The Center for Investigative Reporting's publication Reveal has found that of 44 top federal science positions, President Donald Trump has failed to even nominate anyone to fill 32 of them. And of the 12 nominees who have been chosen, half have significant ties to the industries they'd be regulating. Two candidates – including Trump's former national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, the president's choice as the Department of Agriculture's top scientist – don't even have a scientific background.
"Dozens of federal agencies – overseeing issues from the census to endangered species and the nation’s space program – remain without leaders to advise the White House and cabinet secretaries on science, engineering, health and technology," Reveal reports. "These officials also are responsible for overseeing the work of agency scientists and billions of dollars in spending on research, education and equipment."
So far, only two of Trump's nominees for top science positions at federal agencies have been confirmed by the Senate. Eight others are awaiting a vote, Reveal adds.
Of all the vacancies, some of the most notable are the four top science posts at the Department of the Interior, including the director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for protecting endangered species and managing about 150 million acres of public refuges and wetlands, Reveal says. Also empty are top roles at NASA, and three high-ranking science posts at the Department of Commerce, including a leader for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (a vacancy which became glaringly apparent during the recent Hurricane Harvey-induced floods in Texas).
Cristin Dorgelo, who was chief of staff in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Barack Obama, tells Reveal she is especially concerned about vacancies at agencies such as Health and Human Services and Defense, noting that these unfilled spots could hamper the government's response to major crises.
Critics say the vacancies prove that Trump is uninterested in science and doesn't really want to do anything by deregulate, Reveal says.
"This administration seems to be a bit different from everything I hear, in that they are much less interested in what the career professionals can contribute, and certainly much less interested in the underlying science that informs policy," Andrew Rosenberg, director of The Center for Science and Democracy at the nonprofit advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, tells the publication.
Trump's cabinet secretaries "are coming in with a mandate to do something that is sometimes in opposition to the agencies they've been tasked to lead – to effectively hand the agency over to private interests," he adds. "So they're not looking for science advice, because they've already been told what to do."
The White House did not respond to Reveal's requests for comment.