House Committee Examines Barriers to Entry into the Federal STEM Workforce

On Wednesday, March 17, The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing titled “Brain Drain: Rebuilding the Federal Scientific Workforce”.

The committee heard from witnesses, including current and former government officials and non-profit science and workforce advocates, about the state of the federal STEM workforce and current challenges to recruitment and retention. Members of Congress and witnesses agreed that inconsistent budgets and outdated hiring practices have led to an overreliance on contractors and painted an unattractive picture of careers in the federal workforce.

Witnesses identified roadblocks ranging from basic issues such as the poor user interface of USAJobs, to much larger concerns like the frequency of government shutdowns and budget fluctuations that take away from the promise of job stability that comes with federal employment.  Members raised the need for better incentives to bring workers to the public sector as well as concerns about the STEM pipeline.

Witness testimony highlighted key policy recommendations that may aid in restoring interest in federal STEM jobs and promote a stronger and more stable federal scientific workforce. Culture change was a constant thread, and witnesses called for the federal government to shine a brighter light on the history and scientific achievements at government agencies in order to emphasize the feeling of public service that is so important to many federal employees.

More straightforward proposals included expanding paid internship programs and student-loan repayment programs, which serve to generate early interest in public employment and incentivize long term commitment to the public sector. Most immediately, each witness pointed to the burdensome federal hiring process in which, even if an offer is made, onboarding can take up to 100 days. Witnesses emphasized that talented individuals will have multiple options as they seek employment, and basic roadblocks such as this can be the difference between fostering life-long public servants and permanently discouraging public sector employment.