President Trump wants to send a man to Mars. He hopes to “kill illnesses that plague us.” He’s promised to, quite literally, “give us anything.”
How the hell is he supposed to accomplish this without a single staffer grounded in the science community?
It’s no secret the President has struggled to fill his office. The man’s managed to staff a meager 21 key administration positions, ranging from the ever-controversial Betsy DeVos to climate-skeptic and EPA head Scott Pruitt. Another 40 presidential nominees currently await senate confirmation—none of which to a science-centric department.
In all, over 1,000 positions remain empty—significantly behind the pace of former President Obama’s transition—and 492 of these are considered essential to the role of a functioning government, according to Partnership of Public Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that strives for a more effective government for the American people.
Currently, more than 40 Senate-confirmed science-centric posts are vacant, including administrators to NASA and the NOAA, along with a chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. There are also dozens upon dozens of positions to be filled in the Departments of Agriculture, Every, and Health and Human Services. Hell, Trump still hasn’t named a science adviser, something Obama appointed a month prior to his inauguration.
Against these Trumpified troths of sending a man to Mars and curing illnesses, his rhetoric and his budget blueprint cede innovation to archaism. How does he hope to rebuild the infrastructure without a single nominee (out of 17) for the Department of Transportation? How does he hope to send a man to Mars when, judging by his budget proposal, he’s shortchanging NASA? How can he “cure illnesses” when he defunds the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion?
How can he invigorate American innovation when not a single innovator exists in his White House?
And there seems to be no plan to change that.
The other week he told Fox News, he doesn’t even want to fill “a lot of those jobs” because they’re unnecessary. “It’s people, over people, over people. I say, what do all those people do? You don’t need all those jobs.”
Okay, Mr. President.
Here’s a summary the positions still available, thanks to a Washington Post tracker, of what those people—those people responsible for putting America at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation—are supposed to do.
White House Office of Science & Technology Policy
Available positions: Director for Energy & Environment; Associate Director for Energy & Environment; Associate Director for National Security & International Affairs; Associate Director for Science; and Associate Director for Technology & Innovation
Why is it important? Innovation and technology don’t stop. Progression doesn’t stop. The OSTP advises the President about everything from driverless cars to clean energy to cybersecurity. It advises the President about scientific and technological innovations, both domestically and abroad As technology continues to advance, with it so does the importance of OSTP.
Department of Energy
Available positions: Secretary; Deputy Secretary Under Secretary for Science & Energy; Director of the Office of Science; Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy; Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy; Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management; and Assistant Secretary for Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability
Under Secretary for Nuclear Security; Principal Deputy Administrator for Nuclear Security; Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs; Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
Why is it important? Well, is the safety of the country’s nuclear arsenal and material important? Yes, yes it is. The Department of Energy oversees its safety and handling. Oh, and Rick Perry, a man who wanted to abolish the department, is in charge, so it’ll need all the help it can get.
Department of Defense
Available positions: Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology, & Logistics; Assistant Secretary for Research & Engineering; Director of Defense Research & Engineering; Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical, & Biological Defense Programs; Navy Assistant Secretary for Research, Development, & Acquisition; Army Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics, & Technology; Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition
Why is it important? The Department of Defense may deter war and protect the country, but it also oversees research in advanced manufacturing, clean energy technology, climate change research, and even neuroscience. In fact, it’s the DoD that cites global warming as one of the biggest issues of national security.
Department of Health and Human Services
Available positions: Director of the National Institutes of Health; Commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration; Surgeon General
Why is it important? If Trump hopes to “kill illnesses that plague us,” then he better start investing here. The health of Americans, from safe food and medications to curing diseases and monitoring public health concerns, relies on the success of the DHHS.
Department of Commerce
Available positions: Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation & Prediction; Director of the National Institute of Standards & Technology
Why is it important? For starters, the Department of Commerce oversees NOAA satellites—used by researchers across the world—to track climate change, monitor weather forecasts, weather satellites, fishers, and ocean services. The department also provides essential information regarding storm warnings, extreme weather, sea level predictions, and even forecasts projections used in agriculture, real estate, and energy industries.
Department of Interior
Available positions: Assistant Secretary for Water & Science; Director of the U.S. Geological Survey
Why is it important? The USGS studies the landscape of the U.S.—its geology, natural resources, and the natural hazards that could affect it. Needless to say, the groundwater problems in California and the Southwest can only be solved with the help of the USGS. And everybody likes water, right?
Department of Agriculture
Available positions: Under Secretary for Research, Education, & Economics
Why is it important? The REE advances the scientific knowledge related to agriculture—e.g. How continued climate change will impact farming.
Available positions: Assistant Secretary for Oceans & International Environmental & Scientific Affairs; U.S. Representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency
Why is it important? The Assistant Secretary for the OES ensures economic growth and a healthy planet go hand-in-hand. It may not sound like much, but this job affects millions of American jobs and even national security interests. They’ll also promote water security, sustainable ocean policy, conservation, climate policy, and even space policies.
Department of Homeland Security (1 position)
Available positions: Under Secretary for Science & Technology
Why is it important? Well, how important is protecting the country? Trump will tell you so. So why hasn’t he nominated someone responsible for the technological research to provide new security innovations?
Department of Transportation (1 position)
Available positions: Assistant Secretary for Research & Technology
Why is it important? Trump says we need better roads. For that, we need someone to head OST-R.
NASA (2 positions)
Available positions: Administrator; Deputy Administrator
Why is it important? Sending astronauts to Mars; launching satellites that monitor climate change, weather patterns, and even wildfires; “expanding human phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” What’s out there in space? And what can we learn there to make life better on Earth? That’s what these positions hope to answer.
National Science Foundation (2 positions)
Available positions: Director; Deputy Director
Why is it important? Somebody needs to decide where to distribute the 10,000 research grants the agency gives each year.
Environmental Protection Agency (1 position)
Available positions: Assistant Administrator for Research & Development
Why is it important? Trump may be trying to eliminate the agency by appointing Scott Pruitt as its head, but a successful Assistant Administrator for Research & Development can hopefully heed Pruitt’s inaction and ensure every American access to clean water and air—something … Nixon wanted.
Top photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0
Tom Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.