Enhancing Federal Climate Initiatives: Integrating Tech-Focused Green Jobs for Equity and Innovation

Federal climate initiatives, like the ‘Climate Corps’ and the National Climate Resilience Framework, overlook the integration of technology-focused green jobs, missing opportunities for equity and innovation in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). Our objective is to advocate for the integration of technology-focused green jobs within these initiatives to foster equity. Leveraging funding opportunities from recent legislation, notably the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) environmental education fund, we aim to craft novel job descriptions, tailored training programs, and foster strategic public-private partnerships.

Methods and Approach

Our approach was based on comprehensive research and extensive stakeholder engagement, including discussions with key federal agencies and industry experts, identifying challenges and opportunities for integrating technology-focused green jobs. We engaged with officials and experts from various organizations, including the Department of Energy, EPA, USDA, FEMA, New America, the Benton Institute, National Urban League, Kajeet, the Blue Green Alliance, and the Alliance for Rural Innovation.We conducted data research and analysis, reviewed government frameworks and CRS reports, as well as surveyed programs and reports from diverse sources.

Challenge and Opportunity

The integration of technology-focused green jobs within existing federal climate initiatives presents both challenges and opportunities. One primary challenge lies in the predominant focus on traditional green jobs within current initiatives, which may inadvertently overlook the potential for equitable opportunities in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). This narrow emphasis risks excluding individuals with expertise in emerging technologies from participating in climate-related efforts, hindering innovation and limiting the scope of solutions. Moreover, the lack of adequate integration of technology within climate strategies creates a gap in inclusive and forward-looking approaches, potentially impeding the effectiveness of initiatives aimed at addressing climate change. Addressing these challenges requires a paradigm shift in how federal climate initiatives are structured and implemented, necessitating a deliberate effort to incorporate technology-driven solutions alongside traditional green job programs.

However, amidst these challenges lie significant opportunities to foster equity and innovation in the climate sector. By advocating for the integration of technology-focused green jobs within federal initiatives, there is an opportunity to broaden the talent pool and harness the potential of emerging technologies to tackle pressing environmental issues. Leveraging funding opportunities from recent legislation, such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) environmental education fund, presents a unique opportunity to invest in novel job descriptions, tailored training programs, and strategic public-private partnerships. Furthermore, initiatives aimed at reconciling concerns about equity in job creation and transitions, particularly in designing roles that require advanced degrees and ensuring consistent labor protections, provide avenues for fostering a more inclusive and equitable workforce in the green technology sector. By seizing these opportunities, federal climate initiatives can not only advance technological innovation but also promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the emerging green economy.

Plan of Action

Moving the integration of these policy frameworks internally and with an aspiration to reflect market and community needs will require a multi-faceted approach. In response to the identified challenges and opportunities, the following policy recommendations are proposed:

Recommendation 1. Restructuring Federal Climate Initiatives to Embrace Technology-Focused Green Jobs

In light of the evolving landscape of climate challenges and technological advancements, there is a pressing need to review existing federal climate initiatives, such as the ‘Climate Corps’ and the National Climate Resilience Framework, to actively integrate technology-focused green jobs. Doing so creates an opportunity for integrated implementation guidance. This recommendation aims to ensure equitable opportunities in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) within the climate sector while addressing the intersection between climate and technology. By undertaking this restructuring, federal climate initiatives can better align with the demands of the modern workforce and foster innovation in climate solutions. For example, the two aforementioned initiatives and the Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence all infer or clearly mention the following: green or climate jobs, equity, job training programs and tech and climate literacy. There is room to create programs to research and generate solutions around the ecological impacts of AI development within the auspices of the Climate Resilience Framework, and consider creating roles to implement those solutions as part of the Climate Corps (see Appendix II). 

The rationale behind this recommendation lies in the recognition of the imperative to adapt federal climate initiatives to embrace emerging technologies and promote diversity and inclusion in green job opportunities. As the climate crisis intensifies and technological advancements accelerate, there is a growing need for skilled professionals who can leverage technology to address environmental challenges effectively. However, existing initiatives predominantly prioritize traditional green jobs, potentially overlooking the untapped potential of technology-driven solutions. Therefore, restructuring federal climate initiatives to actively integrate technology-focused green jobs is essential to harnessing the full spectrum of talent and expertise needed to confront the complexities of climate change.

  1. Developing a Green Tech Job Initiative. This initiative should focus on creating and promoting jobs in the tech, AI, and ML sectors that contribute to climate solutions. This could include roles in developing clean energy technologies, climate modeling, and data analysis for climate research and policy development. Burgeoning industries such as regenerative finance offer opportunities to combine AI and climate resilience goals. 
  2. Ensuring Equitable Opportunities. Policies should be put in place to ensure these job opportunities are accessible to all, regardless of background or location. One example would be to leverage the Justice40 initiative, and use those allocations to underserved communities to create targeted training and education programs in tech-driven environmental solutions for underrepresented groups. Additionally, public-private partnerships could be strategically designed to support community-based projects that utilize technology to address local environmental issues.
  3. Addressing the Intersection of Climate and Technology. The intersection of climate and technology should be a key focus of federal climate policy. This could involve promoting the use of technology in climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, as well as considering the environmental impact of the tech industry itself. (Strengthening community colleges, accredited online programs and other low-cost alternatives to traditional education and job training)

Recommendation 2. Leveraging Funding for Technology-Driven Solutions in Federal Climate Initiatives

In order to harness the funding avenues provided by recent legislation such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) environmental education fund, strategic policy measures must be implemented to facilitate the development of comprehensive job descriptions, tailored training plans, and robust public-private partnerships aimed at advancing technology-driven solutions within federal climate initiatives. This recommendation underscores the importance of utilizing available resources to cultivate a skilled workforce, foster innovation, and enhance collaboration between government, industry, and academia in addressing climate challenges through technology.

The rationale behind this recommendation is rooted in the recognition of the transformative potential of technology-driven solutions in mitigating climate change and building resilience. With significant funding streams allocated to climate-related initiatives, there is a unique opportunity to invest in the development of job descriptions that reflect the evolving demands of the green technology sector, as well as training programs that equip individuals with the necessary skills to excel in these roles. Moreover, fostering robust public-private partnerships can facilitate knowledge sharing, resource pooling, and joint innovation efforts, thereby maximizing the impact of federal climate initiatives. By strategically leveraging available funding, federal agencies can catalyze the adoption of technology-driven solutions and drive progress towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

  1. Comprehensive Job Descriptions. Develop comprehensive job descriptions for technology-focused green jobs within federal climate initiatives. These descriptions should clearly outline the roles and responsibilities, required skills and qualifications, and potential career paths. This could be overseen by the Department of Labor (DOL) in collaboration with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the EPA.
  2. Tailored Training Plans. Establish tailored training plans to equip individuals with the necessary skills for these jobs. This could involve partnerships with educational institutions and industry bodies to develop curriculum and training programs. The National Science Foundation (NSF) could play a key role in this, given its mandate to promote science and engineering education.
  3. Public-Private Partnerships. Foster robust public-private partnerships to advance technology-driven solutions within federal climate initiatives. This could involve collaborations between government agencies, tech companies, research institutions, and non-profit organizations. The Department of Commerce, through its National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), could facilitate these partnerships, given its role in fostering innovation and industrial competitiveness.

