On Monday, Trump signed a memorandum to ramp up education initiatives in US STEM education and computer science, and on Tuesday, Ivanka joined a panel discussing the over $US300 million that tech companies have just pledged to K-12 computer science programs in the US. “Computer science and coding are a priority for the administration as we think about pathways for jobs,” Ivanka said during the Internet Association lobby group’s press conference. But to blindly believe that the Trump administration now gives a damn about these efforts requires a complete disregard of how the White House has screwed US education, science, and technology efforts in the past.
There is a long list of examples marking Trump’s lack of support for science and technology, both inside and outside the scope of education. At best, these areas aren’t a priority so much as an afterthought. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, for instance, calls for the total elimination of the NASA Education Office and contains an 11% cut to the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF manages research funding for social and behavioural sciences, computer science, and geosciences. Yet these cuts are largely unsurprising, as the topic of STEM was all but ignored by Trump during his presidential campaign.
Trump created the White House Office of American Innovation to streamline sluggish government processes with modern technology, but then he put his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge. Kushner, along with his wife Ivanka, are both grossly unqualified for the positions they have been given — rather than appoint experts into positions responsible for these innovation efforts, Trump’s choices signal that he favours nepotism over aptitude.
And Trump has yet to fully employ the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) — the remaining three members left at the end of June, leaving a whopping zero staff members in the office dedicated to issues including STEM education and biotechnology. After their departure, there were only 35 people staffed across the four divisions of the office. An OSTP official told Wired this month that the office currently employs 42 members, compared to 130 during Obama’s seat in office.
“One thing that OSTP has traditionally been helpful in is identifying gaps and needs that exist, communicating those gaps and needs to the science and technology community beyond the federal government, and calling that community to action in creating these solutions,” Cristin Dorgelo, the OSTP chief of staff under Obama, told Wired. “That role, without a strong OSTP, is not being led, as far as I can tell.”
Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and General Motors are among a number of the tech companies donating millions of dollars to a new private sector commitment associated with the Trump Administration’s directive. Leaders from these tech companies have publicly disavowed Trump’s policies, and yet have willingly accepted a seat at the table with the administration, some more than once, in an astonishing act of hypocrisy. And they keep coming back to partner with the administration — despite completely failing to sway the president’s policies on immigration or the climate agreement, whether they’re offering up their council, their presence (their readiness is a great photo op for the president), or their money.
Of course there are self-serving motivations here — tax reforms and visa policies, which in part fall under the power of Trump, both greatly impact Silicon Valley’s bottom lines. Furthermore, Trump is making it more difficult for Silicon Valley to recruit talent abroad for US jobs, which in turn makes STEM education initiatives in the US increasingly relevant to these companies’ wallets.
At face value, Trump’s STEM initiative may leave a positive impact on US schools — it affords kids access to programs that would greatly benefit them in the current job economy. But stacked against all of the efforts to strip the nation of science and technology efforts, there’s no reason to believe the administration has suddenly undergone a significant change of heart. Trump has rarely held a policy position without changing it. What’s more, a generation equipped with the knowledge that a STEM-based education affords them directly contradicts the White House’s own war on science.