President Clinton would be hard-pressed to have picked abetter science adviser than Jack Gibbons, who has been directorof the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) forthe past 13 years.
Gibbons, who Clinton tabbed at the end of December, is laudedon Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle, as well as fromwithin the biotechnology community and by former colleaguesat OTA. The praise is effusive from all quarters for hisknowledge, integrity, ability to communicate technology tolaymen and skills in dealing with people.
"President Clinton has made an excellent choice in JackGibbons," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Democrat George E. Brown Jr. of California concurred. "As amember of the OTA Board, I have worked with Director JackGibbons since he first came to the Office of TechnologyAssessment in 1979," said the chairman of the Committee onScience, Space and Technology. The nomination "is an especiallywelcome move to Congress, which has had the benefit of Jack'sgood advice on science and technology for more than a decade,"Brown said.
According to Bill Small, director of the Association ofBiotechnology Companies (ABC), "Jack Gibbons is a very smartguy, and I think he's going to be a terrific asset to theindustry."
"Gibbons has that rare blend of being able to understandtechnology, and then translate that information so thatdecision-makers can understand it," said Zsolt Harsanyi, vicechairman of the London-based biopharmaceutical company,Porton International plc.
These qualities, said Hatch, "have been invaluable in providingtimely information from which important policy issues havebeen decided."
Gibbons, 63, received a doctorate in physics from DukeUniversity, and prior to coming to OTA, directed the Energy,Environment and Resources Center at the University ofTennessee. He had no trouble dealing with the broad range ofscience and technology he faced at OTA. "He is extremely quickto pick things up," said Gretchen Kolsrud, a senior associate atOTA who ran the Biological Applications Program earlier inGibbons' tenure as director.
Gibbons' position at OTA prepared him well for the job ofscience adviser, Kolsrud added. "He's had to deal with the factsof both science and technology, to cover the consequences ofvarious actions."
But will Gibbons be the administration's point man onbiotechnology? A joke during the Reagan administration was,"Does the President have a science adviser?" The answer was,"Yes, and he calls him 'governor,' " -- a clear reference to JohnSununu, who preempted the real science adviser, Al Bromley.
"The science advisory position has been important forbiotechnology in some previous administrations," said Small."But it remains to be seen what impact it will have in thisadministration."
Gibbons will be Clinton's most important adviser onbiotechnology, Harsanyi asserted. "He's had particular exposureto biotechnology because of the large number of assessmentsOTA has done. There is no question in my mind he is theindividual with the best grasp of the issues. And by virtue ofthe position he's had with respect to Congress, Gibbons will berecognized as such."
Nonetheless, a committee staffer on Capitol Hill called Gibbons"retiring," and said he is "content to provide the backgroundand analysis, but has not been interested in taking theleadership role." Look to Gore, said the staffer. Nonetheless, headded that according to rumor, Gibbons was Gore's pick, andsaid that the two Tennesseeans have known each other formany years.
Between the vice president and the science adviser, it may notmatter who takes the lead. Harsanyi said Gore shares Gibbons'fair, objective approach to scientific and technological issues,and is one of the few representatives who really listens athearings. Under the new administration, biotechnology shouldfind itself in the sun.
-- David Holtzman Special to BioWorld
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.