Recommendation 3. Updating Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Categories for Green and Tech Jobs

To address the outdated Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) job categories, particularly in relation to the green and innovation economies, federal agencies and stakeholders must collaborate to support an update of these categories and classifications. This recommendation emphasizes the importance of modernizing job classifications to accurately reflect the evolving nature of the workforce, especially in sectors related to green technology and innovation.

The rationale behind this recommendation is rooted in the recognition of the significant impact that outdated job categories can have on program and policy design, particularly in areas related to green and technology-driven jobs. Currently the green jobs categorization work has been interrupted by sequestration.1 The tech job updates are on differing schedules. By updating BLS job categories to align with current market trends and emerging technologies, federal agencies can ensure that workforce development efforts are targeted and effective. Moreover, fostering collaboration between public and private sector stakeholders, alongside inter-agency work, can provide the necessary support for BLS to undertake this update process. Through coordinated efforts, agencies can contribute valuable insights and expertise to inform the revision of job categories, ultimately facilitating more informed decision-making and resource allocation in the domains of green and tech jobs.

  1. Inter-Agency Collaboration. Establish an inter-agency task force, including representatives from the BLS, Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Labor (DOL), to review and update the current job categories and classifications. This task force would be responsible for ensuring that the classifications accurately reflect the evolving nature of jobs in the green and innovation economies.
  2. Public-Private Partnerships. Engage in public-private partnerships with industry leaders, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations. These partnerships can provide valuable insights into the changing job landscape and help inform the update of job categories and classifications.
  3. Stakeholder Engagement. Conduct regular consultations with stakeholders, including employers, workers, and unions in the green and innovation economies. Their input can ensure that the updated classifications accurately represent the realities of the job market.
  4. Regular Updates. Implement a policy for regular reviews and updates of job categories and classifications, particularly in renewing and syncing the green and tech jobs.The Office of Budget and Management can offer guidance about regular reviews and feedback based on government-wide standards. Initiating such a policy may require additional personnel in the short-term, but long-term this will increase agency efficiency. It will also ensure that the classifications remain relevant as the green and innovation economies continue to evolve (see FAQ section and Appendix I).

Conclusion

The integration of technology-focused green jobs within federal climate initiatives is imperative for fostering equity and innovation in addressing climate challenges. By restructuring existing programs and leveraging funding opportunities, the federal government can create inclusive pathways for individuals to contribute to climate solutions while advancing in technology-driven fields. Collaboration between government agencies, private sector partners, educational institutions, and community stakeholders is essential for developing comprehensive job descriptions, tailored training programs, and strategic public-private partnerships. Moreover, updating outdated job categories and classifications through inter-agency collaboration and stakeholder engagement will ensure that policy design accurately reflects the evolving green and innovation economies. Through these concerted efforts, the federal government can drive sustainable economic growth, promote workforce development, and address climate change in an equitable and inclusive manner.

Frequently Asked Questions
How will the integration of technology-focused green jobs enhance federal climate initiatives?
Integrating technology-focused green jobs within federal climate initiatives aims to broaden the scope of these programs to include opportunities in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). This approach not only fosters innovation in tackling climate challenges but also ensures equitable access to emerging job markets. By leveraging advancements in technology, these initiatives can harness a wider range of solutions to environmental issues, thereby enhancing the effectiveness and inclusivity of climate action efforts.
What measures are proposed to ensure equitable opportunities in technology-focused green jobs?
To ensure equitable opportunities, the policy memo recommends the development of novel job descriptions and tailored training programs that are accessible to all, regardless of background or location. Strategic public-private partnerships are also advocated to leverage resources and expertise from both sectors. These efforts aim to create pathways for diverse candidates to engage in technology-driven roles within the climate sector, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the emerging green economy.
How does BLS normally update its job classifications?
The BLS uses surveys, public feedback, and labor market data to inform its classifications. It also works with state and local governments, private industry and other stakeholders. Different BLS products are released on a variety of timetables.
What are the opportunities to engage with the process?
The next update is in 2028 and calls for comments may happen sometime this year. Beside public comments, there is an opportunity for the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) to assist.OMB can enhance federal agencies’ data reporting efficiency by establishing clear guidelines, promoting the use of advanced technologies like data analytics, and fostering interagency collaboration to share best practices. Encouraging the adoption of modern technologies can automate and streamline data collection, leading to more frequent updates.
How will the recommended changes to BLS job categories impact the green and tech job markets?
Updating the BLS job categories to accurately reflect the evolving nature of green and tech jobs is crucial for informed decision-making and effective resource allocation. This change will provide policymakers, employers, and workers with a clearer understanding of the job market, enabling targeted workforce development efforts and facilitating the alignment of educational programs with industry needs. By accurately classifying these roles, the federal government can better track employment trends, support job creation, and ensure that policies are responsive to the dynamics of the green and innovation economies.

Appendix

The recommendations outlined in this memo represent the culmination of extensive research and collaborative efforts with stakeholders. As of March 2024, while the final project and products are still undergoing refinement through stakeholder collaboration, the values, solutions, and potential implementation strategies detailed here are the outcomes of a thorough research process.

Our research methodology was comprehensive, employing diverse approaches such as stakeholder interviews, data analysis, examination of government frameworks, review of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports, and surveying of existing programs and reports.

Stakeholder interviews were instrumental in gathering insights and perspectives from officials and experts across various sectors, including the Department of Energy, FEMA, New America, the Benton Institute, National Urban League, Kajeet, and the Alliance for Rural Innovation. Ongoing efforts are also in place to engage with additional key stakeholders such as the EPA, USDA, select Congressional offices, labor representatives, and community-based organizations and alliances.

Furthermore, our research included a thorough analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to understand industry projections and job classification limitations. We employed text mining techniques to identify common themes and cross-topic programming or guidance within government frameworks. Additionally, we reviewed CRS reports to gain insights into public policy writings on related topics and examined existing programs and reports from various sources, including think tanks, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and journalism.
The detailed findings of our research, including analyzed data, report summaries, and interview portfolio, are provided as appendices to this report, offering further depth and context to the recommendations outlined in the main text.

I. BLS Data Analysis: Employment Trends in Tech-Related Industries (2022-2032)

This section provides a detailed analysis of employment statistics extracted from CSV data across various industries, emphasizing green, AI, and tech jobs. The analysis outlines notable growth and potential advancement areas within technology-related sectors.

The robust growth in employment figures across key sectors such as computer and electronic product manufacturing, software publishing, and computer systems design underscores the promising outlook for tech-related job sectors. Similarly, the notable expansion within the information sector, while not explicitly AI-focused due to industry constraints, signals an escalating demand for skill sets closely aligned with technological advancements.

Moreover, the significant growth observed in support activities for agriculture and forestry hints at progressive strides in integrating green technologies within these domains. This holistic analysis not only sheds light on evolving employment trends but also provides valuable insights into market dynamics. Understanding these trends can aid in identifying potential opportunities for workforce development initiatives and strategic investments, ensuring alignment with emerging industry needs and fostering sustainable growth in the broader economic landscape.

Further Analysis

This nuanced analysis illuminates the varied trajectories across different industries, highlighting both areas of growth and challenges. It underscores the importance of proactive strategic planning and adaptation to navigate the evolving employment landscape effectively.

