Where have all the scientists gone?

According to federal employment data, over the last four years, many of the ones employed by the government quit, retired, or moved to other agencies. Scientists say the exodus occurred largely because of the Trump administration’s hostility toward science.

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ABC News reports that the Environmental Protection Agency lost over 670 science jobs during Trump’s presidency. The U.S. Geological Survey dropped 150 science jobs, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lost 231.

The numbers are even worse at the United States Department of Agriculture. During the 2019 fiscal year, over one-third of staff members left the agency’s Economic Research Service and its National Institute of Food and Agriculture (that’s about 200 employees). Most of the losses occurred after the Trump administration moved the scientists’ jobs from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City.

White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, speaking at a Republican party event at his home, boasted that the move would encourage scientists to resign.

“I don’t know if you saw the news the other day, but the USDA moved two offices out of Washington, D.C., I think to Kansas City, Missouri,” Mulvaney told the crowd. “Guess what happened. Guess what happened. More than half the people quit.”

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Favoring Industry Insiders

Not all agencies saw job losses under Trump, and the USGS and EPA were shedding positions before Trump took office. But many say Trump’s pro-industry agenda and disregard for science played a direct role in the declining numbers of scientists working at federal agencies during his presidency.

Joe Clement, a former Interior Department climate scientist who resigned in 2017, told ABC News that the Trump administration intentionally sought to reduce the ranks of scientists working for the government. The reason, he said, was that scientists “stand in the way of unfettered industrial use of resources.” Clement filed a whistleblower complaint after the administration reassigned him to an accounting office. The complaint is still pending.

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Source: C-SPAN/YouTube

“We had a big bullseye on us,” said Dan Costa, who headed the climate and energy program at the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “People couldn’t use the word climate.” In 2017, the Trump administration made its disdain for science plain when it banned words like “evidence-based” and “science-based” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Long-Term Effects

The loss of science jobs in federal agencies has led to setbacks in researching wildfires in the Rocky Mountains. There have been delays in the study of migratory birds experiencing habitat loss. And criminal polluters have been able to evade charges by a staff-strapped EPA.

Source: ABC News/YouTube

Now, the Biden administration faces an enormous challenge: advancing an ambitious climate agenda while trying to rebuild the federal scientific workforce. As former EPA enforcement official Kyla Bennett told ABC News, “It’s going to take a long time to undo the damage that the Trump administration has done.”

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