Computing Expert Steve Binkley to Become DOE Deputy Director for Science Programs

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Publication date: 
7 October 2016

Steve Binkley, currently head of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, will become the department’s deputy director for science programs this November. Patricia Dehmer is stepping down from that role on Nov. 10 after a long and distinguished career at DOE.

On Nov. 10, Patricia Dehmer is retiring from her role as the Department of Energy’s deputy director for science programs, the highest science-related position in the department’s Office of Science not requiring Senate confirmation. Steve Binkley, currently the head of DOE’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research, will take her place.

In his new role, Binkley will be responsible for overseeing the Office of Science’s six research programs (Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, Advanced Scientific Computing Research, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics) as well as evaluating existing and proposed new facilities. A full description of the roles and responsibilities of this position is available here.

Dehmer helped transform the Office of Science

Patricia DehmerDehmer’s history with DOE spans many decades. After receiving her Ph.D. in Chemical Physics from the University of Chicago in 1972, she became a postdoctoral fellow at Argonne National Laboratory. She rose through the ranks at Argonne and became the head of DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) in 1995, serving in that position until she assumed her current role in 2007.

During her tenure as BES director, she oversaw a doubling of the program’s budget and $3 billion in major construction projects, including the Spallation Neutron Source, five Nanoscale Science Research Centers, the Linac Coherent Light Source, and the National Synchrotron Light Source II. She also initiated the practice of conducting Basic Research Needs Workshops, which ultimately inspired the formation of the current network of Energy Frontier Research Centers.
For about a third of her nine years as the top career official in the Office of Science, Dehmer served as its acting director, most recently in the time between the directorships of William Brinkman and Cherry Murray. In a letter announcing Dehmer’s departure, Murray highlighted actions Dehmer took to better integrate, manage, and evaluate activities across the Office of Science and DOE during her time as deputy director for science programs:

I consider one of Pat’s most important accomplishments to be the creation and staffing of the [Deputy Director for Science Programs] office, which now directs program activities that transcend what individual offices themselves are able to do. With more than a dozen SC [Office of Science] and DOE working groups, this office now oversees a host of activities including user facility data collection and analysis, metrics, and policies; the impacts of research and facility investments through data analytics; international agreements; and the management of SC and DOE prizes and awards. This work, particularly on data analytics, must continue and SC must be an early adopter of new concepts and tools as they become available.

ScienceInsider has reported further on her legacy.

Binkley’s career bridges science and security, with a focus on chemistry and computing

Steve BinkleyBinkley has spent much of his career working at the interfaces of the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories. After receiving his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University in 1978, Binkley worked for Sandia National Laboratories from 1980 to 1999. During his time there, he managed the Combustion Research Facility as well as Sandia’s Office of Science Program, overseeing research in disciplines including computer science, chemistry, materials science, geoscience, and combustion science.

In a 1998 article describing his connections to a winner of that year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, Binkley described the origins of his interest in theoretical chemistry and computing: "I liked big computers, I liked big codes, and I liked to work with experimental groups [to verify models]. It's a thrill to see you've got it right. I got totally hooked; chemistry is at the heart of just about everything."

From 1999 to 2003, Binkley served as a technical advisor to NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs. He then left DOE for three years to serve as the deputy director for technology in the Department of Homeland Security’s Operations Directorate, where he led the development of situational awareness systems for law-enforcement organizations. In 2006, he returned to DOE as a senior technical advisor to then-Under Secretary of Energy for Science Raymond Orbach and became head of the Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research in 2013.

Binkley is taking the helm at the Office of Science at a time when maintaining leadership in high performance computing has become a top priority both within DOE and nationally. Over the past year, he has been the top official for the Office of Science’s role in the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), which was established by a July 2015 executive order. He also served as a co-chair of the National Science and Technology Council’s Interagency Working Group on Quantum Information Science (QIS), which issued a report this July (summarized in FYI #96). In this report, the working group notes that QIS is expected to be integral to achieving the goals of the NSCI.

Murray highlighted Binkley’s broad experience in announcing his new role:

Steve is ideally suited for this position by virtue of his background in positions of leadership in DOE, including in NNSA, the Department of Homeland Security, and Sandia National Laboratories; his broad and deep knowledge of the Office of Science programs and laboratories; his wide interagency and intra-DOE collaborations and experiences; and his personal knowledge of high performance computing, data analytics, networking, and cybersecurity.

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