PCAST’s members investigate the country’s pressing scientific questions at the president’s direction. Typically, academic members of a PCAST outnumber its industry scientists. This was true for the councils under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Industry veterans dominate Trump’s inaugural PCAST, as they did under George W. Bush. Only one of Trump’s seven new PCAST members works in academia. Two members do not have doctoral degrees.
The newly announced members are: Catherine Bessant, the chief technology officer at Bank of America; H. Fisk Johnson, chief executive at S.C. Johnson & Son; IBM Research director Dario Gil; Cyclo Therapeutics Vice President Sharon Hrynkow; A.N. Sreeram, Dow Chemical’s chief technology officer; HP Labs’ chief technology officer Shane Wall; and K. Birgitta Whaley, an expert in quantum information at the University of California at Berkeley.
Trump’s PCAST will eventually expand to 16 members, according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, including additional academic scholars.
George H.W. Bush chartered the first PCAST in 1990, following a tradition dating back to World War II of soliciting scientists and engineers to advise the White House. Trump’s PCAST comes unusually late in his administration. George W. Bush and Clinton announced their first waves of PCAST appointees within their first year as president. Obama named several scientists to his PCAST in December 2008, while president-elect.
During the Obama administration, PCAST issued 40 reports on topics such as drinking water safety, forensic science and data privacy.
A landmark 2012 PCAST report recommended freeing parts of the radio frequency spectrum that belonged to the government. The Federal Communications Commission adopted spectrum sharing in 2015, and commercial trials are underway; Google tested new wireless technology on the 3.5 GHz band, once restricted to Navy systems, at four NASCAR races in 2017.
After PCAST recommended in 2015 that some hearing aids should be available over-the-counter, the Food and Drug Administration began a regulatory process to allow their sale. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) cited the PCAST report when she introduced legislation in 2017 to support nonprescription hearing aids.