaire’s foundation reportedly paying the salaries of OSTP staff and consultants indirectly.  

I expect Dr. Prabhakar will want to comment on this given her business ties with Eric Schmidt. I hope she can assure the committee that she will avoid conflicts of interest and undue outside influence over the nation’s scientific agenda, or the appearance thereof.     

The OSTP Director plays a critical role in advising the President on scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of a wide range of federal government activity.  The Director also coordinates science and technology policy across all federal agencies.  This position has become all the more significant after having been designated by the President to Cabinet level.

So, I want to thank Dr. Prabhakar for her commitment to public service, for meeting with us prior to this hearing, and for appearing before us today.  I expect this hearing will be informative and useful to the committee.  Thank you, Senator Cantwell.

Read the letter Senator Wicker wrote to President Biden in May urging him to fill this post immediately, which followed a previous bipartisan lettersent in April. 

Click here to read Senator Wicker’s statement on the White House nominee for OSTP Director.