Survey shows many researchers think staff cuts and politics interfere with their work

More than a year and a half into President Trump’s tenure, a survey of 4200 federal scientists at 16 US agencies found that 79% reported workforce reductions at their offices over the past year due retirements, buyouts and hiring freezes. 87% of respondents said these staffing cuts has made it more difficult for agencies to fulfil their missions. However, perceptions varied significantly between scientists and different agencies.

Overall, about 50% of scientists who participated in the poll – which was administered by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Iowa State University earlier this year – either agreed or strongly agreed that political interests were making it harder for their agencies to make science-based decisions. For example, 81% of the respondents from the Environmental Protection Agency concurred that this is a problem. Meanwhile, 15% of scientists reported an increase in effectiveness of their divisions, although 46% described an overall decrease in personal job satisfaction.

Federal scientists also reported that some political appointees at key agencies lack subject expertise and are hostile to their agency’s mission. ‘At several federal agencies and departments, scientists reported that political and capacity pressures are compromising their ability to protect public health and the environment,’ said Jacob Carter, a research scientist at UCS and a co-author of the report.

However, scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration perceived significantly less political pressure than their colleagues at other agencies.