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One year after President Trump’s election, these 10 science and tech posts in government are still lacking leaders

Some of the jobs — like overseeing self-driving cars — have no nominees at all.

U.S. President Trump Visits China Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images

A year after Donald Trump won the White House, the ranks of his government are still lacking in science and technology experts — the sort of officials who could oversee Silicon Valley, help find the next medical breakthrough or pioneer new ways of approaching everything from online privacy to cyber warfare.

For the moment, the president still has no top science adviser. Nor has he tapped a chief technology officer. From the Pentagon’s ultra-secret skunkworks to little-known tech posts at the Department of Transportation, the Trump administration in some cases is relying on holdovers from his Democratic predecessors. In others, the president hasn’t put forward any candidates at all.

It’s not to say that Trump is totally lacking in tech and telecom talent. The president very quickly tapped his chairman to lead the Federal Communications Commission, for example, and Ajit Pai has wasted no time taking aim at some of the regulations imposed by his Democratic predecessor.

At the White House, meanwhile, Trump counts on the support of a stable of tech aides — folks like Reed Cordish and Chris Liddell, to name just two — who are overseeing some of the administration’s work modernizing government. They’re also key players in the new Office of American Innovation, which falls under the umbrella of Jared Kushner, the president’s top adviser and son-in-law.

And sometimes, the vacancies are not even the White House’s fault. While nominations have come slowly under Trump, the Senate isn’t exactly known for its expedience, either. Some candidates are still awaiting hearings or confirmation votes from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

So here are the key tech positions that aren’t yet filled under Trump’s watch:

White House

The White House with its flag at half mast Alex Wong / Getty

Office of Science and Technology Policy
Position: Director
Nominee: None
OSTP is the White House’s science-and-tech nerve center. Under former President Barack Obama, it spearheaded eight years’ worth of work on everything from wireless spectrum to nanotechnology to online privacy. It’s also the critical White House hub that handles the arduous task of composing the federal government’s science and tech research budget each fiscal year. (Trump, for his part, sought to slash that spending in his last budget blueprint.)

Under Trump, however, OSTP has no director. There isn’t even a nominee. In previous administrations, the OSTP director also doubled as the president’s chief science adviser — though the roles, technically, can be different. And Trump lacks that key science aide, too. As a result, some important OSTP functions appear to have fallen dormant. That includes one of the White House’s leading councils of science and tech experts from the private sector, a group called PCAST. Previously, a White House spokesman told Recode that it’s the OSTP director who appoints the council’s members. Which is to say, no director, no council.

Position: Chief Technology Officer
Appointee: None
Obama also employed a CTO; Trump has not filled that role. But the president does have a deputy CTO — that’d be Michael Kratsios, who has ties to Peter Thiel, the investor who helped Trump form his government during the presidential transition in January.

Federal Trade Commission

Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen
Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen
Alex Wong / Getty

Position: Chairman
Nominee: Joe Simons
The FTC is the U.S. government’s consumer protection, privacy, security and competition cop. Under law, it’s a five-person commission, but it currently has only two members: An acting Republican chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen, and a Democratic commissioner, Terrell McSweeny.

In October, though, Trump announced his intent to nominate Joe Simons, a longtime corporate antitrust lawyer, to serve as FTC chairman on a permanent basis. Thing is, Simons’s nomination hasn’t been formally sent to the U.S. Senate. It’s a weird quirk in the law, but it means lawmakers can’t actually begin the process of debating and voting on his term. So, technically, Simons — and, in some ways, the future of the FTC — is in limbo.

Position: Commissioner
Nominees: Rohit Chopra and Noah Phillips
Chopra is a Democrat closely tied to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Phillips is an aide to GOP Sen. John Cornyn. Both are up for open commissioner slots at the FTC. Much like Simons, though, their nominations haven’t formally been sent to the Senate for lawmakers’ consideration. So they’re stuck, too.

Aerial photo of the Pentagon building and parking lot

Department of Defense

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Position: Director
Nominee: None
It’s the Pentagon’s startup incubator, and it still has no permanent director under Trump. Instead, it’s run on an interim, acting basis by Dr. Steven H. Walker, a DARPA veteran.

an Uber self-driving car on a city street Justin Sullivan / Getty

Department of Transportation

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Position: Administrator
Nominee: None
It’s one of the U.S. government’s top safety regulators — a watchdog that plays a key role in setting vehicle standards and issuing recalls when those cars pose risks to drivers and passengers. And in recent years, NHTSA has been playing a key role in overseeing the safe, secure rollout of self-driving cars. A bill that’s advancing quickly in the House and Senate even further amplifies the agency’s role in overseeing highly autonomous vehicle testing and deployment.

For the moment, though, NHTSA does not have a full-time, Senate-confirmed leader — and appears to be lacking other key staff as well.

A row of European Union flags that are blue with a circle of gold stars, in front of an office building Carl Court / Getty

Department of State

Position: Privacy Shield Ombudsman
Nominee: None
Rewind the clock to the Obama administration, when negotiators from Washington, D.C., and the European Union hammered out a transatlantic pact that allows tech giants to store Europeans’ private data in the United States. Without that agreement, known as the Privacy Shield, digital commerce would be incredibly disrupted, or so tech companies argue.

Part of the Privacy Shield requires the U.S. government to have an ombudsman at the State Department to handle Europeans’ complaints about Silicon Valley. Thing is, the position remains unfilled under Trump. And the absence of an ombudsman has peeved EU regulators, some of whom explicitly raised the issue during a visit to Washington earlier this year. (In the future, it could prove to be a serious roadblock that threatens the future of the deal itself.)

Rep. James Bridenstine
Rep. James Bridenstine
Chip Somodevilla / Getty


Position: Administrator
Nominee: Jim Bridenstine
It’s a critical time for NASA, as companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin increasingly seek to push the boundaries of commercial spaceflight. And perhaps soon, that work might happen under the watch of Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

But Democrats lashed at Trump’s NASA nominee at his Senate confirmation hearing last week, not least because he’s a social conservative who opposes gay marriage and disputes climate change — and could send NASA engineers packing for the private sector.

Fiber-optic cable on a huge spool, being overseen by a hard-hatted worker Michael Smith / Getty

Department of Agriculture

Rural Utilities Service
Position: Administrator
Nominee: None
It might not seem like an agency that matters to tech and telecom, but RUS, as it’s known, is a key source of funding for broadband projects in the nation’s hardest-to-reach rural areas. To be clear, it has a spotty track record: For years, watchdogs have dinged RUS for mismanaging its millions of dollars of investments. But the federal agency could still potentially play a major role in efforts by the Trump White House to improve rural internet access — a commitment the president himself has made in the context of infrastructure reform. So far, though, the president hasn’t nominated anyone for the job.

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