Brain Drain

Mar. 6, 2020

Today, I scanned the web looking at articles that provided information and conjecture regarding the loss of, not just research, but also scientists under the current administration. There have been cuts or proposed cuts in almost all areas of scientific research. The National Health Institute, EPA, USDA, CDC, NSF on and on. This brain drain could have long range impacts on our health, food security, risk management and of course, the economy. Scientific research and the resulting technological advancements have always driven a robust economy. Information is a huge commodity in our world and scientists provide it. It alows us to be prepared. I included highlights from three articles that discuss the brain drain ongoing under this administration, a general one, coronavirus and the USDA.

In just three years, the Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide, marking a transformation of the federal government whose effects, experts say, could reverberate for years.

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

But the erosion of science reaches well beyond the environment and climate: In San Francisco, a study of the effects of chemicals on pregnant women has stalled after federal funding abruptly ended. In Washington, D.C., a scientific committee that provided expertise in defending against invasive insects has been disbanded. In Kansas City, Mo., the hasty relocation of two agricultural agencies that fund crop science and study the economics of farming has led to an exodus of employees and delayed hundreds of millions of dollars in research.

“The disregard for expertise in the federal government is worse than it’s ever been,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which has tracked more than 200 reports of Trump administration efforts to restrict or misuse science since 2017. “It’s pervasive.”


The Trump administration’s jettisoning of scientific expertise and the president’s habit of spreading misinformation means the US is in a much weaker position to deal with the threat of coronavirus, experts have warned.

But the efforts to address the outbreak risk being undermined by three years of a Trump administration that has seen an exodus of scientists from a variety of agencies, the scrapping and remodeling of scientific panels to favor industry interests and a president who regularly dismisses or distorts scientific facts – from the climate crisis to whether the moon is part of Mars – in public.

“The US is badly positioned; the federal government isn’t up to the task,” said Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “When I learned more about this virus my heart sank because I know the Trump administration doesn’t value basic science, it doesn’t understand it and it tends to reject it when it conflicts with its political narrative.”

This situation is exacerbated by a downsizing of scientific expertise within the US government. The EPA’s staff numbers, for example, are a third smaller than they were when Trump took power. In the first two years of the Trump administration, more than 1,600 federal scientists left various government agencies, according to Office of Personnel Management employment data.

The administration has attempted even deeper cuts: Trump’s 2021 budget proposal, submitted just days after international alarm was raised over the coronavirus, included a 16% reduction in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The agencies may also fail to attract the best scientists going forward because of Trump’s poor track record with the ‘deep state’ and science more generally. “There’s definitely been a brain drain in this administration, there has been an attack on science that doesn’t bode well for what we are seeing now,”


'Brain Drain' Plague USDA's Economic Research Service After Trump Administration Relocates Agency, Experts Quit

When the Trump administration relocated the United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service to the Kansas City area last year, about two-thirds of its employees quit their jobs 

The ERS, a nonpartisan federal research agency, provides objective economic data and analysis on food security: farming forecasts, crop and livestock predictions, the environment, food consumption and the consumer price index for food.

Critics — including the Union of Concerned Scientists — believe the Trump administration moved the ERS away from the Department of Agriculture’s base in Washington, D.C., to suppress facts, since the data the ERS publicizes isn’t “politically convenient for the current administration.” Many of the researchers are investigating mitigation of the effects of climate change, while the current administration denies climate change is even happening. Who fills the void left in Washington? Corporate lobbyists.

Consumers might not notice the impact right away. But the recent E. coli outbreaks in foodborne illnesses and recalls of romaine lettuce are signs pointing back to the ERS relocation and employee purge.