Section 2. Character of Federal Science and Engineering Employment

Employment Growth
Work Activities
Work Activity by Major Agency

In this section we examine the number of employed Federal scientists and engineers by agency and work activity, with emphasis on the agencies with the largest number of Federal scientists and engineers. Research, development, and design, together with data collection, processing and analysis, and natural resource operations are the major work activities of Federal scientists and engineers. In 1993, the Department of Defense (DOD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration employed almost three-quarters of all Federal scientists and engineers. Work activity and agency of employment are indicators of the character of the Federal science and technology establishment. Whereas the overall number of Federal scientists and engineers increased, their numbers declined in the defense agencies and increased in most nondefense agencies. This shift resulted in a decrease in the number of scientists and engineers engaged in defense R&D.

Employment Growth

During 1989-93, employment of scientists and engineers in DOD decreased by 2.2 percent. All other agencies increased by 14.1 percent. Within DOD the number of Federal scientists and engineers employed in the Department of Army decreased by 4.7 percent, followed by the Navy (-3.6 percent), and the Air Force (-1.3 percent). Other Defense agencies, which account for a smaller portion of DOD's share of Federal scientists and engineers, increased significantly (34.8 percent) (table 4).

Table 4

The large DOD decrease reflected weakened demand within DOD for engineers and scientists to work on various defense-related activities (e.g. research; design; production; and installation, operations, and maintenance). Despite the decrease in the number of scientists and engineers at DOD during 1989-93, DOD continued to maintain the largest share of Federal S&E human resources.

Most nondefense agencies, such as the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Treasury, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, showed higher than average growth during 1989-93.

The relative importance of each agency in providing employment opportunities for scientists and engineers varied significantly. In 1993, the Department of Defense employed 66.9 percent of all Federal engineers but only 27.9 percent of all Federal scientists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the second-largest employer of Federal scientists and engineers, employed 15.3 percent of all Federal scientists and 2.3 percent of all Federal engineers. The agencies with the largest populations of Federal scientists and engineers are discussed in the agency sections that follow.

Work Activities

Scientists and engineers employed in primary work activities associated with defense programs decreased more rapidly than those employed in nondefense work activities during 1989-93. The proportion of Federal scientists and engineers engaged in development decreased slightly, from 15.5 percent in 1989 to 15.0 percent in 1993. The proportion employed in design activities decreased from 8.2 percent in 1989 to 7.2 percent in 1993, whereas those engaged in installation, operations, and maintenance decreased from 6.2 percent in 1989 to 5.8 percent in 1993. Test and evaluation; technical assistance and consulting; regulatory enforcement or licensing; clinical practice, counseling, and ancillary medical service; and scientific and technical information all increased in relative importance during 1989-93. Nevertheless, research (11 percent) and development (15 percent) activities continued to be the major work activities of Federal scientists and engineers in 1993 (appendix table B-2).

Work Activities by Major Agencies

Changes in primary work activities reflect shifts in employment and work activity patterns within individual agencies. To better understand activities within the Federal sector, we examine the agencies with the largest number of scientists and engineers.

Department of Defense

The number of scientists and engineers employed at DOD decreased during 1989-93. This drop was accompanied by significant decreases in certain occupational groups and certain primary work activities.

Over the 4-year period, employment of engineers at DOD decreased while that for scientists increased. The occupations with the highest growth included life scientists (30.9 percent), social scientists (11.2 percent), and computer and mathematical scientists (4.8 percent). All engineering occupations showed decreases except for electrical, electronics, and computer engineers, which showed a small increase during the period.

There was a slight shift in the primary work activities of DOD scientists and engineers over the period 1989-93. In general, those employed in 1993 were less likely to be employed in activities such as research, design, management, planning, data collection processing and analysis, standards and specifications, production, and construction, and more likely to be employed in activities such as development; test and evaluation; regulatory enforcement and licensing; clinical practice, counseling, and ancillary medical services; and scientific and technical information.

Department of Agriculture

Employment of Federal scientists and engineers at USDA reached 17,764 in 1993, or 9 percent of all Federal scientists and engineers. This number was up from 16,875 and represents an increase of 5.3 percent. The growth was accompanied by some shifts in both occupational groups and work activities. For instance, as a proportion of total science and engineering employment at USDA, the number of scientists increased from 86.4 percent in 1989 to 87.5 percent in 1993.

