Disclosing one of the worst-kept secrets in science policy circles, Rita Colwell announced today that she is stepping down as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) before her 6-year term ends in August. The White House immediately named Arden Bement, currently head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as acting director of the $5.5 billion agency.
Colwell said that on 21 February she will lead a new Washington-based life sciences subsidiary of Canon USA, an arm of the Japanese camera and copying giant. Although her departure from NSF had been rumored for several weeks (ScienceNOW, 26 January), she had repeatedly denied any intent to leave her presidentially appointed post early. Today, however, Colwell said that she decided to join Canon last September and that her new employer showed "extraordinary patience" in allowing her to remain until the release of President George W. Bush's proposed 2005 budget earlier this month.
"I've enjoyed it immensely," she said about her 5½ year tenure at NSF. "It's the best science agency in the world. But this is an exciting opportunity." She will also hold appointments at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, where she will continue her work on reducing the burden of infectious diseases in the developing world.
Colwell announced her resignation during testimony before the House Science Committee on the president's request, which seeks only a 3% increase for NSF despite a 2002 law that endorses a 5-year doubling of the agency's budget. The panel's chair, Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), led the hearing room in a standing ovation for the 69-year-old microbiologist, and every legislator in the room, by turn, praised her leadership.
Bement, 71, is a materials engineer with a distinguished career in government, industry, and academia. He will retain his post at NIST, which he assumed 2 years ago, and plans to return there once a permanent NSF director is nominated and approved by the Senate. Joseph Bordogna will remain as deputy NSF director. "We know that NSF will be in good hands under his leadership," Boehlert said about Bement, who attended the hearing but did not testify, "but we want him back at NIST as soon as possible."