More than 1,600 federal scientists left government in the first two years of the Trump administration, an exodus fueled by administration policies that have diminished the role of science in policy-making, according to The Washington Post.
Approximately one-fifth of the high-level appointee positions in science are vacant, normally filled by experts who shape policy and ensure research integrity. Of those who left, the numbers were greatest among social scientists, soil conservationists, hydrologists, and experts in the physical sciences -- chemistry, geology, astronomy, and physics.
Nearly 700 scientists have left the Environmental Protection Agency in the past three years. The EPA has hired 350 replacements.
Linda Birnbaum, who spent four decades working on toxicology and public health issues at the EPA and National Institutes of Health before retiring in October, said the loss of expertise weakens the government’s ability to make decisions.
“It’s going to take a long time for government science to come back. There’s little doubt about that,” said Birnbaum, who serves as an adjunct professor at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She added that NIH remains more intact because it receives bipartisan support in Congress.
“But when I look at colleagues in other agencies, especially any agency that has any regulatory role, they’re decimated,” she said.
Andrew Crane-Droesch, 38, a researcher at the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, started work on a data tool that could predict months in advance the impact of heavy rainfall on crop prices or planted fields. However, when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue relocated the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City, Crane-Droesch left his position.
Two-thirds of his division either retired or found other jobs rather than move to the greater Kansas City region. At the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which oversees $1.7 billion in scientific funding for researchers, almost 8 in every 10 employees left.
Crane-Droesch said there is no one left at the USDA who has the time or knowledge to run the model he created or to finish the project.
“All that work was for naught, and they nuked the account,” he said. “Even if they hired somebody for my portfolio -- which I don’t think they did -- it would take that person quite a while to get up to speed, just as it took me several years.”
“They never tried to refute our work; they tried to bury it by getting rid of the people who produced the work,” Crane-Droesch said.