Polluting factories go uninspected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Leadership positions sit vacant at the U.S. Geological Survey’s climate science centers. And U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research into environmental issues important to farmers is unfinished. Federal data shows that the ranks of scientists who carry out ecological research, enforcement, and other jobs fell in several agencies — sharply in some — under former President Donald Trump. Veteran staffers say many retired, quit, or moved to other agencies amid pressure from an administration they regarded as hostile to science and beholden to industry.
That poses a challenge for President Joe Biden, who must rebuild a depleted and demoralized workforce to make good on promises to tackle climate change, protect the environment and reduce pollution that disproportionately affects poor and minority communities. It’s going to take a long time to undo the damage that the Trump administration has done,” said Kyla Bennett, a former EPA enforcement official. She now directs science policy for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group. Bennett said many scientists left as Trump’s administration rolled back regulations and undercut climate work, leaving agencies with less experience, a work backlog, and unfinished research.
Employment data shows more than 670 science jobs lost at the EPA, 150 at the U.S. Geological Survey, which researches human-caused climate change and natural hazards, and 231 at the Fish and Wildlife Service. At the USDA, more than one-third of staff members — almost 200 people — left the agency’s Economic Research Service and its National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Fiscal Year 2019, after the Trump administration moved their jobs from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City. The loss of experienced staff was profound,” said spokesman Matt Herrick, who provided figures showing even deeper losses at one point. “We lost too many of the nation’s best economists and agricultural scientists.