New Report Highlights Smaller Workforces, Increased Political Pressure in Scientific Agencies

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists and Iowa State University, based on a survey of more than 63,000 federal scientists, has found an increased feeling of politicization limiting the scientists from doing their work free of political pressure.

“In many cases, administration officials have clamped down on public communication and retaliated against experts who share information on politically contentious issues,” the report said. “Some officials have overruled the recommendations of scientific experts, dismissed independent science advisors, and hindered data collection and public access to scientific information.”

The report also notes that the feeling of not being able to complete work is exacerbated by downsizing across many agencies, with 79 percent of those who responded reporting workforce reductions in the past year, while 82 percent of that segment “said those reductions made it more difficult for their agencies to fulfill their scientific missions,” according to Jory Heckman of Federal News Radio.

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Heckman identified a few key findings in the report, namely that:

  • 20 percent of respondents identified agency political appointees or the White House as a top barrier to science-based decision-making at their agencies.
  • 50 percent of respondents said “political interests” hindered their ability to make science-based decisions at their agencies.
  • 31 percent of respondents said senior agency management, with a background in the industries they now regulate, impacted decision-making.

“Federal scientists are doing the best they can, but many report that they lack the resources and institutional support to inform agency decisions most effectively,” the report said.

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Notably, the administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget plan would reduce EPA staff by another 20 percent, despite its smallest workforce in two decades, having reduced in size by more than 1,000 employees since December of 2016, a considerable dent for an agency boasting a total workforce of just over 15,000.

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