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Diversity in the Federal Science and Engineering Workforce

NSF 11-303 | January 2011 | PDF format. PDF  
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by Joan S. Burrelli and Jaquelina C. Falkenheim[1]

Women, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and persons with disabilities are underrepresented in the federal science and engineering (S&E) workforce compared with their proportions of the U.S. population.[2] The federal government employed 235,000 scientists and engineers in the United States in 2009.[3] This InfoBrief addresses gender, racial/ethnic, and disability characteristics of federal scientists and engineers, including breakouts by agency, occupation, and level (Senior Executive Service [SES] or non-SES).

Over at least the past decade, the federal S&E workforce has become more diverse, with increasing numbers and percentages of women and minorities. Women's share of the federal S&E workforce rose from 21% in 2000 to 27% in 2009 (table 1). The share of minorities (Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians)[4] rose from 18% in 2000 to 22% in 2009, with Asians at 9%; blacks, 8%; Hispanics, 4%; and American Indians, 1%. In 2009, minority women accounted for 8%, and persons with disabilities accounted for 5% of federal scientists and engineers (table 2).

TABLE 1. Federal scientists and engineers, by sex and race/ethnicity: 2000–09.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

TABLE 2. Federal scientists and engineers, by occupation, sex, race/ethnicity and disability status: 2009.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file


Men and women, racial/ethnic groups, and persons with and without disabilities differ in their distributions across S&E occupations within the federal government. A smaller proportion of women than of men are engineers, and a larger proportion are social scientists (table 2). Asians are more likely to be engineers and less likely to be social scientists than other racial/ethnic groups. Blacks are more likely to be computer and mathematical scientists and less likely to be life scientists and engineers than other racial/ethnic groups. The occupational distributions for scientists and engineers with and without disabilities are more similar than those for men and women and for different racial/ethnic groups. However, a higher proportion of persons with disabilities than of those without disabilities are computer and mathematical scientists, and a lower proportion are engineers.


The federal agencies with the largest proportions of scientists and engineers are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), and Department of Energy (DOE).[5] Differences in diversity within specific federal agencies are related to differences in diversity of occupations.

The top five federal agencies with the highest proportions of female scientists and engineers (between 41% and 47%) were the Department of Education (ED), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Social Security Administration (SSA), and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) (table 3). Conversely, the agencies with the lowest proportion of female scientists and engineers (about one in five) were the Department of Defense (DOD), NRC, Department of Transportation (DOT), DOE, and NASA. More than half of scientists and engineers employed in these agencies are engineers (NSF/SRS 2009b), an occupation with a relatively small proportion of women.

TABLE 3. Federal scientists and engineers, by agency, sex, and race/ethnicity: 2009.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

The top five agencies with the highest proportions of Asian scientists and engineers (and, for the most part, Asian female scientists and engineers) were HHS, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), General Services Administration, ED, and Department of the Treasury (Treasury) (table 3 and table 4). This proportion ranges from 13% to 23%. The agencies with the largest proportions of black scientists and engineers (ranging from 14% to 19%) are Treasury, HUD, SSA, ED, and DOJ; in addition, these agencies have relatively high proportions of black female scientists and engineers. The proportions of Hispanic scientists and engineers are highest (between 6% and 9%) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), NRC, HUD, DOJ, and DOT; DOJ, DHS, and NRC are also the agencies with the highest proportions of Hispanic female scientists and engineers. Agencies with the lowest proportions of minority scientists and engineers (about 11% to 21%) were the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, NSF, Department of Commerce, NASA, and DOE. Minorities are often a larger share of the S&E workforce in agencies with relatively more computer scientists and social scientists and, in the case of Asians, with more engineers.

TABLE 4. Federal scientists and engineers, by agency and race/ethnicity: 2009.

  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

As is the case with minorities, persons with disabilities' share of the S&E workforce within agencies reflects to some degree the prevalence of computer scientists within those agencies. Although the proportion of federal scientists and engineers with disabilities is low across the federal government, the agencies with the highest proportions are the VA, NSF, and Treasury (9%, 7%, and 7%, respectively) (figure 1).

