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Hiring of US federal scientists needs immediate attention

by Andrea Widener
March 20, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 10


Screenshot of Candice Wright testifiying online from a home office during a congressional hearing.
Credit: House Science, Space, and Technology Committee
Candice Wright, acting director for science, technology assessment, and analytics at the US Government Accountability Office, described at the hearing ways that agencies can improve hiring.

The US government needs to better recruit and retain scientists, according to witnesses at a March 17 hearing by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. A decline in the number of federal scientists accelerated during the Donald J. Trump administration, data show. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s workforce decreased 3.9% during Trump’s tenure and 16% since 2009, according to numbers presented by the committee. The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy lost 20% of its workforce during the first 3 years of the Trump administration. And a large proportion of government scientists are nearing retirement age. The witnesses agreed that the government’s recruiting methods are outdated and that hiring takes too long—up to 100 days, in some cases. In addition to fixing those problems, federal science agencies should start recruiting from a wider array of universities, such as those the US categorizes as minority-serving institutions, and move away from the trend of making more jobs contract positions, the witnesses said. Qualified scientists are available, Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists said at the hearing, but agencies are not making the jobs seem attractive. “A lot of these are self-inflicted wounds,” he said.


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