The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy currently has 35 staffers, an administration official said today. That's about a third of the number of employees during the Obama administration.
The unnamed official released the number in response to E&E News inquiries about a report from CBS News that the last three OSTP science division workers departed Friday.
Under Obama, the science division had nine members and worked in tandem with a separate energy and environment division. It led efforts on antibiotics and diseases like Ebola.
The official did not confirm or deny that OSTP's science division is fully unstaffed but added that 12 OSTP aides continue to work on "science."
"Some [of those 12 staffers] were with the office during the previous administration and continue to serve, and some have come on under President Trump's administration," the official said, also confirming the departure of some science division staff last week.
The initial reports on the science division came after Elle Celeste, formerly a policy analyst there, wrote on Twitter on Friday: "Science division out. Mic drop."
In an interview this morning, former OSTP staffer Kumar Garg, who also tweeted about the science division, said he, too, had heard about the departures.
At the same time, Garg said he was more concerned about the overall situation with OSTP, which currently does not have a director or many associate directors.
"There's been no public communication at all about what the office has been doing on a variety of science and tech topics," said Garg, who called the lack of information "deeply worrying."
The administration official said aides who left the science division Friday were under contracts that expired. Two were on detail from other agencies and remain with the government.
"All of their work is continuing to be done — as when someone leaves any organization, the work gets deployed to other team members who have expertise in that area," the official said.
Advocates have been pushing for months for Trump to select a director for OSTP and also grant the appointee a senior-level position in the White House.
Former OSTP Director John Holdren played a central role in guiding federal spending on science and advised on major reports such as the National Climate Assessment.
Trump officials note that OSTP’s size increased under Obama. During the George W. Bush administration, OSTP had approximately 30 to 40 detailees annually, according to the Congressional Research Service.