Advocate for Eliminating OSTP Appointed to Trump Transition Team

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Publication date: 
23 November 2016
Number: 
146

In a June 2016 white paper, James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation analyst who is now a member of Trump’s transition team, made a series of science policy recommendations for the next U.S. president, including eliminating the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

President-elect Donald Trump has begun announcing members of the “landing teams” that are being dispatched across the federal government to begin the agency-by-agency transition efforts. To date, Trump has made four of these announcements (on Nov. 18, 21, 22, and 23).

James CarafanoIn the Nov. 22 press release, Trump identified James Carafano as a member of the landing team for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Carafano is vice president of the Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank located in Washington, D.C.

Notably, Carafano appears to be the first member of Trump’s transition team who has well-documented views on science and technology policy. Although there is no indication at this time that Carafano will advise the incoming Trump administration on S&T policy, he was the lead author of a Heritage Foundation report released this summer entitled “Science Policy: Priorities and Reforms for the 45th President.”

The report recommends that the next president pursue science policy reforms focused on three overarching goals: “downsizing bureaucracy, rationalizing R&D, and bringing accountability to regulatory science.” Among the report’s strongest recommendations is the elimination of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Carafano has also written extensively about issues at the intersection of science, technology, and national security. He has authored policy briefs on subjects including the national security applications of nanotechnology, restructuring of DHS’s S&T Directorate, and preparedness for electromagnetic pulse impacts. At a 2011 House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on DHS’s R&D programs, Carafano recommended the government establish a public-private partnership focused on nanotechnology manufacturing, using the semiconductor manufacturing consortium Sematech as a model. He also appears in a Heritage Foundation documentary that advocates for the U.S. to pursue an expanded ballistic missile defense program modeled after President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.

Report proposes sweeping reforms to federal S&T policy

Carafano’s recent report on science policy argues that OSTP should be eliminated because it is unnecessary given the other sources of science advice the president can access:

The OSTP and its surrounding bureaucracy do not provide anything in service to the President that specially appointed committees might not also accomplish, as has historically been done. 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. Rather, it eliminates a formal office whose purpose is unclear and whose capabilities are largely redundant with what the President is able to, and already does, access through his executive agencies and through his own advisory committees.

In a separate blog post advocating OSTP’s elimination, Carafano was deeply critical of the office’s work under President Obama in particular:

The Obama White House has used the Office of Science and Technology [Policy] principally to support its pet political causes—like advocacy for global climate change research that matches the president’s views on the topic and can be puffed to justify expanding federal regulations in virtually every aspect of American life.

Indeed, this administration has used the Science and Technology Office just as it has used other executive branch offices—as a tool to exercise executive power in furtherance of his political agenda. Turning what are supposed to be objective offices of experts—be they scientists, national security advisers, or whatever—into politically-driven, rubber-stamping policy cheerleaders is bad for any branch of national policy.

Typically, the director of OSTP also serves as the president’s science advisor. The report is silent on whether the president should still appoint a science advisor in the event OSTP is disbanded, although it does imply that the role of the science advisor is not well defined. Completely eliminating OSTP would require an act of Congress, as the office was established by the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976. The report criticizes this law, saying that Congress “instigated an ill-defined bureaucracy that does not uniquely meet the needs of the President in obtaining science advice.”

As for the federal R&D portfolio, the report argues that it has been adrift since the end of the Cold War and needs to be scaled back to only support basic research and specific national objectives:

Most of today’s science and technology infrastructure and spending approaches grew out of the World Wars and evolved to meet America’s national security needs throughout the Cold War. However, the federal government has lacked a clear objective for federal science and technology since that conflict ended. Consequently, existing infrastructure (most notably the national labs) and government spending are poorly rationalized and utilized today. …

Rationalizing federal scientific R&D requires reining in federal funding. Problems arise when federally funded R&D diverts scarce public resources from either (1) meeting a specific national objective or (2) contributing to basic research. … No matter how diligent or transparent an Administration is, federal funding for R&D beyond these two basic conditions inherently picks winners and losers among companies and technologies.

On the subject of the Department of Energy’s 17 national laboratories, the report advocates for “liberalizing” the labs by making it easier for the private sector to make use of the labs’ assets and research, easing conflict-of-interest and intellectual property rights regulations, and giving individual labs greater independence from officials in D.C. In addition, it urges the next president to “lead the way to consolidate labs and transfer others to non-federal entities, such as states, universities, or the private sector.”

Notably, a co-author of the report, Jack Spencer, served as the lead Heritage Foundation author of a 2013 report that recommends DOE undertake various reforms of the national lab system. This study was conducted in partnership with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-partisan think tank. [UPDATE: Spencer has since been appointed to the DOE landing team.]

Finally, the report asserts that policies governing the use of scientific research in the rulemaking process—such as the Information Quality Act and the Data Access Act—are “full of loopholes and lack meaningful accountability mechanisms—which allows agencies to exploit these guidelines by interpreting them as they see fit.” Accordingly, the report recommends that the next president “exercise clear, consistent, and vigilant leadership to codify reforms” to these policies.

Heritage Foundation expected to have broad influence

As Politico reports, the Heritage Foundation is having a significant influence on Trump’s transition efforts, with many current or former employees serving in official roles. Other Heritage Foundation staffers identified as members of the landing teams to date include Justin Johnson (Defense Department), Steven Groves (State Department), and Curtis Dubay (Treasury Department). Furthermore, Edwin Meese, a Heritage Foundation emeritus fellow, is reportedly playing a leading role in the transition team for federal budget and personnel management.

This influence could extend to Congress as well. For example, CQ Roll Call reports that the foundation is “expected to have the ear of Republicans in Congress and the new administration,” with creation of a space-based missile defense program being one potential outcome. House Republicans have already pushed to initiate such a program in this year’s “National Defense Authorization Act.” 

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