President Biden picks Arati Prabhakar as top White House science adviser

Following Senate confirmation, Dr. Arati Prabhakar will be the first Indian-American, the first woman and person of color to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, June 23, 2022 – President Joe Biden has nominated Indian-American engineer and applied physicist Dr. Arati Prabhakar to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

When confirmed by the Senate to this important cabinet post, she will serve as the president’s chief adviser on science and technology. 

It is an historic nomination! Prabhakar will be the first Indian-American, the first woman and person of color to head the OSTP, and the second person of Indian descent to serve in Biden’s cabinet together with Vice President Kamala Harris.

It is expected that Prabhakar will sail through her confirmation hearing as she was unanimously confirmed by the senate to head the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the first woman to hold that position, where she ably led from 1993 to 1997. She then spent 15 years in Silicon Valley as a company executive and venture capitalist before accepting another federal leadership position. From 2012 to 2017, she served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which kick-started the development of a rapid response mRNA vaccine platform enabling the fastest-ever safe and effective vaccine development in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Dr. Prabhakar is a brilliant and highly respected engineer and applied physicist and will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy to leverage science, technology and innovation to expand our possibilities, solve our toughest challenges, and make the impossible possible”, Biden said, announcing his stellar pick on Tuesday.

“I share Dr. Prabhakar’s belief that America has the most powerful innovation machine the world has ever seen”, he added.

India-born Prabhakar migrated to America at the young age of three, with her family, settling first in Chicago and then relocating to Texas when she was ten years old. She graduated in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University and later became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology, where she also earned an M.S. in electrical engineering.

Prominent Indian-Americans as well as leading community organizations have hailed the president’s key nomination.

Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington commended Biden for making “a great decision” in tapping Prabhakar for the top science and technology post.

“I look forward to seeing all the good Arati Prabhakar will do as the White House science adviser, and as the first woman of color and first immigrant to hold the position”, she tweeted.

Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation, said in a statement he is “delighted by the announcement of Arati Prabhakar’s nomination to be OSTP director. She will bring breadth and depth of experience in research and innovation as well as leadership acumen from her experiences in federal agencies, academia, and industry”, he noted.

“Her experience and abilities will be a great asset in addressing a range of challenges and seizing a number of opportunities”, Panchanathan added.

Neil Makhija, executive director of Indian American Impact conveyed in a press release that the advocacy group “is thrilled to learn that President Biden intends to nominate Dr. Arati Prabhakar as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). We applaud the president for his historic decision, which uplifts not only the exceptionally qualified Dr. Prabhakar, but all South Asians and Asian Americans who aspire to reach new heights and become leaders within public service and the scientific community”, he said.

Makhija expressed confidence that Prabhakar “will bring brilliance, determination and diverse leadership to her historic post as a member of the president’s cabinet”.

AAPI Victory Alliance executive director Varun Nikore gushed, “It’s incredible to see the president nominate Dr. Prabhakar to be the first woman, first person of color, and the first immigrant to lead OSTP as we observe Immigrant Heritage Month this June”.

He noted in a press communique that Biden’s nominee “has been a trailblazer in every aspect of her career, from being the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology to being the first woman to lead NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and then later was appointed to run the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Our country is only starting to recover from the pandemic, so we know the country is in good hands under her leadership”, Nikore stated.

“We applaud the president for continuing to diversify his cabinet with Dr. Prabhakar’s nomination. AAPI Victory Alliance has been working with our partners to ensure the administration upholds values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in staffing the federal government, so we’re pleased to see the president respond by nominating the most diverse slate of appointees in history”, he said.

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