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White House OSTP Tech Division Still Run By PoliSci Major, Will Hold Artificial Intelligence Summit Thursday

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Photo of Michael Kratsios taken in the Oval Office (Shealah Craighead / The White House)

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2018 — The White House on Tuesday announced it would hold an Artificial Intelligence summit, which will “bring together over 100 senior government officials, technical experts from top academic institutions, heads of industrial research labs, and American business leaders who are now adopting these emerging technologies to benefit their customers, workers, and shareholders.”

The event will take place Thursday, May 10, and is being organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It will be hosted by Michael Kratsios, who serves as the U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer and as President Trump’s Deputy Assistant for Technology Policy.

Kratsios, 31, serves as Trump’s technology adviser at OSTP, which is part of the Executive Office of the President. OSTP has a broad mandate to advise the president on the effects of science and technology on national and international affairs.

Under Trump, the OSTP has largely been neglected since the former real estate mogul and reality TV star took office. While the office boasted a staff of 135 people under former director John Holdren, who held Kratsios’ job and ran the agency under then-President Barack Obama, Trump’s OSTP — which is being run currently by Ted Wackler, a career civil servant — has only around 57 people on staff, according to spokesperson Ross Gillfillan.

Kratsios lacks the advanced academic degrees held by his predecessors at OSTP

While previous people in his position have held advanced degrees, including Obama tech adviser John Holdren, who had a Ph.D. from Stanford, Kratsios holds only a bachelor’s degree in political science and a certificate in Hellenic studies from Princeton University.

His experience with technology is limited to having spent time working for venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, where among other things he served as chief of staff to Peter Thiel, a prominent supporter of President Trump who is known for being an early investor in Facebook.

Thiel, it was later revealed, funded the invasion of privacy lawsuit by Terry Bollea — better known as Hulk Hogan — which forced Gawker Media into bankruptcy after a jury returned a $140 million verdict against the company. The dispute was later settled for $31 million. Gawker Media had previously published unflattering articles about Thiel, and appeared to publicly “out” the entrepreneur as gay in 2007.

Summit comes at a time of growing anxiety about China’s AI capabilities

Thursday’s event will take place in the shadow of a looming behemoth: A Chinese government that has embraced AI as a national priority, even as the current U.S. administration gives science and technology matters short shrift compared with its predecessor.

Last July, China announced plans to become the world leader in AI by 2030 by playing midwife to an AI industry it hopes will be worth $150 billion. An English translation of the announcement compared the project to the U.S. race to the moon in the 1960s.

While the U.S. government under President Obama released a similar report by the National Science and Technology Council in October, 2016, President Trump has expressed little interest in technology policy matters.

According to the White House, planned topics for discussion will include AI research and development (R&D), workforce development, regulatory barriers to AI innovation, and sector-specific applications of AI. Industry attendees will include executives from diverse business sectors including technology, food and agriculture, energy and manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, and transportation and logistics.

(An earlier version of this story listed Michael Kratsios as Director of OSTP. While Kratsios is Trump’s technology adviser, Deputy Chief of Staff Ted Wackler currently runs OSTP in lieu of a permanent director)

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

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First Lady’s Spokesperson To Replace Sanders As White House Press Secretary, Comms Director

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Incoming White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2019 — Stephanie Grisham, a Trump administration veteran who has served as First Lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman since 2017, will take Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ place as White House Press Secretary.

Mrs. Trump announced Grisham’s appointment in a tweet Tuesday.

“I am pleased to announce [Stephanie Grisham] will be the next [Press Secretary]” Mrs. Trump wrote, adding Grisham would also serve as White House Communications Director, a role last held by Trump confidante Hope Hicks.

Mrs. Trump added that Grisham be “working for both sides of the White House,” which means she will retain her current responsibilities as Communications Director for the Office of the First Lady.

Grisham is a veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who initially came to the White House as a deputy to then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer, but was quickly tapped to run Mrs. Trump’s communications operation.

Known for being fiercely protective of Mrs. Trump, Grisham played a key role in rolling out her signature “Be Best” anti-cyberbullying initiative.

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Sarah Sanders Will Resign At Month’s End, Trump Says

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ tenure as White House Press Secretary will come to a close at the end of this month, President Trump said in a tweet Thursday.

“After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas,” Trump tweeted.

“She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job!”

Trump added that he hoped Sanders would run for the governorship of Arkansas, a position once held by her father, Mike Huckabee.

Sanders is one of the few White House staffers who have served for the entirety of the Trump administration. She began her White House tenure as the Principal Deputy Press Secretary under Sean Spicer, but took over the top job in July of 2017 when Spicer resigned rather than report to Anthony Scaramucci, who’d been named White House Communications Director.

Scaramucci only lasted 11 days in the West Wing, but his decision to promote Sanders left a lasting impact on relations between the Trump administration and the press.

During her one year and 336 days as press secretary, the longstanding practice of holding a daily press briefing came to an end after months of contentious exchanges with reporters.

On the occasions when Sanders did brief the press, those sessions were frequently delayed until just before the President was due to speak at an event, giving her a reason to duck out of the room after as little as 20 minutes.

Her credibility as a reliable spokesperson took a hit after it was found that she’d lied about President Trump’s relationship with adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.

The release of the Mueller Report did her reputation no favors, either, as it showed that she’d admitted to lying to the press in the wake of Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey.

Asked to say a few words during a White House event on job opportunities for people with criminal records, Sanders said working in the Trump administration has been an honor and “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“I could not be prouder to have the opportunity to serve my country and particularly to work for this president,” she said.

“I’ve loved every minute of it, even the hard minutes.”

The White House did not respond to a query as to who would replace Sanders, but it is widely expected that her job will pass to Hogan Gidley, her principal deputy and a fellow Arkansan.

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Trump To Nominate Shanahan For Pentagon Boss After Five Months In ‘Acting’ Role

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Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (Defense Department photo)

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2019 — Patrick Shanahan, the ex-Boeing VP who has led the Defense Department since late last year, may soon see his “acting” career come to an end.

Shanahan, 56, will soon be nominated for Senate confirmation as the 27th Secretary of Defense, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Thursday.

“Based upon his outstanding service to the Country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be the Secretary of Defense,” Sanders said in a statement.

“Acting Secretary Shanahan has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job.”

Trump previously tapped the former Boeing executive to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense under the 26th person to hold that position, retired Marine General James Mattis.

Shanahan was made Acting Secretary of Defense in December 2018, after Mattis resigned following President Trump’s decision to accede to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s request that he pull US troops out of Syria. Before joining the Defense Department, he spent 30 years at Boeing, rising to the position of senior vice president for supply chain and operations.

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