For the first time in nearly four decades, the U.S. Department of Transportation has appointed a Chief Science Officer.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg made the announcement on April 21, officially naming Robert Hampshire, Ph.D., as the first chief science officer for the United States Department of Transportation since 1980.

The announcement by the Department stems from the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to addressing the climate emergency and the President’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis and the Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking. 

Along with the appointment, the Department also announced that it has begun work to reestablish its Climate Change Center and is working to restore public access to climate-related reports, program information, and other scientific and technical information. 

“Climate resilience and environmental justice are at the heart of this Administration’s mission to build back better–and that effort must be grounded in scientific expertise,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “We’re thrilled to officially name Dr. Hampshire as our Chief Science Officer, and look forward to his contributions to this historic effort.”  

Hampshire will be responsible for research, development, and technology initiatives within the DOT and ensuring that programs are conducted with integrity.  In his role, he will also be responsible for advising Buttigieg on science and technology issues and overseeing the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Transportation Safety Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Hampshire was previously an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and at both the U-M Transportation Research Institute’s (UMTRI) Human Factors group and Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS). He earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

“The re-introduction of a Chief Science Officer underscores transportation’s key role in addressing the complexity and criticality of our dynamically changing climate. I look forward to working across all modes of transportation to address the immediate concerns, and to ensure our future transportation system is sustainable,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology Robert Hampshire. “It is important that USDOT incorporate scientific research to advance climate change initiatives that are fair and equitable to all.” 

Reestablishing the Climate Change Center will help coordinate the Department’s related research, policies, and actions and support the transportation sector in moving toward net-zero carbon emissions, stated the Department.  The “DOT Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting” has been dormant since 2017 but was originally established to serve as the center for information and technical expertise on transportation and climate change, coordinating climate-related research, policies, and actions.

The Department has assessed public websites and information repositories, including the National Transportation Library, and identified 24 websites and 33 reports and other publications which had been de-published after January 21, 2017. All of these materials have been restored to public access.

The Department will also re-designate a Scientific Integrity Officer, who will be responsible for research policy implementation and report directly to the Chief Science Officer.

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