WASHINGTON — Several Democrats on the House Science Committee are scolding President Trump for his belief in fake news stories, tying that belief to the lack of scientific leadership in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“Until the OSTP is adequately staffed and the director position filled by a qualified, objective scientist who understands the difference between alternative news peddled on alt-right websites and legitimate well-vetted scientific facts, we fear that you will continue to be vulnerable to misinformation and fake news,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the White House on Thursday.
The group of seven Democrats was led by Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, one of two members of Congress to attend the March for Science in Washington last month and an outspoken voice against the Trump administration’s climate policies. Representatives Bill Foster of Illinois and Jerry McNerney of California, who hold PhDs in physics and mathematics, respectively, also signed the letter.
“Where scientific policy is concerned, the White House should make use of the latest, most broadly-supported science,” the letter continues. “You have a tool at your disposal in this regard, should you wish to make use of it, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.”
The office has been without a head and mostly unstaffed for months.
The letter is illustrative of the deep partisan divide within the science committee, chaired by Representative Lamar Smith of Texas. In the last congress, Smith championed legislation to codify a “national interest” requirement for grants awarded by the National Science Foundation. While the science committee does not oversee the National Institutes of Health, Smith also commended Trump’s budget blueprint in May, which suggested a $5.8 billion reduction in NIH funding.
The President has yet to appoint a top science advisor and has made no announcements regarding the selection process. The White House, nonetheless, has continued science-centered discussions, hosting NIH Director Francis Collins and a number of biomedical researchers for a meeting last week. It also announced last month that it would continue the White House Science Fair, a tradition that former President Barack Obama started in his first term.
John Holdren, who held the office under Obama, wrote in an op-ed last month that without a director, “OSTP has been limping along with a skeleton crew of career civil servants and exactly one member of the Trump ‘landing team’ in residence.”