The demographic makeup of the presidentially appointed body that oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF) skewed toward white men under former President Donald Trump. But last week, President Joe Biden took a big step toward restoring its previous diversity.
On 13 January, Biden announced the pending appointment of seven women and one man for the eight vacancies on the National Science Board (NSB). The new class, which includes five scientists of color, will give the 24-member board a roster that features 10 women, three Black scientists, and three Latino scientists. The current 16-member roster only included three women, no Black scientists, and one Latino scientist.
“The president’s appointments will make this the most diverse National Science Board in history,” says Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and assistant to the president for science and technology.
NSB plays a unique role among federal agencies by both setting policy for the $10 billion NSF and weighing in on important issues affecting the entire research enterprise. Its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report provides massive amounts of data for politicians setting the direction of U.S. science policy, as well as informing a general audience.
The board’s members serve 6-year terms, with one-third replaced every 2 years. During Trump’s tenure, he chose 12 men and four women to fill 16 vacancies on the board. Of that group, none was Black and one was Latino.
In addressing that imbalance, Biden dipped into the pool of previous board members to fill part of the new class. Math educator Deborah Ball and plant biologist Vicki Chandler were appointed by then-President Barack Obama in 2012 and 2014, respectively, but were not reappointed when their terms ended in 2018 and 2020. (Board members are allowed to serve two terms before rotating off, and many do.)
The new class, which will serve until May 2028, was Biden’s second opportunity to reshape the board. Last year he reappointed two board members—one man, one woman—to a second term. The remaining number of vacancies was larger than normal because two NSB members left in 2021 to join his administration: chemist Geraldine Richmond to become undersecretary for science at the Department of Energy, and planetary scientist Maria Zuber to be co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.