Regarding job classifications, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides valuable insights, it may not fully capture emerging roles in next-gen fields like AI, Web 3.0, Web 4.0, or climate tech. Exploring analogous roles or interdisciplinary skill sets within existing classifications can offer a starting point for understanding employment trends in these innovative domains. Additionally, leveraging alternative sources of data, such as industry reports or specialized surveys, can complement BLS data to provide a more comprehensive picture of evolving employment dynamics.

Based on the information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the search results, here’s what I found:

Market Demand for Tech Jobs. The BLS projects that overall employment in computer and information technology occupations is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations from 2022 to 20321. This suggests that these jobs are being filled according to market demand but not quickly enough for market demand.

Green and Tech Jobs. The BLS produces data on jobs related to the production of green goods and services, jobs related to the use of green technologies and practices, and green careers23. Many of the jobs listed on the provided BLS links fall under tech jobs, especially those related to AI, Web 3.0, and Web 4.0. However, specific data on jobs related to regenerative finance or climate tech was not found in the search results.

Education Requirements. Most of the jobs listed on the provided BLS links typically require a Bachelor’s degree for entry14. Some occupations may require a Master’s degree or higher. However, the exact education requirement can vary depending on the specific role and employer expectations.

These industries demonstrate growth potential from 2022 to the projected 2032 data, underscoring the increasing demand for tech-related job sectors, especially in computer and electronic product manufacturing, software publishing, and computer systems design. The information sector also shows significant growth, potentially reflecting the rise in AI and technology advancements.

Appendix I.A. BLS Data and Standard Occupation Codes (Climate Corps Specific)

These job classifications encompass a range of roles pertinent to green initiatives, infrastructure technology, and AI/ML development, reflecting the evolving landscape of employment opportunities.

Intersection of Green Jobs

Here’s a summary based on the jobs that explicitly refer to green jobs and the Federal Job Codes requiring different levels of education:

Green Jobs:

Federal Job Codes/Roles Requiring Different Levels of Education:

Bachelor’s Degree

Associate’s Degree

High School Diploma

Please note that while this list includes occupations that explicitly require a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or high school diploma and showed up in an NLP search, it may have missed jobs that require certifications only. Additionally, other green job titles such as environmental engineers, conservationists, social scientists, and environmental scientists may require advanced degrees.

II. Analysis of EOs, Frameworks, TAs and Initiatives

This appendix analyzes executive orders, frameworks, technical assistance guides, and initiatives related to green and climate jobs, equity, job training programs, and tech and climate literacy. It presents findings from documents such as the American Climate Corps initiative, National Climate Resilience Framework, and Executive Order on AI, focusing on their implications for job creation and skills development in the green and tech sectors.

*Note about technologies use, this was text mined (SAS NLP, later bespoke app from team member) and Read (explain creating of text mining browser add on in methods overview/disclosure) using key terms “green”, “climate”, “equity”, “training”, “technology” and “literacy.”

Analysis of Executive Orders, Frameworks, Technical Assistance Guides, and Initiatives

This appendix delves into executive orders, frameworks, technical assistance guides, and initiatives pertaining to green and climate jobs, equity, job training programs, and tech and climate literacy. It scrutinizes documents such as the American Climate Corps initiative, National Climate Resilience Framework, and Executive Order on AI, dissecting their implications for job creation and skills development in the green and tech sectors.

Climate Corps:

National Climate Resilience Framework:

Executive Order on AI:

Please note that this analysis is based on provided excerpts, and the full documents may contain additional relevant insights.

Technical Assistance Guidance: Creating Green or Climate Jobs

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are poised to create green or climate jobs, strengthen equity, and bolster job training programs, signaling a concerted effort towards enhancing tech and climate literacy across the workforce and the general U.S. population.

Creating Green or Climate Jobs

Both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are anticipated to generate green or climate jobs. The BIL aims to enhance the nation’s resilience to extreme weather and climate change, concurrently mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the IRA is forecasted to yield over 9 million quality jobs in the forthcoming decade.

Considering Equity

Both the BIL and the IRA prioritize equity in their provisions. The BIL endeavors to bridge historically disadvantaged and underserved communities to job opportunities and economic empowerment. Similarly, the IRA addresses energy equity through its climate provisions and investment tax credits in renewable energy.

Strengthening Job Training Programs

Both legislations incorporate provisions for enhancing job training programs. The BIL allocates over $800 million in dedicated investments towards workforce development, while the IRA mandates workforce development and apprenticeship requirements.

Increasing Tech and Climate Literacy within the Federal Workforce

Although explicit information on boosting tech and climate literacy within the federal workforce is lacking, both the BIL and the IRA include provisions for workforce development and training. These initiatives could potentially encompass tech and climate literacy training.

Increasing Tech and Climate Literacy in the General U.S. Population

The substantial investments in clean energy and climate mitigation under the BIL and the IRA may indirectly contribute to enhancing tech and climate literacy across the general U.S. populace. However, there is no specific information regarding programs aimed at directly augmenting tech and climate literacy in the general population.

III. Report Summaries

Insights from various reports shed light on the demand for tech and green jobs, digital skills, and challenges in the broadband workforce. Drawing from reputable sources such as Bank of America, BCG, the Federal Reserve of Atlanta, and others, these summaries emphasize the necessity for targeted educational and policy interventions.

These reports collectively underscore the growing demand for digital and green skills in the U.S. workforce, accompanied by a shortage of skilled workers. Collaboration between policymakers and educators is essential to provide adequate training and education for success in the digital and green economies.

IV. Digital Discrimination Reports

This section delves into findings from reports on digital discrimination, broadband access, and AI literacy, sourced from reputable institutions such as The Markup, Consumer Reports, Pew, and the World Economic Forum. These reports illuminate the inequities present in digital access and knowledge and emphasize the necessity for equitable policies to foster widespread participation in the digital economy.

These reports collectively underscore the urgent need for policies supporting digital skill development and ensuring affordable, high-speed internet access across the U.S. Policymakers are urged to collaborate in providing necessary training and education opportunities to empower workers for success in the digital economy.

V. CRS Report Summaries

This section provides a synopsis of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports addressing skills gaps, broadband considerations, job training programs, and economic assistance for transitioning communities. These reports offer insights into legislative and policy contexts for bridging digital divides and supporting transitions to green economies, with a focus on workforce development and economic assistance.

Overall, these reports underscore the necessity for policies supporting the development of digital and green skills, as well as ensuring equitable access to high-speed internet across the U.S. Policymakers are urged to collaborate in providing necessary training and education opportunities to empower workers for success in evolving economic landscapes.

Protecting Workers from Extreme Heat through an Energy-efficient Workplace Cooling Transformation

Extreme heat is a growing threat to the health and productivity of U.S. workers and businesses. There is a high-impact opportunity to pioneer innovations in energy-efficient worker-centric cooling to protect workers from the growing heat while reducing the costs to businesses to install protections. With the impending Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard, the federal government should ensure that businesses have the necessary support to establish and maintain the infrastructure needed for existing and upcoming worker heat protection requirements while realizing economic, disaster resilience, and climate co-benefits. To achieve this goal, an Executive Order should form a multiagency working group that coordinates federal government and nongovernment partners to define a new building design approach that integrates both worker health and energy-efficiency considerations. The working group should establish roles and a process for coordinating and identifying leaders and funding approaches to advance a policy roadmap to accelerate, scale up, and evaluate equitable deployment and maintenance of energy-efficient worker-centric cooling. This plan presents a unique and timely opportunity to build upon existing national clean energy, climate, and infrastructure commitments and goals to ensure a healthier, more productive, resilient, and sustainable workforce.

