Arati Prabhakar will be the first woman, immigrant, and person of color confirmed to lead the White House’s science office following Senate approval on Thursday.
The Senate, in a 56-40 vote, confirmed Prabhakar, an engineer and former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as the next director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She will also serve as President Joe Biden’s science adviser, a role he elevated to a Cabinet-level position for the first time.
“Over the course of her career, Dr. Prabhakar’s leadership has propelled solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing American society,” Alondra Nelson, who’s been the acting OSTP director since February, said in a statement. Prabhakar also served as the first woman director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Prabhakar will likely assume her new roles within the next week or two, an OSTP spokesperson said. Nelson is expected to return to her role as OSTP’s deputy director for science and society.
Francis S. Collins, the former longtime NIH director who’s been serving as acting science adviser, will likely resume the short-lived retirement he started at the beginning of the year. Both assumed their acting roles when Eric Lander resigned in February after furor erupted over reports of bullying behavior toward members of his staff.
Biomedical research is a priority for Biden. Prabhakar will likely play a critical role in shaping those policies, such as the Cancer Moonshot goal of cutting the death rate in half over the next quarter century. The announcement comes a little more than a week after the White House announced Renee Wegrzyn as the inaugural director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, a new biomedical research agency that’s modeled after DARPA.
“As we move forward with our agenda of transformative investments in scientific research and development, an equitable STEM ecosystem, climate and energy solutions, competitiveness, and technological and economic security as a result of the Biden-Harris Administration’s landmark legislative achievements, we are fortunate to now benefit from her deep experience,” Nelson said of Prabhakar.