It was a busy week on Capitol Hill for President Trump, with news on Monday of bold plans for his Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 presidential budget and three of his least contentious Cabinet nominees advancing in the Senate. According to White House officials, the president’s FY 2018 budget proposal (which is slated to be released in full on March 16) would increase military spending by $54 billion and cut nondefense discretionary programs (those funded by Congress on an annual basis, such as education, scientific research, infrastructure, national parks, and environmental protection) by the same amount, worrying agencies that support these programs, including the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. While it is not a given that the House and Senate’s appropriation bills align with the president’s budget request, the document serves as a marker for White House priorities and policy initiatives.
Political newcomer and billionaire investor Mr. Wilbur Ross was confirmed by a Senate vote (72-27) to be Secretary of the Department of Commerce (DOC). Secretary Ross received support from both Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John Thune (SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (FL), who praised his background in the steel, textile, automotive, and coal industries as indicative of a business savviness he will bring to the department. As head of the DOC, Secretary Ross has wide-ranging duties, including managing industries important to trade and ports and overseeing NOAA. During his confirmation hearing, he acknowledged support for the agency but avoided direct answers regarding climate change and scientific integrity policies. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, who advanced by a 62-37 vote to lead the Department of Energy (DOE), will take the helm of managing national laboratories and sponsoring more physical science research than any other federal agency. Despite tepid bipartisan support, there was concern over Secretary Perry’s past statements denying climate change and advocating to abolish the DOE itself. Senator Tom Udall (NM) released a statement in which he told the secretary that he should start his job by assuring scientists “he supports them and their work, including their past work on climate change, and that he will ensure they won’t be penalized or a target for political persecution.” Over in the Department of Interior (DOI), nominee Representative Ryan Zinke (MT-At Large), a former Navy SEAL, was also confirmed (67-31). With the presidential cabinet beginning to take shape and key energy and environment posts filled, it is time for the newly minted members to get to work. Secretary Zinke did so in style by arriving to his first day at work on horseback with a cowboy hat perched on his head, riding a mount from the National Park Service’s stables on the National Mall to the Department of the Interior.