Challenge and Opportunity

U.S. workers and businesses face a growing threat of illness, death, and reduced work productivity from extreme heat exposure. There were 436 work-related heat deaths recorded in the U.S. from 2011 to 2021. Workplace heat exposure is linked to heat illnesses, traumatic injuries, and reduced work productivity among otherwise healthy workers, costing the nation an estimated $100 billion each year in lost economic activity. Workers exposed to high heat include those in outdoor occupations in agriculture and construction and those working in hot manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, and food services environments. Spikes in worker heat illness have occurred during recent extreme heat events, such as the “heat dome” event of 2021, which are more likely to occur with climate change. Disproportionately exposed workers and small businesses often do not have the resources or capacity to implement, improve, or maintain existing workplace cooling infrastructure, thus increasing heat exposure inequities.

An energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation is needed to ensure businesses have the support required to comply with existing state heat rules and upcoming federal workplace heat prevention requirements. Several states—California, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, and Washington—have already adopted occupational indoor and/or outdoor heat exposure rules to protect workers from heat stress. OSHA is in the process of developing a national workplace heat standard. In addition to requirements for worker rest breaks, training, and hydration, OSHA is considering requirements for employers to implement protections when the measured heat index is 80°F or higher, including engineering controls such as air-conditioned cool-down areas. 

Using energy-efficient active or passive cooling systems and building designs in workplaces has numerous benefits. Cooling the environment is one of the most effective methods for reducing the risk of heat illness. Energy-efficient cooling reduces electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional systems. Energy-efficient buildings cost less to operate, allowing greater productivity at lower cost and reduced fossil fuel use and community air pollution. Energy-efficient cooling also decreases the amount of electricity on the grid at one time, reducing the chances of blackouts during extreme weather events. 

We must develop a new approach to building standards – energy-efficient, worker-centric cooling – that integrates both worker health and energy-efficiency considerations. Existing building-centric approaches that blanket-cool entire buildings to the same fixed temperature are energy inefficient and can lead to overcooling of unoccupied areas and increased costs. The urgent need for energy-efficient worker-centric cooling standards is highlighted, for example, by the 300–900 million ft2 per quarter rate of U.S. warehouse space under construction, and a growing warehouse workforce, in recent years.

There is a gap in standards that address both civilian worker health and energy-efficient cooling simultaneously. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has incorporated a worker-centric approach in its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program. This approach includes pilot credits for Prevention through Design (PtD), which aims to minimize risks to workers by integrating safety measures into building design and redesign. One such example is ensuring roof features, such as vegetated roofs and solar panel installations, are arranged to minimize hazards like falls for maintenance personnel. However, there are no specific PtD standards or LEED credits for energy-efficient cooling approaches that address worker heat hazards. For example, there are no specific standards that incorporate the proximity of indoor cool-down areas to hot work areas, targeted cooling of certain work areas, or mobile outdoor cooling stations that leverage solar and electrochemical technology.

Although there are several potential mechanisms of support for energy-efficient cooling infrastructure for commercial buildings and small businesses, there is no program to assist employers and small businesses in integrating these technologies into worker-centric cooling infrastructure designs. Under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), tax deductions are available through Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 179D for building owners to install or retrofit equipment aimed at improving energy efficiency, including HVAC systems such as heat pumps and building envelope improvements to “heat-proof” or weatherize structures. However, tax credits may be difficult to access and may not provide a sufficient degree of immediate support for small business owners struggling with inflation costs. While the Biden-Harris Administration has also launched a $14 billion National Clean Investment Fund that will provide Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants to small businesses for deploying clean technology projects, there are no earmarked funds for workplace solutions focused on energy-efficient cooling or resilience to extreme heat events that integrate worker health considerations. Current U.S. Small Business Administration efforts focus primarily on supporting small businesses with disaster recovery rather than resilience.

Effective cross-agency coordination is needed to accomplish an energy-efficient cooling transformation in U.S. workplaces, support small businesses, and contribute to the Healthy People 2030 goal of reducing workplace deaths. Coordination among existing agencies and external partners to address gaps in energy-efficient cooling technology, worker-centric designs, and heat-specific PtD building approaches will support a healthier, more productive, and sustainable U.S. workforce.

Plan of Action

Transforming workplace infrastructure to support a healthy, productive, and sustainable U.S. workforce against extreme heat requires coordination across multiple federal agencies. This plan offers the first steps in developing a structure for coordination, defining the approach, developing a roadmap for future actions, and ultimately catalyzing and piloting innovations and implementing and evaluating solutions.

This plan is guided by the following principles:

Following an executive order from the President, the Office of Management and Budget should convene a multiagency working group to develop a plan for coordination and to outline a roadmap toward an energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation for a healthy, productive, and sustainable workforce. The working group should:

Recommendation 1. Be chaired by an agency that has experience in convening multisectoral collaborations and advocating for equitable health outcomes, such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. The inclusion of representatives from the following agencies and offices should be considered:

Recommendation 2. Define roles and develop a plan to enhance coordination with public and private partners in developing and evaluating evidence-based worker-centric cooling infrastructure technologies and building designs. Partners should include those that develop or promote voluntary standards and guidelines for:

Recommendation 3. Establish a consensus definition of energy-efficient worker-centric cooling using a combination of established metrics, including:

Recommendation 4. Outline existing pathways to support an energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation, including: 

Recommendation 5. Articulate follow-on initiatives and identify leaders and potential funding approaches to advance the roadmap of policies to accelerate, scale up, and evaluate equitable deployment, maintenance, and evaluation of worker-centric energy-efficient cooling infrastructure. Policies considerations include:

Funding for agencies to work together to develop and implement approaches to track progress toward an energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation by combining data sources.

Conclusion

Given the growing threat to U.S. workers and businesses posed by illness, death, and reduced work productivity from increasing heat exposure, it is imperative to catalyze an energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation. There is currently a unique and timely opportunity to build upon national clean energy, climate, and infrastructure commitments and goals to address gaps in energy-efficient worker-centric cooling technology and PtD building standards. The proposed plan will incorporate high-level support, provide infrastructure for coordination among government agencies and nongovernmental partners, define the approach, and lay the groundwork for stimulating innovations in promising worker-centric cooling technologies and designs. This plan will produce a roadmap for an energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation that will support businesses in establishing the infrastructure needed for existing and upcoming workplace heat prevention requirements. The approach will build upon existing occupational health equity initiatives to reduce the risk of heat health effects for workers disproportionately affected by heat and small businesses. This initiative will ensure a healthier, more productive, and sustainable workforce with minimal cost and a substantial potential return on investment.

This idea of merit originated from our Extreme Heat Ideas Challenge. Scientific and technical experts across disciplines worked with FAS to develop potential solutions in various realms: infrastructure and the built environment, workforce safety and development, public health, food security and resilience, emergency planning and response, and data indices. Review ideas to combat extreme heat here.

