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Senators Urge Trump to Fill Top White House Science and Tech Spots

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A group of Democratic lawmakers is urging President Donald Trump to fill the science and technology posts left vacant in the White House when Barack Obama’s administration left.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., led a group of other senators asking Trump to hurry up and hire qualified candidates to serve as a science adviser, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy director and a chief technology officer.

“Science and technology are central to both the challenges and opportunities America faces in the 21st century,” reads an open letter signed by  Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Catherine Cortez Masto, D-N.V., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. Those lawmakers sit on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

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“Without adequate OSTP staffing, the country will lack key insights from those with deep experience in these fields,” they wrote.

The office has historically advised the president on policy related to cybersecurity, ways to fill the surplus of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics jobs by better training the workforce, and federal research investments.

Cyberwarfare “poses a serious threat to our national and economic security, prompting the need for a government-wide response, with buy-in from the private sector,” they wrote.  “The U.S. private sector’s difficulty in sustaining long-term basic research investments combined with decreasing federal support for R&D risks the nation’s technology advantage.”

If well-staffed, OSTP can not only advise the president on science and technology topics but also help the private sector and academia contribute their findings, they argued. 

Though no one has officially been named, reports have surfaced that Michelle Lee, head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is in the running for OSTP head. Neither she nor the White House has confirmed this.  

The lawmakers' call came as speculation surfaces that the Trump administration is intentionally letting OSTP lapse. Under Barack Obama, the office staffed 24 people, but Trump has so far placed only one person, a chief of staff to investor Peter Thiel, in that office, The New York Times reported.

A Heritage Foundation report authored by James Jay Carafano, a Trump transition team adviser, made the case for slashing that office.

“Eliminating the OSTP (or at least electing not to staff it until Congress can act) would not block the president from access to science and technology advice,” the report said, according to the Times. “Rather, it eliminates a formal office whose purpose is unclear and whose capabilities are largely redundant.”

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