Federal agencies face a “difficult task of staying apace of advances in science and technology while competing for talent with the private sector, universities, and non-profit research centers,” GAO has said, calling on agencies to carry out recommendations it has made in numerous reports in recent years.
GAO told a House committee that the government’s general challenges related to skills gaps in the federal workforce—which again was a focus of its most recent high-risk report—apply in particular to jobs in the scientific fields—and that its general recommendations for addressing those gaps apply as well.
For example, it said that “while some agencies have made progress, none have fully implemented” its recommendation to identify current skill gaps and future needs in the workforce and select the right human capital tools to address them. Among those tools are authorities to boost recruitment and retention through higher pay, it said, but the government is not sufficiently analyzing how effective they are in achieving those goals.
“Factors affecting the working environment may also influence agencies’ ability to attract, hire, and retain personnel,” it said. Regarding science occupations specifically, GAO said that policies such as “restrictions on conference participation can be a disincentive to federal employment. Agency officials told GAO that scientists and engineers establish their professional reputations by presenting research at conferences to have their work published and, without such opportunities, researchers may find federal employment less desirable.”
GAO also cited concerns about political interference with scientific or technological findings, noting that a recent memo from President Biden re-emphasized a decade-old directive that agencies should ensure a culture of scientific integrity and ordered a review of whether findings have been suppressed or altered.