The Obama administration quietly hired 20 social and behavioral research experts to help expand the use of government programs at dozens of agencies by, among other things, simplifying federal forms, according to records obtained by Judicial Watch.
The controversial group of experts is collectively known as the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST) and it functions under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
In 2015 Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use behavioral science to sell their programs to the public, the records obtained by Judicial Watch reveal. By then the government had contracted “20 leading social and behavioral research experts” that at that point had already been involved in “more than 75 agency collaborations,” the records state. A memo sent from SBST chair Maya Shankar, a neuroscientist, to OSTP Director John Holdren offers agencies guidance and information about available government support for using behavioral insights to improve federal forms. Sent electronically, the memo is titled “Behavioral Science Insights and Federal Forms.”
The records, obtained from the OSTP under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), also include a delivery by Holdren in which he insists that the social and behavioral sciences “are real science, with immensely valuable practical applications—the views of a few members of Congress to the contrary notwithstanding—and that these sciences abundantly warrant continuing support in the Federal science and technology budget.”
Holdren, a Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, is a peculiar character who worked as an environmental professor at Harvard and the University of California Berkeley before becoming Obama’s science advisor. In the late 70s he co-authored a book with doomsayer Paul Ehrlich advocating for mandatory sterilization of the American people and forced abortions in order to depopulate the country. As head of the OSTP Holdren technically oversees the SBST.