Eric Schmidt, a former Google CEO who has also advised the United States (US) Congress and the White House, has helped to pay the salaries of more than 24 Biden administration officials via donations from his research and investment firm, Schmidt Futures, to the nonprofit research and advocacy organization, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
Schmidt Futures and other organizations help to pay the salaries of these officials by providing funding to a “Talent Hub” which is part of a FAS “Day One Project.” This Day One Project runs a FAS “Impact Fellowship” program that places “Impact Fellows” in influential government posts.
Not only has Schmidt Futures contributed to FAS but Schmidt has considerable ties to top FAS leadership and one of the Impact Fellows who was placed in a federal government role was also listed as an adviser to Schmidt Futures.
Additionally, some of the Impact Fellows are placed in federal departments to focus on areas such as clean energy and artificial intelligence (AI) — fields that Schmidt and the ventures he supports have significant investments in.
For example, FAS’s 2021 Annual Report states that some Impact Fellows were “deployed at or being recruited to enter” the Department of Energy “to support the Undersecretary for Science’s office in driving critical market-based efforts to spur a clean energy revolution” and US Citizenship and Immigration Services “to focus on the intersection of immigration policy & artificial intelligence in advancing the nation’s national security and economic growth.”
Schmidt and the ventures he supports have investments in the clean energy companies WattBuy (an energy marketplace) and Amprius (a high-energy battery company) and the AI company Rebellion Defense (which builds mission-focused AI for national defense and security).
And some of these Schmidt-backed companies have ties to the federal government departments where Impact Fellows have been placed. For example, WattBuy has partnered with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Amprius has received a funding grant from the Department of Energy.
The Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a nonprofit watchdog organization, reported that Schmidt is “a primary benefactor” of this FAS initiative “that has placed at least 24 fellows in influential government posts, many of which align with Eric Schmidt’s private financial interests.”
According to TTP, two of the fellows placed in the federal government “explicitly identify themselves as Schmidt fellows.”
One Impact Fellow at the Department of Education, John Whitmer, is listed as a “Schmidt Impact Fellow” and an adviser to Schmidt Futures in his speaker bio at the annual Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley summit.
Another Impact Fellow, Jonathan Lipman, was listed as being deployed to the General Services Administration on March 23 but this listing was removed by March 29. At the same time, Lipman was also working as an Associated Product Manager at Schmidt Futures.
Not only do some of the fellows have ties to Schmidt but Gilman Louie, the Chair of FAS and a member of President Joe Biden’s “Intelligence Advisory Board,” has multiple ties to Schmidt. He was a commissioner at the Schmidt-led National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) and a consultant on the Schmidt-led Defense Innovation Board. Louie is also the current CEO of the Schmidt-supported America’s Frontier Fund.
Additionally, several Schmidt Futures’ executives have ties to the FAS Day One Project. The Chief Innovation Officer at Schmidt Futures, Tom Kalil, and a former Senior Director at Schmidt Futures, Kumar Garg, both spoke at the Day One Project launch event. The Day One Project website also has a section that highlights posts from Kalil and contains a policy paper that was written by Schmidt Futures employees or fellows and cross-posted to a Schmidt Futures-affiliated website.
Furthermore, Kalil worked as an unpaid consultant in the White House science office for four months in 2021 while also working at Schmidt Futures. He left the White House consultancy role after ethics complaints.
According to POLITICO, members of the Biden administration are “well aware that a significant amount of the money for the salaries of FAS’s fellows” comes from Schmidt Futures and that the organization was “critical to the program to fund administration jobs.”
POLITICO added that Schmidt Futures is so influential at FAS that White House officials sometimes conflate the two organizations and view them as “dual vehicles for the funding of jobs” and other departments and agencies regularly refer to FAS personnel as “Schmidt fellows.”
In an August 2021 internal email from the White House science office’s deputy chief of staff for workforce, Elaine Ho, wrote that the Department of Energy had “secured Schmidt Futures as a funding source” and that she had “already reached out to our contact at FAS/Day One.”
Spokespeople for Schmidt, Schmidt Futures, FAS, and the White House defended the arrangement in statements to POLITICO.
Schmidt’s spokesperson argued that Schmidt “has fully complied with all necessary disclosure requirements” and “is one of many successful executives and entrepreneurs committed to addressing America’s shortcomings in AI and other related areas.”
Schmidt Futures also deemphasized its contributions to the FAS talent fund by describing itself as “just one of 20 organizations or initiatives to contribute,” contending that the funding “is administered by a neutral party to several agencies based on need and Schmidt Futures has no control over specific appointments, policies or agencies that the funding supports,” and suggesting that less than 30% of the total contributions to the FAS Day One Project come from Schmidt Futures.
And the White House spokesperson downplayed the influence of Schmidt on federal policy by asserting that “neither Eric Schmidt nor the Federation of American Scientists exert influence on policy matters” and insisting that the Biden administration enacts “the most stringent ethics guidelines of any administration in history to ensure our policy processes are free from undue influence.”
FAS asserted that it has “strict policies in place to ensure the integrity and independence of the process by mandating a firewall between our 20+ philanthropic funders, including Schmidt Futures, and the federal agencies that solely determine roles and talent placements.”
However, critics of the arrangement argued that Schmidt is trying to influence the federal government in statements to POLITICO.
Katie Paul, the director of TTP, said: “Eric Schmidt appears to be systematically abusing this little-known set of programs to exert his influence in the federal government. The question is, on whose behalf is it? Google, where he’s still a major shareholder? Is it to advance his own portfolio of investments–artificial intelligence and bioengineering or energy? The public has a right to know who is paying their public servants and why.”
Alex Engler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in AI policy, added: “Schmidt is clearly trying to influence AI policy to a disproportionate degree of any person I can think of. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in investment toward advancing AI capacity in government and not much in limiting its harmful use.”
These revelations about Schmidt helping to fund Biden administration officials’ salaries follow a previous report of Schmidt helping to pay Biden White House staff salaries earlier this year.
These reports are just some of the many examples of the former Google CEO attempting to influence the federal government and federal laws in areas where he or his companies have investments.
Between August 2018 and October 2021, Schmidt chaired the NSCAI. This commission made recommendations to the President and Congress to “advance the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated technologies to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States.” It also proposed legislation that later became law and resulted in the government investing billions of taxpayer dollars in the AI industry.
While serving on this commission, Schmidt and Schmidt-linked firms made more than 50 investments in AI companies and more than half a dozen investments into national-security startups that sell machine-learning technologies back to the government.
Several members of Biden’s transition team, who were appointed while Schmidt was chair of the NSCAI, also came from Rebellion Defense (the AI company that Schmidt has invested in).
After the NSCAI ceased operations, Schmidt used the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine to continue his advocacy for close ties between technology firms and the federal government by telling Big Tech to get involved with national defense.