WASHINGTON — For the past 19 months, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has operated with a skeleton crew. For over a year, the top-ranking adviser has not even been a scientist, but rather a 30-something political science major who most recently worked for Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. Desperate former employees even set up a secret shadow network to provide advice to lawmakers.
Gone are the days when science was high on the agenda, when a staff of more than a hundred helped coordinate the federal government’s response to the Ebola outbreak, launched the Precision Medicine Initiative to personalize health treatments, and spearheaded a $100 million BRAIN Initiative that boosted research into conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Gone, too, is the president who might fire off a marshmallow cannon at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.