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Dispute over Reed’s location brightens Senate hearing

By Chris Lydgate ’90 on September 19, 2013 09:52 AM

Dr. Beth Robinson ’82 at Senate confirmation hearing

Stalwart correspondent Ed Mills ’80 drew our attention to a lighthearted exchange that took place this week during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by Senator Ron Wyden [D-Oregon]. The committee was meeting to consider several of President Obama’s nominations—including Dr. Beth Robinson ’82 to the post of Under Secretary of Energy.

Committee hearings not exactly famous for their levity. When they aren’t immobilized by partisan wrangling they tend to be--how shall we put it?--less than riveting. Approximately two and a half hours into the hearing, however, the session was enlivened by a surprising geographic issue:

Dr. Robinson to Senator Cantwell [D-Washington]: "Yes, the issues at Hanford are very complex and very important, and as you mentioned, I grew up in Seattle, which is--"

Chairman Wyden [interjecting]: "She went to school in Portland." [smiles and laughter]

Senator Cantwell [firmly]: "We think of Reed College as a regional institution… that just happens to be on the other side of the Columbia." [more laughter]

The friendly rivalry between Oregon and Washington has been waged over many issues—we are pleased that it should also be waged over Dr. Robinson, who majored in physics at Reed and wrote her thesis on the Brown-Twiss effect on the bunching of photons with Prof. Dennis Hoffman [physics 1959-90]. After Reed, she earned a PhD from MIT in geophysics, then worked for the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; the Office of Management and Budget; the Congressional Budget Office; and NASA, where she has served as Chief Financial Officer since 2009.

Robinson concluded her testimony before the committee by saying, “I believe public service is a duty, a privilege, and an honor.” We hope the Senate confirms her appointment, and that the spirit of reaching across the river gains further traction in Washington.