Saturday, January 24, 2009

"A Loyal Bushie Burrows Into Obama's System"

Source: Elana Schor, TalkingPointsMemo (TPM), January 23, 2009.

Dr. Kathie Olsen has resigned her politically appointed position of Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation and assumed a career position of "senior advisor" in the NSF's Office of Information and Resource Management. She was apparently a career Senior Executive Service employee at NSF in the 1990's. Dr. Olsen was trained as a neuroscientist and worked in that field for many years.
Before becoming deputy director of the NSF, Olsen was the associate director of the Bush White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Her immediate boss there was Bush science adviser John Marburger.
The TPM article suggests that in that position "Olsen was at the forefront of the former president's systematic denial of the human causes of climate change." It also suggests that stepping down from the number two position in NSF to that of "senior advisor" she was burrowing into a career position.

According to her NSF biography:
Prior to OSTP, Olsen served as Chief Scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (May 1999-April 2002) and the Acting Associate Administrator for Biological and Physical Research (July 2000-March 2002).
One might wonder how a neuroscientist became Chief Scientist for NASA. Perhaps the answer lies in her Congressional service:

According to her NASA biography:
From February 1996 until November 1997, she served as a Brookings Institute Legislative Fellow and then as a NSF detailee in the Office of Senator Conrad Burns of Montana.
Conrad Burns was a three term Republican senator from Montana who was powerful due to his place on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and his chairmanship of the Interior subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Burns was selected by Time as one of "America's Five Worst Senators." The magazine dubbed him "The Shock Jock" and called him "serially offensive" for his many controversial statements during his career, such as a 1999 remark in which he called Arabs "ragheads." The magazine also criticized his "meager" legislative record and his legal problems involving Jack Abramoff.
Burns' rating by major think tanks and political action committees included:
  • American Conservative Union : 91%
  • American Civil Liberties Union: 0%
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce: 94%
  • National Education Association: 0%
  • League of Conservation Voters: 5%
  • Christian Coalition of America: 100%
  • American Land Rights Association: 100%
So Dr. Olsen, a neuroscientist, worked for a very conservative senator and then was appointed to be chief scientist in an agency that his committees oversaw, went from that position to the Office of Science and Technology policy, and then to Deputy Director of NSF as a political appointee, and is now returning to a much less influential career position in NSF.

This history is presented here because Dr. Olsen was one of 15 people chosen to work with five UNESCO staffers on the UNESCO Overall Review of Major Programs II and III, the natural sciences and social and human sciences programs.

One might wonder why UNESCO -- which does not have a neuroscience program nor a space science program -- would choose a neuroscientist who had been chief scientist of NASA to review UNESCO's natural science and social and human science programs. Might it have been susceptible to influence from the political appointees of the Bush administration? Might the Bush administration have wanted a "politically reliable" member on that important panel?

I would note that Dr. Olsen's former boss, John Marburger strongly endorsed the recommendations of the panel when he represented the United States in Ministerial Roundtable in 2007.

Perhaps the Obama administration appointees dealing with UNESCO should quickly review the proposed revisions to UNESCO's science programs.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed in this posting are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

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