President Joe Biden has nominated the first woman and person of color to serve as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and his top science and technology adviser.
Biden's nominee, Arati Prabhakar, has spent her career both in the private and public tech sectors. She served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 2012 to 2017, as well as director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology from 1993 to 1997. Prabhakar spent 15 years as a company executive and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, leading research and development projects to deployment.
Prabhakar has been nominated to replace OSTP's former director, Eric Lander, who resigned in February amid reports he bullied and harassed OSTP staff. Before his resignation, Lander and OSTP staff began working on an "AI bill of rights" to protect consumers by providing transparency into algorithmic processes.
Prabhakar spoke on her experience and how she views the role of OSTP director before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during her nomination hearing Wednesday.
"For many decades, American science and technology has been the most powerful engine for innovation in history," she said during the hearing. "That's an achievement that did not happen by accident. OSTP is at the heart of making sure that U.S. science and technology leadership endures in this very complex century that we're living in."
Senators praise Prabhakar's experience
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), committee chair, highlighted the importance of the role of top science adviser during Wednesday's hearing.
"The position to which you have been nominated is charged with advising the president on a broad range of scientific and technological policies to address national problems," she said. "We are at a critical moment when science and innovation has never been more important to our nation's health and economic competitiveness."
Cantwell said Prabhakar's credentials and accomplishments set her apart as a "true trailblazer."
Arati Prabhakar Nominee, OSTP Director
Among those accomplishments, Cantwell said during Prabhakar's time as director at DARPA, the agency prototyped a system for detecting nuclear and radiological material before bombs could be built and developed tools to detect human trafficking in the dark web.
"You have led two federal research and development agencies and worked with startups, large companies, universities, government labs, nonprofits, across a wide variety of sectors to create powerful new solutions for our critical challenges," she said.
Cantwell said she believes Prabhakar is the "right person" to lead OSTP, as well as help implement the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. The Senate bill focuses on promoting U.S. competitiveness in science and technology.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he "strongly" recommends Prabhakar for the role.
"Dr. Prabhakar has got, clearly, an extensive background," he said. "She was the first woman to receive an applied physics Ph.D. from Caltech, the first woman to lead NIST, and, if confirmed, would be the first woman and woman of color to lead OSTP."
Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.