Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s foundation has reportedly funneled money into the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the past year, raising ethical concerns about his influence among former employees and internal watchdogs.
Schmidt, who has long sought to influence federal science and technology policy, has played a significant role in shaping the White House OSTP in the past year, including maintaining a close relationship with former top science adviser Eric Lander and using his foundation to pay the salaries of two White House employees indirectly, according to a Politico report.
More than a dozen officials in the 140-person White House science office have been associates of Schmidt, and the steps taken by the office to have Schmidt Futures, Schmidt’s charity arm, pay the salaries of some White House staff have raised concerns about conflicts of interest, given Schmidt’s financial stakes in industries over which the OSTP has influence.
“I and others on the legal team had been noticing a large number of staff with financial connections to Schmidt Futures and were increasingly concerned about the influence this organization was able to have through these individuals,” said Rachel Wallace, former general counsel at the science office.
Wallace, who is now being represented by the Government Accountability Project as a whistleblower, also provided internal White House emails that outlined her concerns. Wallace filed a whistleblower complaint in early March.
The OSTP directs federal science funding and helps shape artificial intelligence and 5G telecom policy, two areas of significant interest for Schmidt through the tech companies he owns and directs.
Schmidt sits on the boards of multiple tech companies focused on artificial intelligence, such as Rebellion Defense and Sandbox AQ, and he is an investor in another firm called Abacus.AI.
The White House said the OSTP works with multiple outside groups and that its legal office’s reviews did not find any ethical conflicts, highlighting the office’s efforts to regulate the use of AI despite Schmidt’s investment.
“You’re trying to tell a story of agency capture — that one philanthropy has influence over policy outcomes,” an OSTP spokesperson said in a statement to Politico. “And yet, OSTP is executing on an aggressive agenda to protect the civil rights of all Americans impacted by algorithmic discrimination in the use of artificial intelligence and automated systems, is working across government to gather data that will help ensure that government delivers services more equitably, and is evaluating the mental health harms caused by social media platforms. We are proud to be defined by our work.”