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White House Denies Report That Part of Its Science And Technology Office Is Empty

The White House is denying reports that the one division within the Office of Science and Technology Policy is now completely unstaffed.

CBS News reported no staff members were left at the office’s science division ―  one of four such branches that comprise the OSTP ― after three employees from President Barack Obama’s administration worked their final day on Friday. The OSTP advises the White House “on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs,” according to its website.

When asked about the alleged vacancies, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told HuffPost on Saturday the report was false.

“This is not true,” Sanders said in an email. “Sadly, someone was more concerned about attacking [President Donald Trump] than getting their story straight.”

A White House official familiar with the OSTP told HuffPost that there are 12 staffers currently working in the science division, despite the report that said otherwise. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter, also said there are 35 people total on staff in the OSTP.

The official said the work of previous science division workers had been passed on to new staffers who have expertise in similar areas of study.

The three science division staffers who finished up on Friday included Elle Celeste, who was previously a biomedical and forensic science expert for the White House. The White House official told HuffPost that Friday’s departures were “a matter of contract expiration.”

After departing from the OSTP, Celeste tweeted her final goodbyes, along with a photo of the science division placard with text saying “science division out. mic drop.”

Kumar Garg, another former OSTP employee who left his job in January, tweeted that Friday’s departures mean there are “zero” people left in the division. He was the OSTP’s assistant director for Learning and Innovation when Trump took office in January.

The Trump administration has faced sharp criticism from the scientific community. In April, tens of thousands of people participated in an estimated 600 March for Science events across the country in protest of the administration’s stance on various issues.

Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax” orchestrated by the Chinese, has proposed massive budget cuts for federal programs including the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Department of Energy’s office of science, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After Trump revealed his 2018 budget proposal in March, Jeffrey Mervis, science policy reporter for Science Magazine wrote that it “confirms two things that U.S. scientists have long suspected: The new president is no fan of research, and his administration has no overarching strategy for funding science.” 

The White House has also yet to appoint one of the most influential science roles in federal government, the presidential science adviser, who heads the OSTP. When asked about that vacancy, the White House official familiar with the matter told HuffPost that “several very promising candidates for OSTP director” are under consideration.

Neither Celeste nor Garg immediately responded to requests for comment from HuffPost.

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