Frequently Asked Questions
Why not just wait until a federal occupational heat rule is adopted to pursue an energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation? Why is technology part of the solution?

Under federal OSHA standards for employers, workplaces are currently only required to address workplace heat if it is causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees. This OSHA “General Duty Clause” requirement is insufficient, as workers experience negative effects from workplace heat exposure — ranging from heat illness to death. OSHA is in the process of developing a workplace heat standard that considers engineering controls, such as workplace cooling, along with other requirements related to worker breaks, training, and hydration. Workplace cooling is a proposed federal rule element and is already relevant for U.S. states with indoor workplace heat regulations. Energy-efficient workplace cooling infrastructure transitions do not happen overnight. Investment now is important for states with existing heat rules and to prepare for the future state and/or federal heat rules.

Why not just focus on energy-efficient cooling of homes?

Home cooling only partially addresses extreme heat health risks because many working-age adults spend half of their waking hours during the workweek at work. Further, increased energy-efficiency in the industrial sector, which currently accounts for 30% of U.S. greenhouse emissions, can reduce pollution in surrounding communities and blackout risk during extreme weather events.

Why not just direct business owners to existing incentives and grants?

Existing incentives and grants (e.g., IRA tax deductions for building owner energy-efficient installation or retrofitting, such as IRA 13303; IRC 179D; National Clean Investment Fund grants through EPA to small businesses deploying clean technology projects; and SBA Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilience loans) do not explicitly incorporate worker-centric designs that achieve climate, energy-efficiency, and worker health goals simultaneously. Further, tax deductions and grant programs provide short- and medium-term financial support for energy-efficient workplace cooling transitions. Without a roadmap to address explicit coordination, simplification in processes, and accessibility of incentives, small business owners may be unable to take advantage of these incentives.

What types of data sources could be considered for tracking progress toward an energy-efficient workplace cooling transformation?

Examples of data sources that could be considered are:


What would the workplace cooling transformation cost?
Costs for the formative steps of the transformation described in this brief would use existing agency resources and would not require additional congressional appropriations. As the working group develops the roadmap of future policies, the group can make recommendations for additional resources as part of agency annual budget cycles or congressional appropriations.

Adopting Evidence-Based Heat Stress Management Strategies in the Workplace to Enhance Climate Equity

Millions of workers are subjected to the dangers of extreme heat that increase their risk of heat-related illnesses and fatalities. Due to personal, social, and workplace vulnerabilities, workers are at even greater risk, particularly women, people who are Black or Brown, those who facing low-income challenges, and those employed by small businesses. With no mandated federal heat stress standard, there is no federal mechanism to ensure the adoption of appropriate heat stress prevention strategies and emergency procedures to protect vulnerable workers. 

Now is an opportune time to introduce a federal program to champion climate equity and justice in the workplace by assisting employers’ implementation of evidence-based heat stress management strategies and heat illness emergency procedures, particularly targeting underserved working populations who labor in the heat. This program should be supported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with university and nonprofit partners, and funded through a private or public partnership. This effort will act on the principles of employer social responsibility, best practice recognition, increased resource allocation to vulnerable working groups, third-party auditing, and a non-retaliation reporting mechanism. This policy action, across multiple stakeholders, will proactively address the challenges posed by extreme heat and work toward creating safer, more equitable working environments for all.

Challenge and Opportunity

The average global surface temperature in 2023 was 2.12ºF above the 20th century average, resulting in Earth’s warmest year on record. Extreme temperatures will continue to rise as the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves increase due to climate change. Climate change is a major public health priority that places workers who perform physical labor in the heat at higher risk, due to frequent prolonged, heavy physical exertion, layers of personal protective clothing, and exposure to environmental heat stress. This combination of factors exacerbates the level of heat stress placed on the body, leading to heat-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. While the Biden Administration has initiated federal action to establish a mandated heat standard, the bureaucratic process is slow, averaging around eight years. Congress is also working on addressing this issue through the consideration of a bill for the adoption of an emergency temporary standard. Although it offers a quicker solution, it has a limited life span of approximately six months. Moreover, in anticipation of mandating a federal heat stress standard, there is limited infrastructure to support the adoption of evidence-based heat stress management strategies to protect workers in high-temperature environments. The current enforcement solution, OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on outdoor and indoor heat hazards, has several limitations, include such as a vague definition of noncompliant following heat hazard inspection, and uses assessment tools such as Heat Index, which is not considered “best practice.” 

To address these limitations, key stakeholders from academic settings, large research institutes, and nonprofit organizations have developed evidence-based best practices to protect vulnerable workers from extreme heat. Unfortunately, there is no system in place to determine how well companies are prepared for extreme heat. The urgency of adopting evidence-based heat stress management strategies across industries cannot be overstated, as heat-related injuries and fatalities are entirely preventable with the implementation of appropriate prevention strategies and emergency procedures.

There is a critical opportunity to champion climate equity and justice to safeguard laborers from the dangers of extreme heat. Laborers from vulnerable demographics who engage in physical work in the heat are disproportionately affected and are often not protected under evidence-based heat stress management practices by their employers. Workers with personal (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, disease status) and social (e.g., employment type, income status) vulnerabilities are exploited by working in hot environments with limited heat stress prevention strategies available to them. This form of labor exploitation during periods of high heat exposure leaves millions of U.S. workers more vulnerable to preventable heat-related injuries and fatalities. 

Small businesses and other companies with limited resources are also less equipped to protect their workforce or have the means to ensure their employees are working in safe environments in the heat. To fortify workplace resilience against extreme heat and climate change, it is imperative to equitably distribute resources for enforcing evidence-based heat policies in workplaces. Organizations with employees exposed to high temperatures must be held accountable for the effective implementation of these policies. Additionally, vulnerable workers frequently refrain from reporting unsafe conditions due to the fear of employer retaliation. Advocacy efforts become even more challenging as language barriers, food insecurity, and poverty exacerbate already dire working conditions.

The present moment presents an opportune time to introduce a program supported by occupational health and safety federal agencies. As evidence-based best practices have been developed to protect workers from extreme heat, there is no system in place to protect vulnerable working populations, allocate resources, and keep companies accountable by assessing their current heat stress management practices. OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are key stakeholder organizations to initiate a federal response to address the lack of adoption of heat stress management policies. However, these entities often prioritize multiple projects simultaneously, are understaffed, and benefit from partnerships with universities and nonprofits. Therefore, a cooperative approach with governing like OSHA and universities/nonprofit organizations is the appropriate strategy to create a program that promotes the enforcement of evidence-based heat protection strategies (i.e., education, hydration, heat acclimatization, environmental monitoring, physiological monitoring) at the organizational level. This approach also provides under-resourced businesses with access to basic heat protection equipment and establishes a mechanism for employees to report unsafe working conditions without fear of retaliation. This program draws inspiration from the success of the Fair Food Program, a Corporate Social Responsibility model that promotes accountability among growers, buyers, and retailers. 

This comprehensive program will support all organizations that employ workers who perform physical work in the heat, such as construction, utilities, agriculture, oil, and gas. This program will facilitate employer accountability, social responsibility, increased resource allocation, third-party auditing, and a non-retaliation reporting system. 

