Eric Schmidt: The Real Brains Behind Biden’s Science Office

The White House science office sets strategic priorities for the nation’s more than $1.4 trillion in annual health and science spending. It has also been increasingly focused on federal policy on artificial intelligence.

Eric Schmidt has long sought influence over U.S. science policy. Under Biden’s former science chief, Eric Lander, Schmidt’s foundation helped cover officials’ salaries, even as the office’s general counsel raised ethical flags.

As President Joe Biden granted his science office unprecedented access and power, one outside adviser to that office has attained what staffers describe as an unusual level of influence.

A foundation controlled by Eric Schmidt, the multi-billionaire former CEO of Google, has played an extraordinary, albeit private, role in shaping the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy over the past year.

More than a dozen officials in the 140-person White House office have been associates of Schmidt’s, including some current and former Schmidt employees, according to interviews with current and former staff members and internal emails obtained by POLITICO.

Schmidt maintained a close relationship with the president’s former science adviser, Eric Lander, and other Biden appointees. And his charity arm, Schmidt Futures, indirectly paid the salaries of two science-office employees, including, for six weeks, that of the current chief of staff, Marc Aidinoff, who is now one of the most senior officials in the office following Lander’s resignation in February. The chief innovation officer at Schmidt Futures, OSTP alum Tom Kalil, also remained on Schmidt’s payroll while working as an unpaid consultant at the science office for four months last year until he left the post following ethics complaints.

Schmidt has long sought to influence federal science policy, dating back to his close ties to the Obama administration. While his spokespeople presented his efforts to help Biden as part of Schmidt Futures’ mission to “focus and mobilize these networks of talent to solve specific problems in science and society,” his foundation’s involvement in funding positions for specific figures raised repeated red flags from internal White House watchdogs.

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