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Election brings changes to House S&T committee

The House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee will see several changes when the new Congress convenes next year, in the wake of the 6 November elections that returned President Obama to the White House.

For example, Republican Rep. Ralph Hall from Texas is expected to step down as chairman because of chair term limitations. His departure opens the way for either Rep. James Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, who is next in line in terms of seniority, or for Rep. Lamar Smith from Texas, who has reportedly expressed an interest in the chairmanship.

Sensenbrenner, who is currently vice chairman of the committee, sent a fact-finding letter to White House science adviser John Holdren earlier this year on the Obama administration’s safeguards for “dual use research” that can advance scientific knowledge but could also be misapplied to threaten public health and homeland security.

For his part, a few months ago Smith warned the research community that historic budget deficits will require a significant increase in cost-consciousness and compromise on the part of scientists. His remarks came at a forum sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Meanwhile, another long-time Republican member of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, Rep. Judy Biggert from Illinois, has been defeated by former Democratic Rep. Bill Foster, a former Fermi lab physicist. Biggert is a strong supporter of research, having co-founded and co-chaired Congress’ Research and Development Caucus.

But Foster is no stranger to science either. The former one-term congressman has played a leading role in several groundbreaking experiments in elementary particle physics over the last quarter century. He has also managed several multi-million dollar accelerator construction and research projects, and led teams of engineers and physicists to help build the latest round of Fermilab’s giant particle accelerators.

In other election developments, Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake—perhaps best known for introducing an amendment to the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill that would have prevented the National Science Foundation from funding political science research studies—has won his bid to join the Senate. Flake beat Democratic rival Richard Carmona, a former surgeon general.

On the Senate side, the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, is retiring and so is veteran member Rep. Olympia Snowe from Maine. The departures put Sen. Jim DeMint from South Carolina next in line to take over that role as top Republican on the committee, which has jurisdiction over science, engineering, and technology research and development and policy. DeMint is known as a fiscal conservative with a strong focus on reducing spending.