Plan of Action

The development and implementation of this federal program, the Occupational Heat Resiliency Program (OHRP), will require a public-private partnership between OSHA, universities, and nonprofit partners. This partnership model draws inspiration from the successful collaborative partnerships between OSHA and other partners to protect the workforce against other occupational hazards. The OHRP will promote the adoption of evidence-based heat stress management practices by targeting employers with workplaces that experience high heat exposure and/or have a large population of laborers working in the heat who are classified as vulnerable workers. The establishment of OHRP will require funding through cooperative agreements, such as the OSHA Strategic Partnership Program (OSPP). To achieve the program’s objectives, both OSHA and its partners will commit their knowledge and resources to support the program.

The program will rely on the following principles to achieve this objective:

  1. Employer accountability and best practice recognition:
  1. Climate equity through increased resource allocation:
  1. Safer work environments through third-party auditing and a non-retaliation reporting system:

The program will be led by teams composed of OSHA representatives and university/nonprofit partners that will meet virtually regularly to ensure the goals of each principle are being met and to address any partnership issues that may arise.

Conclusion

The escalating challenges to the U.S. workforce posed by extreme heat demand proactive measures, necessitating collaboration among key government entities like OSHA alongside universities and nonprofit organizations. Currently, there is a glaring absence of mechanisms to safeguard workers who engage in physical work in the heat, particularly those from vulnerable demographics. 

To tackle this issue head-on, the establishment of OHRP funded through a private or public partnership is imperative. This initiative would champion climate equity in the workplace by expediting the adoption of evidence-based heat stress management strategies and emergency procedures. The program’s framework includes commitments from employers, recognition of best practices, increased resource allocation to vulnerable working groups, third-party auditing, and a non-retaliation mechanism. OHRP will have an immediate impact at both the federal and state level. Without the implementation of such a program, a significant portion of the U.S. workforce remains at risk of entirely preventable heat-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

This idea of merit originated from our Extreme Heat Ideas Challenge. Scientific and technical experts across disciplines worked with FAS to develop potential solutions in various realms: infrastructure and the built environment, workforce safety and development, public health, food security and resilience, emergency planning and response, and data indices. Review ideas to combat extreme heat here.

Frequently Asked Questions
How does this proposal support the rule-making process for a heat stress standard and other federal extreme heat efforts?
Although federal action has begun to mobilize efforts to protect workers from extreme heat, the proposed federal and emergency heat stress standard will take several years to enforce and/or will contain limited details on the specific strategies to best protect workers. Evidence-based practices to best protect workers from extreme heat do exist—however, there is currently no system in place to ensure that employers implement them or protect vulnerable working populations. OHRP will accelerate the adoption of heat stress protection strategies, protect vulnerable working populations, and prepare companies for the future implementation of a federal or state heat standard. This will have an immediate impact at both the federal and state level as heat-related illnesses, injuries, and fatalities are entirely preventable with the implementation of evidence-based heat stress management strategies and emergency procedures.
How much would this proposal cost?

The program will require approximately $10 million for its initial three-year phase for startup, launch, and execution. A three-year projection is a conservative time based on the time frame for launching similar federal programs. The budget will be allocated to two areas:



  1. Time, labor, and travel costs for program management (~$8 million)

  2. Resource allocation for vulnerable working groups (i.e., small businesses, businesses with a high percentage of low-income workers) (~$2 million)


Following the three-year phase, approximately $1-2 million per year will be needed to reach more vulnerable working populations.

What accountability and evaluation measures will be included to ensure the program’s effectiveness?
The day-to-day operations will be run by executive teams led by the combined efforts of university and nonprofit partners and OSHA representatives. Each team will evaluate whether each principle is met and evaluate the program’s progress. The program will have clearly stated goals and will outline the roles and responsibilities of all personnel.

Revitalizing Federal Jobs Data: Unleashing the Potential of Emerging Roles

Emerging technologies and creative innovation are pivotal economic pillars for the future of the United States. These sectors not only promise economic growth but also offer avenues for social inclusion and environmental sustainability. However, the federal government lacks reliable and comprehensive data on these sectors, which hampers its ability to design and implement effective policies and programs. A key reason for this data gap is the outdated and inadequate job categories and classifications used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS is the main source of official statistics on employment, wages, and occupations in the U.S. Part of the agency’s role is to categorize different industries, which helps states, researchers and other outside parties measure and understand the size of certain industries or segments of the economy. Another BLS purpose is to use the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system to categorize and define jobs based on their duties, skills, and education requirements. This is how all federal workers and contracted federal workers are classified. For an agency to create and fill a role, it needs a classification or SOC. State and private employers also use the classifications and data to allocate funding and determine benefits related to different kinds of positions. 

Where no classification (SOC) or job exists, it is unclear whether hiring and contracting happen according to programmatic intent and in a timely manner. This is particularly concerning to some employers and federal agencies that need  to align numerous jobs with the provisions of Justice 40, the Inflation Reduction Act and the newly created American Climate Corps. Many of the roles imagined by the American Climate Corps do not have classifications. This poses a significant barrier for effective program and policy design related to green and tech jobs.

The SOC system is updated roughly once every 10 years. There is not a set comprehensive review schedule for that or the industry categories. Updates are topical, with the last broad revision taking place in 2018. Unemployment reports and data related to wages are updated annually, and other topics less predictably. Updates and work on the SOC systems and categories for what are broadly defined as “green jobs” stopped in 2013 due to sequestration. This means that the BLS data may not capture the current and future trends and dynamics of the green and innovation economies, which are constantly evolving and growing.Because the BLS does not have a separate category for green jobs, it identifies them based on a variety of  industry and occupation codes. The range spans restaurant industry SOCs to construction. Classifying positions this way cannot reflect the cross-cutting and interdisciplinary nature of green jobs. Moreover, the process may not account for the variations and nuances of green jobs, such as their environmental impact, social value, and skill level. For example, if you want to work with solar panels, there is a construction classification, but nothing for community design, specialized finance, nor any complementary typographies needed for projects at scale.

Similarly, the BLS does not have a separate category for tech jobs. It identifies them based on the “Information and Communication Technologies” occupational groups of the SOC system. Again, this approach may not adequately reflect the diversity and complexity of tech jobs, which may involve new and emerging skills and technologies that are not yet recognized by the BLS. There are no classifications for roles associated with machine learning or artificial intelligence. Where the private sector has a much-discussed large language model trainer role, the federal system has no such classification. Appropriate skills matching, resource allocation, and the ability to measure the numbers and impacts of these jobs on the economy will be difficult if not impossible to fully understand. Classifying tech jobs in this manner may not account for the interplay and integration of tech jobs with other sectors, such as health care, education, and manufacturing.

These data limitations have serious implications for policy design and evaluation. Without accurate and timely data on green and tech jobs, the federal government may not be able to assess the demand and supply of these jobs, identify skill gaps and training needs, allocate resources, and measure the outcomes and impacts of its policies and programs. This will  result in missed opportunities, wasted resources, and suboptimal outcomes.

There is a need to update the BLS job categories and classifications to better reflect the realities and potentials of the green and innovation economies. This can be achieved by implementing the following strategic policy measures:

By updating the BLS job categories and classifications, the federal government can ensure that its data and statistics accurately reflect the current and future job market, thereby supporting effective policy design and evaluation related to green and tech jobs. Accurate and current data that mirrors the ever-evolving job market will also lay the foundation for effective policy design and evaluation in the realms of green and tech jobs. This commitment can contribute to the development of a workforce that not only meets economic needs but also aligns with the nation’s environmental aspirations.

