USDOT appoints first chief science officer in more than 4 decades

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Robert Hampshire web
Robert Hampshire has been named chief science officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation. 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). (Courtesy: University of Michigan)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on April 21 named Robert Hampshire, PhD, as the chief science officer for the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT). The appointment marks the first time since 1980 that the spot has been filled.

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The department has taken several steps to act on President Joe Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’ commitment to address the climate emergency. The department also announced it has begun work to reestablish its Climate Change Center and to restore public access to climate-related reports, program information and other scientific and technical information.

In his role as chief science officer, Hampshire will serve as an advisor to Buttigieg on science and technology issues. He is charged with ensuring that the USDOT’s research, development and technology programs are scientifically and technologically well-founded and conducted with integrity.

“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,” Buttigieg said. “We’re thrilled to officially name Dr. Hampshire as our chief science officer, and look forward to his contributions to this historic effort.”

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 doctorate from Princeton University.

“The reintroduction 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,” Hampshire said. “It is important that USDOT incorporate scientific research to advance climate change initiatives that are fair and equitable to all.”

According to a statement from the USDOT, the department’s actions stem from President Biden’s executive order on protecting public health and the environment, restoring science to tackle the climate crisis, and the memorandum on restoring trust in government through scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking.

The Climate Change Center will help coordinate the USDOT’s related research, policies and actions, and support the transportation sector in moving toward net-zero carbon emissions. The USDOT Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting was established during President Bill Clinton’s administration to serve as the multimodal focal point for information and technical expertise on transportation and climate change. The center has been dormant since early 2017.

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 removed after Jan. 21, 2017. All materials have been restored to public access.

The department will also redesignate a scientific integrity officer who will be responsible for research policy implementation and will report directly to the chief science officer.

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