The Federal government has seen a significant decline in the workforce at three key Federal scientific agencies over the last 10 years, according to a report from the majority staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

The report found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DoE), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lost a combined 4,874 employees between Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2020.

During the Trump administration, the report says, workforce declines amounted to 3.9 percent at EPA, and 3.1 percent at DoE, the report says.

“The past decade has witnessed employment declines at critical federal science agencies,” the report says. “The declines, which extend back at least as far as the budget cuts of the early 2010s, were aggravated by the Trump Administration’s open hostility towards federal scientists and the federal workforce in general. … The four years of the Trump Administration were devastating for the federal scientific workforce.”

While there were agency-wide declines in employment during the Trump years, the cuts were more significant in the alternative energy fields and biodiversity fields, the report says.

At EPA, STEM cuts accounted for 60 percent of workforce losses, with a 24.3 percent decrease in environmental protection specialists and a 5.7 percent decrease in environmental engineers. DoE saw STEM employment stay steady over the Trump administration, but had a 21.2 percent decline in the nuclear energy workforce, along with an 8.7 percent decline in the Office of Renewable Energy, and a 12.2 percent decline in the fossil energy area.

The report found that NOAA’s biggest declines in the civil workforce during the Trump administration came from scientists studying the ocean. The agency saw a 30.4 percent decline in marine biologists, a nine percent decline in oceanographers, and an 8.1 percent decline in fish biologists.

The last decade also saw persistent racial and gender employment gaps at the agencies. From 2016 to 2020, Black STEM employment at NOAA rose by only 0.4 percent,  compared to a 13.6 percent increase in STEM employment of other minorities – and EPA’s Black STEM workforce declined 8.7 percent, the report says.

The gender gaps are concentrated within the engineering fields at these agencies, with NOAA employing 8.5 male engineers for every female engineer; DoE employing four males for every one female engineer; and the gender gap in engineering at EPA accounting for more than half the gender gap of the agency’s STEM workforce, according to the report.

“These statistics are not dry facts. They represent research funded more slowly, laws and regulations less effectively enforced, morale weakened, perspectives narrowed, and opportunities missed to cultivate and support the next generation of great American scientists. They suggest a dangerous retrenchment of American scientific leadership,” the report says.

In addition to the EPA, NOAA, and DoE, the study looked at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T).

While the report found significant decreases in employment at NOAA, EPA, and DoE, the rest of the agencies studied saw a marginal-to-modest increase in agency employment over the same period.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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