Moving the Needle on STEM Workforce Development through Fellowships and Mentorship Support in the CHIPS and Science Act

The CHIPS and Science Act ushered in unprecedented opportunities for American manufacturing, science, and innovation – and yet, current underfunding leaves the outcomes at risk.

The legislation directs the federal government to invest $280 billion to bolster U.S. semiconductor capacity, catalyze R&D, create regional high-tech hubs, and develop a larger, more inclusive STEM workforce. The federal investment of $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing is estimated to add $24.6 billion annually to the American economy and create 185,000 jobs from 2021 to 2026. However, at the current rate of STEM degree completion, the U.S. may not be able to produce enough qualified workers to fill these jobs. Left unaddressed, this labor market gap will have cascading effects on the U.S. economy and compromise the nation’s global competitiveness.

Supporting STEM Workforce Development by Expanding Fellowship and Mentorship Programs

Despite the progress that has been made in recent years to grow the STEM pipeline, STEM graduates continue to lack the opportunity to contribute to the research enterprise and are not equipped to translate their scientific knowledge into actionable policy solutions. The CHIPS and Science Act attempts to address the shortfall in the U.S. STEM workforce and create more career pathways for graduates by authorizing federal agencies to expand their fellowship programs. 

For example, the legislation directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand the number of new graduate research fellows supported annually over the next 5 years to no fewer than 3,000 fellows. This provision echoes the recommendations from a 2021 Federation of American Scientists (FAS) policy memo calling for the expansion of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program in order to catalyze and train a new workforce that would maintain America’s leading edge in the industries of the future. Another important provision has led to the launch of NSF’s Entrepreneurial Fellowships in September 2022, with the goal of supporting STEM entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds in turning breakthroughs from the laboratory into products and services that benefit society. 

In addition to fellowships, the legislation also includes federal funding for graduate student and postdoctoral research mentorship and professional development, which are critical elements to developing our nation’s research enterprise. Supportive mentors and advisors can guide career planning for future scientists and help them develop the necessary critical thinking and problem solving skills. This is also the case for students from underrepresented minority backgrounds (URMs), where positive research and mentorship experiences contribute to persistence in intention to pursue a STEM career following graduation.

While these provisions are promising, more can be done to ensure better oversight and support of mentorship programs within federal funded research programs. The GRAD Coalition, which was established to support the Congressional Graduate Research and Development Caucus, has called on Congress to expand mentorship oversight and support, specifically to: 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has long recognized the need for mentorship at the post-doctoral level. In 2023,the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training held listening sessions resulting in a report detailing many aspects of the postdoctoral experience in biomedical fields: lack of adequate compensation, concerns about postdoctoral quality of life and challenges with diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Many of these postdoctoral issues have been known for some time but continue to be insufficiently addressed. The report calls for increasing oversight and accountability of faculty for mentoring, specifically for NIH to: 

While boosts for science and education provisions in the legislation have been authorized, funding for the “and science” portion of the act has fallen short in several areas. FAS analysis shows that the FY 2024 appropriations for NSF are approximately $6 billion-short or 39% below the CHIPS and Science authorization levels, which has the potential to set the U.S. back in several areas of science and technology.

Maintaining the U.S. scientific and research enterprise requires a whole-of-government approach. Expanding fellowship programs and better incorporating mentorship in federal-funded programs can have far-reaching consequences for the STEM pipeline and maintaining our nation’s edge in scientific research and innovation. The CHIPS and Science Act provides specific opportunities for federal agencies, Congress, and the executive branch to grow the U.S. STEM workforce pipeline by expanding fellowships and mentorship support for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Our nation’s global leadership in science and technology is dependent upon the research and innovation driven by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and fully funding the authorized programs and new initiatives in the CHIPS and Science Act will help ensure that this trend continues. 

Building the Talent Pipeline for the Energy Transition: Aligning U.S. Workforce Investment for Energy Security and Supply Chain Resilience

Summary

With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the United States has outlined a de facto industrial policy to facilitate and accelerate the energy transition while seeking energy security and supply chain resilience. The rapid pace of industrial transformation driven by the energy transition will manifest as a human capital challenge, and the workforce will be realigned to the industrial policy that is rapidly transforming the labor market. The energy transition, combined with nearshoring, will rapidly retool the global economy and, with it, the skills and expertise necessary for workers to succeed in the labor market. A rapid, massive, and ongoing overhaul of workforce development systems will allow today’s and tomorrow’s workers to power the transition to energy security, resilient supply chains, and the new energy economy—but they require the right training opportunities scaled to match the needs of industry to do so.

Policymakers and legislators recognize this challenge, yet strategies and programs often sit in disparate parts of government agencies in labor, trade, commerce, and education. A single strategy that coordinates a diverse range of government policies and programs dedicated to training this emerging workforce can transform how young people prepare for and access the labor market and equip them with the tools to have a chance at economic security and well-being.

Modeled after the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program, we propose the Energy Security Workforce Training (ESWT) Initiative to align existing U.S. government support for education and training focused on the jobs powering the energy transition. The Biden-Harris Administration should name an ESWT Coordinator to manage and align domestic investments in training and workforce across the federal government. The coordinator will spearhead efforts to identify skills gaps with industry, host a ESWT White House Summit to galvanize private and social sector commitments, encourage data normalization and sharing between training programs to identify what works, and ensure funds from existing programs scale evidence-based sector-specific training programs. ESWT should also encompass an international component for nearshored supply chains to perform a similar function to the domestic coordinator in target countries like Mexico and promote two-way learning between domestic and international agencies on successful workforce training investments in clean energy and advanced manufacturing.

Challenge and Opportunity

With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, the United States has a de facto industrial policy to facilitate and accelerate the energy transition while seeking energy security and supply chain resilience. However, our current workforce investments are not focused on the growing green skills gap. We require workforce investment aligned to the industrial policy that is rapidly transforming the labor market, to support both domestic jobs and the foreign supply chains that domestic jobs depend on. 

Preparing Americans to Power the Energy Transition

The rapid pace of industrial transformation driven by the energy transition will manifest as a human capital challenge. The energy transition will transform and create new jobs—requiring a massive investment to skill up the workers who will power the energy transition. Driving this rapid transition are billions of dollars slated for incentives and tax credits for renewable energy and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain creation for goods like electric vehicle batteries over the coming years. The vast upheaval caused by the energy transition combined with nearshoring is transforming both current jobs as well as the labor market young people will enter over the coming decade. The jobs created by the energy transition have the potential to shift a whole generation into the middle class while providing meaningful, engaging work. 

