Section 1. Employment of Federal Scientists and Engineers

Levels and Trends
Comparisons With Other Sectors

Level and Trends

Employment of Federal scientists and engineers increased from 185,623 in 1989 to 196,908 in 1993, or by 6.1 percent. Over the same period all U.S. scientists and engineers employed in S&E jobs increased an estimated 10.6 percent. Overall U.S. civilian employment during 1989-93 increased by 1.7 percent (table 1).

Table 1

The relatively small increase in Federal science and engineering employment was part of the modest increase in overall Federal employment. Federal full-time civilian white collar employees, which include Federal scientists and engineers, increased by only 1.2 percent. In 1993 the number of scientists (101,348) surpassed the number of engineers (95,560). Scientists accounted for 48.2 percent of the Federal scientific and engineering workforce in 1989, gradually increasing to 51.5 percent in 1993. Among scientists, social scientists grew the most (17.8 percent). Growth in two other major scientific occupational series was also high-life scientists increased by 16.6 percent, and computer and mathematical scientists increased by 15.4 percent. Physical scientists showed the lowest growth, 3.9 percent.

Employment trends of the various engineering occupational series were generally negative. Overall employment of engineers decreased by 0.6 percent during 1989-93. Only one major engineering occupational group enjoyed employment growth during the period of analysis-electrical, electronics, and computer engineers, which increased by 4 percent.

All other major occupational groups in engineering decreased, with the largest decline being among industrial engineers (21.3 percent).


Data on the mobility of scientists and engineers in the Federal Government are not available. However, if we examine the proportion of those employed in an occupational group who also held their highest degree in a field related to their occupational group, we can infer some conclusions concerning mobility.

If an occupational group has a large portion of employees holding their highest degree in a field similar to the field of the occupational group, it may mean that entry into the group is rigid and dependent on the field of degree. Conversely, a lower proportion indicates that entry is flexible and that educational training in one of a variety of degree fields is acceptable for entry.

Across most scientific and engineering occupations in the Federal Government, a large portion of those employed in a particular field also hold their degree in that field. In 1993, 72 percent of scientists employed in the Federal Government had their highest degree in a scientific discipline, whereas 86.3 percent of the engineers had their highest degree in engineering (table 2).

Table 2

In two occupational categories, fewer than 61 percent of Federal scientists and engineers had their highest degree in a field corresponding to their occupational field. The occupations include computer and mathematical scientists (41.2 percent) and social scientists (60.3 percent). In 1993 a significant proportion of computer and mathematical scientists (11 percent) had their highest degree in one of the social sciences and a large proportion had degrees in non-S&E fields (35.7 percent). A large proportion of those working as social scientists had their highest degree in non-S&E fields (34.8 percent).

Comparisons With Other Sectors

The proportion of all U.S. scientists and engineers employed by the Federal Government is small and declining. In 1989 7.3 percent of all scientists and engineers were employed by the Federal Government, with the proportion decreasing to 7.0 percent in 1993 (table 3).

Table 3

However, the growth in the number of Federal scientists and engineers (6.1 percent) is higher than that for all Federal civilian white collar employees (1.2 percent). The growth in employment of R&D scientists and engineers (2.3 percent) did not keep pace with the growth for all Federal scientists and engineers (6.1 percent).

In 1989 research or development was the primary work activity of 27 percent of all Federal scientists and engineers. By 1993 this percentage had decreased slightly, to 26 percent. Federal support for research and development is one of the most important factors affecting Federal Government employment of scientists and engineers. During the period covered in this report there was a significant increase reported in the Federal R&D intramural budget-the actual intramural performance of R&D supported by Federal agencies. But although the Federal intramural R&D budget grew by 10 percent, the growth amounted to a very small increase when adjusted for inflation.

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