National Science Board releases workforce report with new sense of urgency

November 19, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The National Science Board (NSB) today released a report on the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) workforce following a three-year study, saying that new figures on the proportion of foreign-born workers in science and technology occupations make it crucial for the government to "act now" to meet future needs in science, engineering and technology fields.

NSB members briefing media at the National Press Club said that a sampling from 2000 Census figures indicates a larger than previously known percentage of degree-holding, foreign-born professionals working in the United States in science and engineering occupations. The NSB presenters also revealed a downturn in the number of H1-B visas issued to foreign-born workers in science and technology.

According to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) figures derived from the 1990 Census estimates of foreign-born workers in 1999 holding bachelor's degrees represented 11 percent of the total population in S&E-classified occupations. Foreign-born individuals with master's degrees held 19 percent of the S&E occupations held by master's recipients overall. Foreign-born Ph.D.s represented 29 percent of those positions.

The 2000 Census figures, however, allowed for the first time a sampling that takes into account foreign workers holding degrees obtained in countries outside the United States. When factored in, the estimated proportions of foreign-born workers in S&E occupations in 1999 rose between six and 10 percent per category. Foreign-born workers with bachelor's degrees actually represented 17 percent of the total in S&E positions held by people with bachelor's degrees. The foreign-born proportion went up to 29 percent among those with master's degrees, and 38 percent among doctorate holders. NSF analysts point out that during the 1990s, there was a large influx of foreign-born scientists and engineers across most fields.

NSB members also reported that from 2001 to 2002, H-1B visas for foreign workers in science, engineering and technology-related fields declined sharply from about 166,000 to around 74,000.

The NSB began its review of the workforce in October 2000, even then recognizing that global competition for S&E talent was intensifying while the number of native-born graduates entering the S&E workforce was declining, a trend likely to continue, it said. The newest figures confirm the need for national-level action to ensure the nation's capacity in these critical fields in the face of an increasingly competitive global market, said members today.

"These trends provide policymakers with the unusual challenge in the coming years of producing enough talent from pools of both U.S. and foreign-educated professionals to fill the important and growing numbers of positions we expect in critical fields," said Warren M. Washington, NSB chair. Washington led the Press Club discussion on the board's new report, The Science and Engineering Workforce - Realizing America's Potential. Appearing with him were three members of the task force on national S&E workforce policies who led the study, Joseph A. Miller, an executive with Corning, Inc., George M. Langford, a research scientist, and Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas - El Paso. National Science Foundation director Rita R. Colwell was also on hand for the presentation.

The task force briefing team explained that the statistical trends reinforce a national policy imperative stated in the report - that the government needs to "step forward" to ensure the adequacy of the future U.S. science and engineering workforce. Members said stakeholders must "mobilize" to initiate efforts to "increase the numbers of U.S. citizens pursuing science and engineering studies and careers." But at the same time, the officials on hand today were careful to point out that this effort should not be a tradeoff for, or at the expense of, foreign-born talent that the nation needs, desires and appreciates.

Among the NSB's key recommendations was that the government should provide undergraduate students and institutions with substantial new support in scholarships, financial assistance and incentives to assure success in S&E study by American students. The membership called for more federal support for graduate and postdoctoral research programs through improved stipends, benefits and interdisciplinary opportunities. Pre-college teachers of mathematics, science and technology also need better compensation, in-service training and support as an integral part of the scientific and engineering professions.

"Data on trends do not indicate an immediate crisis situation. But the data give us a pulse, and are strong evidence of the critical need for the government to plan now for the future of the U.S. science and engineering workforce," Washington said.

In other areas, the NSB recommended a national effort to build a base of knowledge on international S&E workforce dynamics. In addition, it said the government must address how to best balance the needs of security while supporting policies that attract foreign-born talent and allow U.S. students to fully participate in much-desired research and education collaboration opportunities overseas.

The NSB is made up of 24 presidential-appointed scientists, engineers and educators from across the United States who serve as a policy oversight advisory body to the President and Congress on the state of U.S. science and engineering research, education and workforce. Its other role is to provide oversight for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that provides support to science and engineering research programs in almost all fields, and for math and science education programs nationwide.

NSF PR03-127(NSB03-159)

NSB Contact: Michael Crosby, 703-292-7000,
Media contact: Bill Noxon 703-292-7750;

For the full report, The Science and Engineering Workforce - Realizing America's Potential, see:


Realizing America's Potential

The need. During the late 1990s, the National Science Board (NSB) became increasingly aware of workforce changes taking place in a transforming economy, largely focused on the technological and information revolution. This transformation changed the skill mix in the national workforce and led to an increasing demand for workers with mathematical skills, scientific literacy and abilities in analytical thinking to make on-the-job decisions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2000 and 2010, science and engineering-related occupations will grow by 47 percent, compared to about 15 percent for all occupations as a whole (see: ). The changing needs, however, seemed to outpace the nation's ability to develop a coherent framework of long-term goals and national strategies to insure the continued education, development and recruitment of highly trained and talented workers from within the United States and from other countries.

