Former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has accepted an offer from the incoming Obama Administration to become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to media reports today.
Daschle served in the Senate for 18 years before losing his seat in 2004. He then became an adviser to Alston & Bird, a Washington, D.C., law firm, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Daschle supported President Bill Clinton's failed push for universal health care in 1993, and he recently wrote a book proposing an expansion of health coverage largely through private insurers. An early supporter of President-elect Barack Obama, Daschle is also expected to lead a team that will put together a health care proposal to submit to Congress.
Daschle became involved in several scientific issues in the Senate. He helped push for bills to lift federal limits on human embryonic stem cell research, for example, while expressing concerns about research cloning. Daschle also led an effort to rescue the Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota for use as an underground scientific laboratory (Science, 15 June 2001, p. 1979). A proposal to fund the lab is awaiting action by the National Science Foundation.
Daschle had another brush with science in 2001, after his office received one of the deadly anthrax letters. He became a critic of the federal investigation, including its recent conclusion that an Army scientist was responsible for the attacks (ScienceNOW, 16 September).
In addition to health care, top issues to watch at HHS include the National Institutes of Health budget and Obama's plans to lift federal limits on human embryonic stem cell research. Whether Daschle is confirmed by the Senate may hinge on possible concerns about his wife's career as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist.