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Bullet policy · Nov 23, 2020

Lawmakers Raise Questions about New NIST Appointee

House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Haley Stevens (D-MI) have criticized the appointment of Dr. Jason Richwine, an independent public policy analyst, to a new senior role at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

In a November 17, 2020 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the lawmakers questioned the creation of a new senior-level position within the Department of Commerce, namely the Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, and the appointment of Dr. Richwine to that role without providing notice to congressional committees.

The lawmakers also raised concerns about Dr. Richwine’s “anachronistic IQ-based ranking of races in order to support his anti-immigration beliefs, leaning on debunked pseudoscience that has been used for centuries to justify colonialism, slavery, and segregation.” The letter cites blog posts he has written for a white supremacist website, “arguing that Hispanic Americans will be more prone to criminality in the future.” The lawmakers assert that Richwine holds “beliefs and actions [that] are plainly disqualifying from federal service” and argue that his “educational and professional background are plainly inadequate for carrying out the responsibilities of senior leadership at NIST.” The letter notes that Richwine has “no apparent applied experience in the physical sciences, engineering, government, or public administration and has never authored or contributed to a peer-reviewed publication.”

Being a political appointee, it is unlikely that Richwine will continue in his role under a future Biden Administration. However, Science Insider reports that scientists are concerned about a recent Administrative Order signed by Secretary Ross, which designates Richwine’s position as the successor to the NIST Director. Under the previous policy, the Associate Director for Laboratory Operations, a career official and not a political appointee, would take over NIST leadership if the Director left or was removed.

Johnson and Stevens have requested answers within two weeks to several questions in their letter to Ross, including: “Did the Department conduct any analysis to support the requirement for a new Deputy Undersecretary position prior to establishing it?”