The occupational distribution of scientists and engineers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) changed over the 4-year period covered in this report. The growth of USDA scientists was 6.6 percent, whereas engineers decreased by 3.0 percent. Among the individual occupational series, computer and mathematical scientists showed the most rapid growth (23.8 percent), followed by electrical, electronics, and computer engineers (23.7 percent), and social scientists (8.7 percent). Notably slower growth was recorded by life scientists (5.9 percent) and chemical engineers (5.3 percent). Decreases in employment were recorded for civil engineers (5.9 percent), physical scientists (4.0 percent), and mechanical engineers (2.6 percent).

Work activities of scientists and engineers employed at USDA shifted during 1989-93. Scientists and engineers employed at USDA were less likely to be employed in research, design, planning, technical assistance and consulting, and construction and more likely to be employed in development; test and evaluation; management; installation, operations and maintenance; and natural resource operations. Natural resource operations was the largest primary work activity (51.8 percent of all USDA scientists and engineers in 1993). During 1989-93 the number of scientists and engineers at USDA engaged in this work activity increased by 10.2 percent.

Department of the Interior

The number of scientists and engineers employed at the Department of the Interior increased by 13.5 percent during 1989-93, from 11,846 in 1989 to 13,450 in 1993. There were also some shifts in the occupational mix and the work activities of those employed. The scientists and engineers at Interior made up approximately 6.8 percent of all Federal scientists and engineers in 1993, up from 6.4 percent in 1989.

Excluding chemical engineers, all major occupational series increased in number at the U.S. Department of the Interior over the 4-year period covered in this report. Scientists increased by 16.7 percent, whereas engineers increased by a lower amount, 2.8 percent. Among individual occupational series, life scientists showed the most rapid growth (31.8 percent), followed by computer and mathematical scientists (29.8 percent), social scientists (19.9 percent), industrial engineers (13.3 percent), and mechanical engineers (12.9 percent). Notably slower growth was recorded by physical scientists (2.0 percent), civil engineers (3.6 percent), and electrical, electronics, and computer engineers (7.5 percent). Negative growth was recorded for chemical engineers (8.2 percent).

There was a shift in the primary work activities of scientists and engineers employed at Interior during 1989-93. Those employed in 1993 were more likely to be engaged in activities such as natural resource operations, technical assistance and consulting, development, management, planning, scientific and technical information, research, construction, and test and evaluation.

The largest number of scientists and engineers at Interior were engaged in natural resource operations, and they increased by 33.5 percent during 1989-93. In 1993, 18.3 percent of Interior's scientific and engineering workforce was conducting research, down from 19.2 percent in 1989. This portion of Interior's workforce experienced moderate growth between 1989 and 1993 (7.8 percent). The next largest group was employed in data collection, processing, and analysis. In 1993 there were 2,200 scientists and engineers at Interior in this category, up from 2,029 in 1989, representing an increase of 8.4 percent. Scientists and engineers in planning accounted for only 6.2 percent of Interior's S&E workforce and decreased by 5.6 percent during 1989-93.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The number of scientists and engineers employed at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) increased slightly during 1989-93. Despite low employment growth, there were some shifts in the occupational mix and the work activities of those employed. The number of scientists and engineers employed at NASA grew by 504 employees, from 11,920 in 1989 to 12,424 in 1993. The scientists and engineers at NASA made up approximately 6.3 percent of all Federal scientists and engineers in 1993, down from 6.4 percent in 1989. During 1989-93 the number of scientists decreased by 1.2 percent and that of engineers increased by 5 percent. Among the individual occupational series, industrial engineers showed the most rapid growth (30.8 percent), followed by life scientists (24.5 percent) and electrical, electronics, and computer engineers (7.6 percent). Notably slower growth was recorded for physical scientists (4.1 percent), aerospace engineers (2.1 percent), and mechanical engineers (1.5 percent). Negative growth was recorded for civil engineers (37.5 percent), computer and mathematical scientists (14.3 percent), and chemical engineers (3.8 percent).

There was a shift in the primary work activities of scientists and engineers employed at NASA during 1989-93. Those in 1993 were more likely to be employed in management, design, research, and development work, and less likely to be employed in most other activities.

The largest number of scientists and engineers at NASA were engaged in development; they increased their numbers by 4.8 percent. The next largest group (2,324) was employed in research, up very slightly from the number in 1989 (2,306). In 1993, 10.8 percent of NASA's scientific and engineering workforce was classified in management. This portion of NASA's workforce grew rapidly; the increase from 1989 to 1993 was 12.9 percent. Employment growth in all other activities (planning; standards and specifications; scientific and technical information; installation, operations, and maintenance; data collection, processing, and analysis; and technical assistance and consulting) declined during 1989-93.

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