The contest to become the next leader of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is heating up. Three Representatives are vying for the position, which will be vacated by current chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) at the end of this year. All three congressman have served on the committee for more than twenty years.

A Texan could once again chair the committee if Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is selected. Smith currently chairs the Judiciary Committee, but is facing a term limit. Under his leadership, Congress passed a bipartisan patent reform bill last year. He also played a central role in a failed attempt this fall to reform immigration laws affecting scientists and engineers. NASA and energy are other issues of interest to the congressman.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) is the committee’s current vice-chairman. He chaired the committee from 1997-2001. Sensenbrenner more recently served as the senior Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, a post that he used to broadcast his skepticism about climate change. The congressman told ScienceInsider that he would want the House Science Committee to be a more active player in Congress, “particularly in terms of how to stretch the science research dollars at a time of obvious austerity.” Another issue of keen interest is space; Sensenbrenner was active in that policy area during his previous term as science chair.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is an active member of the committee who has previously chaired two of its subcommittees. His skepticism of human contributions to climate change and criticism of China are well known. Among his priorities for the committee would be reauthorization of NASA and the National Science Foundation, as well as international collaboration on science. Rohrabacher’s legislative interests also include aerospace and wise use of government funds.

Hall has been the top Republican on the panel for almost six years. He served as ranking member for four years before becoming chair in 2011 when the Republicans gained a majority in the House. Rules set by the House Republicans limit members of their caucus to serving as chair and/or ranking member for no more than six years. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is the panel’s ranking member; she is expected to retain that position in the new Congress. The Republican caucus will select committee chairs this month after the House Republican Steering Committee puts forth its recommendations.


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