The White House in Washington, D.C.

Norman Maddeaux/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Internal logs show White House interviewed science adviser candidates. But who?

White House officials appear to have interviewed at least three people last spring to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a key post that remains vacant more than a year into the administration of President Donald Trump.

That information comes from the appointments calendar of the de facto head of the office and its only political appointee, Michael Kratsios. The calendar was obtained by ScienceInsider under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The names of the candidates were redacted for privacy considerations. However, the document provides evidence that the Trump administration took steps to fill the position of OSTP director within a few months of taking office. If true, that would address widespread concerns by scientists that the president has no interest in finding someone to coordinate the activities of some two dozen federal agencies on matters relating to research, education, and technological innovation. At the same time, their anonymity makes it impossible to judge the quality of the applicants.

According to the log, Kratsios met for 30 minutes with “a candidate for OSTP Director” on 2 March 2017. Two hours later, it appears the same candidate met for 45 minutes with two aides to Vice President Mike Pence, Daris Meeks and Francis Brooke.

Six weeks later, on 13 April 2017, Kratsios led what appear to be back-to-back meetings with two other candidates for OSTP director. Meeks and Brooke were joined by other White House aides at those meetings.

It’s not clear whether those discussions ever led to a job offer from the White House, or if any such offer was declined. But their existence bolsters the credibility of OSTP officials who were quoted in the media last spring as saying that a candidate for OSTP director was in the wind and that the name could be announced as early as “the next few weeks.”

Two months later, on 23 June 2017, Kratsios held a 30-minute phone conversation with Michael Catanzaro, special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy. According to the log, Catanzaro, a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry, and Kratsios tossed around “ideas” for an OSTP director. The call implies that the White House was starting anew after its previous efforts had been unsuccessful.

Their conversation may have shaken loose a few more candidates, although the record is ambiguous. On 24 July 2017, Kratsios held a 1-hour meeting, the purpose of which the log describes as “OSTP Science Director interview.”

It’s possible that the log is referring to the position of associate director for science, one of four senior positions under the OSTP director. All would require Senate confirmation and, thus, a thorough vetting process. However, the meeting featured two senior White House officials—Andrew Bremberg, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and John DeStefano, director of the Office of Presidential Personnel. It seems unlikely that the two men would be involved in vetting the head of the office’s science shop, a position that traditionally has been held by a senior academic figure with few Washington, D.C., connections. Neither man had sat in on the previous interviews, according to the log.

Kratsios held no conversations or meetings relating to the OSTP director over the next 3 months, according to the log. The last entry is 20 October 2017, the date at which OSTP began its search in response to the FOIA request that ScienceInsider submitted on 14 August 2017.

So what does this all mean? The log may signify nothing more than a White House aide going about his business. But given the community’s angst about the OSTP director’s position, Kratsios’s calendar suggests that the job hasn’t vanished from White House staffing charts.

If you think you know any of these job candidates, or have information about the circumstances surrounding these meetings, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at insider@aaas.org.