Formation of the task force. The NSB identified several trends in the workplace and in education nationwide that required immediate attention, including: a U.S. college-aged population, which will stop increasing after 2010, while minorities - traditionally underrepresented in science and engineering fields - will grow as a share of that population; increasing reliance on international talent, even while competition for that talent is growing as other nations build high technology industries and higher education systems, and; inconsistent policies regarding recruitment and treatment of foreign-born scientists to encourage them to join the ranks of US industry, Federal laboratories and academia.

The NSB responded by establishing a Task Force on National Workforce Policies for Science and Engineering in October 2000. The eight-member task force was charged with assessing the long-term trends in the science and engineering workforce and their relationship to existing federal policies, while recommending strategies to address the long-term needs of the science and engineering (S&E) workforce. The task force was asked to pay particular attention to demographic trends in the workforce and education, graduate training options, and data regarding industry's demand for highly skilled workers. The task force also was asked to review the mix of federal law, state programs, educational institutions and employer recruitment and incentives as they affect choices made on S&E careers.

The process for a report. The task force set up its work plan in December 2000, then received data briefings in January 2001. It then commissioned a study on the flow of foreign science and engineering workers.

Meetings followed with education experts leading to a workshop in March 2002 on national policies addressing the U.S. education system, focusing on bachelor's degree and associate's degree recipients.

In June, 2002, the task force turned its attention to the interplay between the international character of the S&E workforce and national needs. The group held a workshop that included a presentation by John Marburger, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the president's science advisor. Other experts from government, industry, professional societies and academic institutions also made presentations. The NSB also contracted for a comprehensive literature review, which compiled and summarized studies that contained policy recommendations relevant to the S&E workforce.

In May 2003, the NSB approved a draft report for public comment over a 30-day period. In August, a revised draft was approved, subject to final editing, and then titled, The Science and Engineering Workforce - Realizing America's Potential.

The latest information. The NSB reviewed new 2000 Census figures and the latest information available on H1-B visas. The task force concluded that the data represented a reinforcement of its recommendations, particularly on the need for increasing support to undergraduate education programs, and wider data collection and analysis on international workforce trends. The NSB plans to expand this review of the new Census information for release with the upcoming edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, 2004.
National Science Board
November 2003

Congress established the National Science Board (NSB) in 1950 to serve as a national science policy body, and to oversee and guide the activities of the National Science Foundation. The public law that created NSF stipulated that the foundation "shall consist of a National Science Board...and a Director."

Composition. The NSB is made up of 24 members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The NSF director is an ex-officio member. Members serve six-year terms; one-third of the board is appointed every two years. NSB members are drawn from industry and universities, and represent a variety of science and engineering disciplines and geographic areas. They are selected for their preeminence in research, education or public service.

Responsibilities. The NSB has dual responsibilities to:

Actions. The NSB meets about five times a year (usually four at the NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va., and one in another part of the country). It reviews and approves major NSF awards and new programs. It also initiates and conducts studies and reports on a broad range of policy topics--on its own initiative or as the president or Congress requests--including the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators. The NSB also publishes occasional policy papers or statements on issues of importance to U.S. science and engineering.

Honors. The NSB sponsors three national honorary awards:

Members of the National Science Board:

Terms expire May 10, 2004

Terms expire May 10, 2006 Mark S. Wrighton - Chancellor, Washington University, St. Louis

Terms expire May 10, 2008
  • Barry C. Barish - Linde Professor of Physics and Director, LIGO Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
  • Ray M. Bowen - President Emeritus, Texas A&M University
  • Delores M Etter - ONR Distinguished Chair in S&T, Electrical Engineering Department, U.S. Naval Academy
  • Kenneth M. Ford - Director, Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Human and Machine Cognition, University of West Florida
  • Daniel Hastings - Professor of Aeronautics & Astronautics and Co-Director, Technology and Policy Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Elizabeth Hoffman - President, University of Colorado System
  • Douglas D. Randall - Professor of Biochemistry and Director, Interdisciplinary Plant Group, University of Missouri-Columbia
  • Jo Anne Vasquez - Educational Science Consultant, Gilbert, Arizona Ex-Officio Member: Rita Colwell - Director, National Science Foundation

Executive Officer: Michael P. Crosby

National Science Foundation

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