PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s wife has a new job on the West Coast.

Sandra Whitehouse, who holds a Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of Rhode Island, has been named chief scientific officer at AltaSea, a 35-acre ocean-research campus at the Port of Los Angeles. She will hold the job “on a consulting basis,” according to a news release issued earlier this month.

Like her husband, Sandra Whitehouse has a longstanding and well-known interest in environmentalism and particularly oceans. She previously served as chair of the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council and on the boards of Save the Bay and the Nature Conservancy’s Rhode Island chapter.

“AltaSea represents an exciting and unique opportunity to bring together science, business and education, to address key ocean challenges as well as to seize emerging opportunities that the ocean provides for humans,” Sandra Whitehouse said in a statement.

“Its location in an urban, coastal area and its diverse partnerships will be the foundation of AltaSea’s ability to enhance the sustainability of the ocean and the well-being of our coastal communities,” she said.

Whitehouse was criticized in 2013 by The Daily Caller, a right-leaning news outlet, for potential conflicts of interest between his wife’s work with environmental organizations and his efforts to increase funding for related programs. In an email, Whitehouse spokesman Caleb Gibson dismissed the implication.

“There is no conflict of interest between Senator Whitehouse’s work and Dr. Whitehouse’s work,” Gibson told He said the senator’s efforts stem from the fact that Rhode Island’s economic health is “directly tied to the health of our oceans,” while Sandra Whitehouse is “a national expert” in marine biology.

“They each follow the rules of the Senate that govern these issues,” Gibson said. “Dr. Whitehouse is not a registered lobbyist, nor does she lobby the senator or his office on legislation.”

Last year Whitehouse successfully pushed passage of a new National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund, which will provide “grants that improve our understanding of the ocean and support sustainable ocean uses,” according to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, where Sandra Whitehouse has been a senior advisor since 2008. President Obama has proposed seeding the fund with $10 million this year.

Gibson said the new fund poses no conflict of interest, either.

“The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, not Congress, will award funding from the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund through a transparent and competitive grant process,” he said. “Senator Whitehouse has no say in which organizations will receive funding.”Ted Nesi ( covers politics and the economy for He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi