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Bullet policy · Mar 29, 2021

Report Shows Diminished Federal Science Workforce

A new report by Democratic lawmakers on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology warns about a “dangerously diminished” federal science workforce.

The report, Scientific Brain Drain: Quantifying the Decline of the Federal Scientific Workforce, prepared by majority staff on the science committee, details a decline in the federal scientific workforce, particularly at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to the findings, the combined civil service workforces of the EPA, DOE, and NOAA declined by 4,874 employees between 2009 and 2020. The EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s workforce declined by 7.6 percent during the Trump Administration and 17.2 percent between 2012 and 2019, losing nearly one-fifth of the office’s total workforce in seven years.

NOAA’s STEM workforce overall declined by 1.6 percent between 2009 and 2020, with the number of fish biologists declining by 8 percent; oceanographers by 9 percent; and wildlife biologists by a whopping 30 percent. At DOE, the civil service workforce declined by 3.1 percent during the Trump Administration and 7.2 percent between 2009 and 2020.

The report also highlights racial and ethnic gaps that “persist within most of the observed agency STEM workforces relative to their total workforces.” Notably, gender employment gaps are “particularly glaring” within the engineering workforce.

Some scientific agencies managed to maintain or expand their workforces. For example, the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) saw workforce increases over the past decade, although the rate of growth slowed for NIST during the Trump Administration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s workforce stayed largely flat over the decade.

According to the review, employment declines at federal science agencies date back to budget cuts in the early 2010s but were “aggravated by the Trump administration’s open hostility toward federal scientists and the federal workforce in general.” The report warns that these statistics “suggest a dangerous retrenchment of American scientific leadership.”

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