FIGURE 1. Proportion of scientists and engineers in the federal government with disabilities, by agency: 2009.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

Senior Executive Service

SES includes senior managerial, supervisory, and policy positions in the executive branch of the federal government. The proportion of scientists and engineers who are in the SES is small (1%) and mostly white (88%), male (80%), and without disabilities (96%) (table 5). Men are a larger percentage of SES than of non-SES S&E occupations; women, minorities, and minority women are all smaller percentages of SES than of non-SES S&E occupations. Persons with disabilities are similar percentages of both categories. Female and minority scientists and engineers in the federal government are younger, on average, than their male and white counterparts (NSF/SRS 2009b).

TABLE 5. Federal scientists and engineers, by SES status, sex, race/ethnicity, and disability status: 2009.

  Table 5 Source Data: Excel file

Data Sources and Limitations

This report presents data on the demographic and employment characteristics of scientists and engineers who hold at least a bachelor's degree and who were employed by the U.S. government during the years 2000 through 2009. Federal white-collar employees were classified as scientists and engineers by examining the occupation definitions of federal occupational groups and series and determining whether those descriptions fit within the NSF taxonomy for S&E occupations. General job series rather than individual job descriptions were examined and categorized; employees within these series or groups are not necessarily working as scientists and engineers or doing S&E work. Conversely, there are some occupations that have not been classified as S&E occupations. For example, patent examiners have not been included in S&E occupations, even though some of the employees within this occupation are trained as scientists and engineers.

Data for this report were obtained from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In 2006 OPM effected changes to the way it collects data on race/ethnicity. The changes (1) allow individuals to report more than one race and (2) make Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander and Asian separate categories. To keep data consistent over time, OPM aggregated 2006–08 data in this report according to the previous race/ethnicity categories. Thus, Asian includes Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and non-Hispanic individuals who reported two or more races are included in the largest of the non-white races reported by that individual. OPM's database does not include information for the following federal civilian employees (thus, these data are excluded from this report): members and employees of Congress; Architect of the Capitol; Botanic Garden; Library of Congress; Government Accountability Office; Congressional Budget Office; John C. Stennis Center for Public Service Training and Development; Office of Compliance; U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; members and employees of the judicial branch; White House Office; Office of the Vice President; Office of Policy Development; Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; Panama Canal Commission; Central Intelligence Agency; National Security Agency; National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; U.S. Postal Service; Postal Regulatory Commission; Tennessee Valley Authority; and foreign nationals employed overseas.

Information on data quality and survey methodology can be found at FedScope at http://www.fedscope.opm.gov/datadefn/acpdf.asp. The OPM website on federal civilian workforce statistics can be accessed at http://www.opm.gov/Statistics_Information_Instructions/. NSF data on federal scientists and engineers are available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/fedworkforce/.


[1]  Joan S. Burrelli (jburrell@nsf.gov; 703-292-7793) and Jaquelina C. Falkenheim (jfalkenh@nsf.gov; 703-292-7798), Science and Engineering Indicators Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230.

[2]  See NSF/SRS 2009a for data on demographics of the U.S. population.

[3]  Federal S&E employment includes employees in pay status within the federal government. It does not include, for example, individuals employed under contract, or those employed through Intergovernmental Personnel Act Assignments (IPAs). IPAs are assignments made to or from federal agencies, state and local governments, colleges and universities, American Indian tribal governments, federally funded research and development centers, and qualified nonprofit organizations involved in public management. IPA appointees often serve as program officers or executives, among other positions in the federal government.

[4]  Asians include Pacific Islanders, and American Indians include Alaska Natives.

[5]  For data on total U.S. employment by agency, see http://www.fedscope.opm.gov/employment.asp (December 2009).


National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics (NSF/SRS) 2009a. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. Special Report NSF 09-305. Arlington, VA. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics (NSF/SRS). 2009b. Federal Scientists and Engineers: 2003–05. Detailed Statistical Tables NSF 09-302. Arlington, VA. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/fedworkforce/.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Diversity in the Federal Science and Engineering Workforce
Arlington, VA (NSF 11-303) [January 2011]

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