White House Science Policy Office Basically Shut Down (See Update)

The White House office specifically charged with advising on and developing science policy now has no staffers whatsoever.

Update: The CBS Report linked below is from 2017. I should have noticed that when I posted this. The OSTP has apparently been restaffed since then and its website is being updated on a regular basis. My apologies for the error.

The White House’s office in charge of science policy is basically shutdown:

WASHINGTON — The science division of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was unstaffed as of Friday as the three remaining employees departed this week, sources tell CBS News.

All three employees were holdovers from the Obama administration. The departures from the division — one of four subdivisions within the OSTP — highlight the different commitment to scientific research under Presidents Obama and Trump. 

Under Mr. Obama, the science division was staffed with nine employees who led the charge on policy issues such as STEM education, biotechnology and crisis response. It’s possible that the White House will handle these issues through staff in other divisions within the OSTP.

Kumar Garg, a former OSTP staffer under Mr. Obama, also tweeted, “By COB today, number of staffers in White House OSTP’s Science Division

“All of the work that we have been doing is still being done,” a White House official familiar with the matter told CBS News, adding that 35 staffers currently work across the OSTP. 

“Under the previous administration, OSTP had grown exponentially over what it had been before,” the official said. “Before the Obama administration, it had usually held 50 to 60 or so policy experts, director-level people, for all of OSTP.” 

The Obama administration staffed the OSTP with more than 100 employees.

Garg, the Obama-era OSTP staffer who tweeted Friday, said the size of the office under the Obama administration reflected Mr. Obama’s “strong belief in science, the growing intersection of science and technology in a range of policy issues, and as showcased in the OSTP exit memo, in a sweeping range of [science and technology] accomplishments by the Obama science team.”


Notwithstanding the White House’s claim that the work that was being done by the OSTP is being handled by other officials in the Administration, one can’t help but see this as yet another move by the Administration to quiet researchers and programs that run counter to Administration policy on issues like global climate change. The President’s attitude about that issue, which isn’t that different from the attitude of the most significant number of Republicans and conservatives. Not only do they disagree with the policies that some activists have put forward regarding this issue, they simply refuse to acknowledge that the problem exists at all despite all the evidence to the contrary and the consensus of the scientific community. That’s why it was so easy for the President to take steps such as backing out of the Paris Climate Accords and appointing climate change skeptics such as Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to position ostensibly charged with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and recommending environmental policy.

The effective closing of the OSTP is only one example of the extent to which science policy has taken a back seat under this President:

First established in 1976 by Congress, [the OSTP] is designed to provide the President and others with “advice on the scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of the economy, national security, homeland security, health, foreign relations, the environment, and the technological recovery and use of resources, among other topics.”

We don’t know about you, but that sounds like a vital role to us. The roles should be filled quickly with qualified scientists, but it’s probably best not to hold your breath on this one. Frankly, it’s both shocking and unsurprising that the other 97 roles have not been filled during the transition between administrations, or at least soon after the changing of the guard was complete.

Many governmental scientific agencies have been threatened with massive and historic funding cuts; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being effectively stripped of its scientific advisory board; that is why federal scientists have been bullied to not to speak out about their research. Entire departments that focus on science and technology are being shut down.

As of June, around 85 percent of all scientific posts in the federal government, including an official scientific advisor to the President, were left unfilled. Perhaps uniquely, this percentage has now increased, what with the recent dismissals at the EPA and the new removals at the OSTP.

Given that Trumpism itself is a movement based on ignorance and the denial of reality, it’s not surprising that the Administration would not be placing scientific research and input on important policy issues where science is the most important part very high on its priority list. Some of it, no doubt, is reflective of the fact that, outside of the issues that constitute red meat for his increasingly rabid and rage-filled base, Trump is not interested in policy at all. However, the fact that such a large segment of that portion of the Executive Branch bureaucracy specifically devoted to science is basically being neglected leads one to the conclusion that it is deliberate on the part of the President.

FILED UNDER: Climate Change, Environment, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gustopher says:

    Notwithstanding the White House’s claim that the work that was being done by the OSTP is being handled by other officials in the Administration,

    Gosh, that Jared is such a capable boy. Mideast Peace, the opioid epidemic, and doing the work of three people advising on science policy.

  2. Gustopher says:

    Maddow has been reporting on the effort to move a chunk of the USDA to Kansas, and all the folks there being told that they have to relocate or resign. So another brain drain there.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Given that Trumpism itself is a movement based on ignorance and the denial of reality

    While this is true, it’s too narrow. This describes the modern Republican as a whole. Trump isn’t an anomaly here, in fact he’s not even extreme compared to the rest of the party. The Republicans have done the exact same thing to the Congressional science advisory infrastructure. To be a modern Republican it is required to deny reality.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    ….the Chinese must be grinning ear to ear.

    Ah well. I’ll just continue working on my inventions, and if the US is too stupid to use them will sell them to other countries. Sucks for the US, but my loyalty is to the scientific establishment and to those who insist on truth, no matter how embarrassing for the politicians. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

  5. Due to my error, this post has been revised.

    The initial CBS report (which I maintained the link to) was from 2017. I should have noticed that and didn’t. I regret the error.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The initial CBS report (which I maintained the link to) was from 2017. I should have noticed that and didn’t. I regret the error.

    Things have not really improved since then. I know people who work with OSTP, and they all say that nothing useful is getting done over there at the moment — not even things that are mandatory every N years. Thanks for the reminder.