Moving low-income students into the middle class over the next 10 years will require that education and training institutions meet the rapid pace of industrial transformation required by the energy transition. Education and training providers struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of industrial transformation, resulting in skills gaps. Skills gaps are the distance between the skills graduates leave education and training with and the skills required by industry. Skills gaps rob young people of opportunities and firms of productivity. And according to LinkedIn’s latest Green Economy report, we are facing a green skills gap—with the demand for green skills outpacing the supply in the labor force. Firms have cited skills gaps in diverse sectors related to the energy transition, including infrastructure, direct air capture, electromobility, and geothermal power

Graduates with market-relevant skills earn between two and six times what their peers earn, based on evaluations of International Youth Foundation’s (IYF) programming. In addition, effective workforce development lowers recruitment, selection, and training costs for firms—thereby lowering the transaction costs to scale moving people into the positions needed to power the energy transition. Industrial transformation for the energy transition involves automation, remote sensing, and networked processes changing the role of the technician—who is no longer required to execute tasks but instead to manage automated processes and robots that now execute tasks. This changes the fundamental skills required of technicians to include higher-order skills for managing processes and robots. 

We will not be able to transform industry or seize the opportunities of the new energy future without overhauling education and training systems to build the skills required by this transformation and the industries that will power it. Developing higher-order thinking skills means changing not only what is taught but how teaching happens. For example, students may be asked to evaluate and make actionable recommendations to improve energy efficiency at their school. Because many of these new jobs require higher-order thinking skills, policy investment can play a crucial role in supporting workers and those entering the workforce to be competitive for these jobs. 

Creating Resilient Supply Chains, Facilitating Energy Security, and Promoting Global Stability in Strategic Markets

Moving young people into good jobs during this dramatic economic transformation will be critical not only in the United States but also to promote our interests abroad by (1) creating resilient supply chains, 2) securing critical minerals, and (3) avoiding extreme labor market disruptions in the face of a global youth bulge. 

Supply chain resilience concerns are nearshoring industrial production—shifting the demand for industrial workers across geographies at a shocking scale and speed—as more manufacturing and heavy industries move back into the United States’ sphere of influence. The energy transition combined with nearshoring will rapidly retool the global economy. We need a rapid, massive, and ongoing overhaul of workforce development systems at home and abroad. The scale of this transition is massive and includes complex, multinational supply chains. Supply chains are being reworked before our eyes as we nearshore production. For example, the port of entry in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, is undergoing rapid expansion in anticipation of explosive growth of imports of spare parts for electric vehicles manufactured in Mexico. These shifting supply chains will require the strategic development of a new workforce.

The United States requires compelling models to increase its soft power to secure critical minerals for the energy transition. Securing crucial minerals for the energy transition will again reshape energy supply chains, as the mineral deposits needed for the energy transition are not necessarily located in the same countries with large oil, gas, or coal deposits. The minerals required for the energy transition are concentrated in China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, Chile, Russia, and South Africa. We require additional levers to establish productive relationships to secure the minerals required for the energy transition. Workforce investments can be an important source of soft power. 

Today’s 1.2 billion young people today make up the largest and most educated generation the world has ever seen, or will ever see, yet they face unemployment rates at nearly triple that of adults. Globally the youth unemployment rate is 17.93% vs. 6.18% for adults. The youth unemployment rate refers to young people aged 15–24 who are available for or seeking employment but who are unemployed. While rich countries have already passed through their own baby booms, with accompanying “youth bulges,” and collected their demographic dividends to power economic growth and wealth, much of the developing world is going through its own demographic transition. While South Korea experienced sustained prosperity once its baby boomers entered the labor force in the early 2000s, Latin America’s youth bulge is just entering the labor force. In regions like Central America, this demographic change is fueling a wave of outmigration. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the youth bulge is making its way through compulsory education with increasing demands for government policy to meet high rates of youth unemployment. It is an open question whether today’s youth bulges globally will drive prosperity as they enter the labor market. Policymakers are faced with shaping labor force training, and government policy rooted in demonstrable industry needs to meet this challenge. At the same time, green jobs is already one of the most rapidly growing occupations. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that adopting clean energy technologies will generate 14 million jobs by 2030, with 16 million more to retrofit and construct energy-efficient buildings and manufacture new energy vehicles. At the same time, the World Economic Forum’s 2023 future of jobs report cites the green transition as the key driver of job growth. However, the developing world is not making the corresponding investments in training programs for the green jobs that are driving growth. 

Alignment with Existing Initiatives

The Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to the energy transition, supply chain resilience, and energy security must address this human capital challenge. Systemic approaches to building the skills for the energy transition through education and training complement the IRA’s incentivized apprenticeships, and focus investments from the IIJA, by building out a complete technical, vocational, education and training system oriented toward building the skills required for the energy transition. We propose a whole-of-government approach that integrates public investment in workforce training to focus on the energy transition and nearshoring with effective approaches to workforce development to address the growing green skills gap that endangers youth employment, the energy transition, energy security and supply chain resilience. 

The Biden-⁠Harris Administration Roadmap to Support Good Jobs demonstrates a commitment to building employment and job training into the Investing in America Agenda. The Roadmap catalogs programs throughout the federal government that address employment and workforce training authorized in recent legislation and meant to enable more opportunities for workers to engage with new technology, advanced manufacturing, and clean energy. Some programs had cross-sector reach, like the Good Jobs Challenge that reached 32 states and territories authorized in the American Rescue Plan to invest in workforce partnerships, while others are more targeted to specific industries, like the Battery Workforce Initiative that engages industry in developing a battery manufacturing workforce. The Roadmap’s clearinghouse of related workforce activities across the federal ecosystem presents a meaningful opportunity to advance this commitment by coordinating and strategically implementing these programs under a single series of objectives and metrics. 

Identifying evidence-driven training programs can also help fill the gap between practicums and market-based job needs by allowing more students access to practical training than can be reached solely by apprenticeships, which can have high individual transaction costs for grantees to coordinate. Additionally, programs like the Good Jobs Challenge required grantees to complete a skills-gap analysis to ensure their programs fit market needs. The Administration should seek to embed capabilities to conduct skills-gap analyses first before competitive grants are requested and issued to better inform program and grant design from the beginning and to share that learning with the broader workforce training community. By using a coordinated initiative to engage across these programs and legislative mandates, the Administration can create a more catalytic, scalable whole-of-government approach to workforce training.

Collaborating on metrics can also help identify which programs are most effective at meeting the core metrics of workforce training—increased income and job placements—which often are not met in workforce programs. This initiative could be measured across programs and agencies by (1) the successful hiring of workers into quality green jobs, (2) the reduction of employer recruitment and training costs for green jobs, and (3) demonstrable decreases in identified skills gaps—as opposed to a diversity of measures without clear comparability that correspond to the myriad agencies and congressional committees that oversee current workforce investments. Better transferable data measured against comparable metrics can empower agencies and Congress to direct continued funds toward what works to ensure workforce programs are effective.

The DOL’s TAACCCT program provides a model of how the United States has successfully invested in workforce development to respond to labor market shocks in the past. Building on TAACCCT’s legacy and its lessons learned, we propose focusing investment in workforce training to address identified skills gaps in partnership with industry, engaging employers from day one, rather than primarily targeting investment based on participant eligibility. When investing in bridging critical skills gaps in the labor market, strategy and programs must be designed to work with the most marginalized communities (including rural, tribal, and Justice40 communities) to ensure equitable access and participation. 

Increased interagency collaboration is required to meet the labor market demands of the energy transition, both in terms of domestic production in the United States and the greening of international supply chains from Mexico to South Africa. Our proposed youth workforce global strategy, the Energy Security Workforce Training Initiative outlined below provides a timely opportunity for the Administration to make progress on its economic development, workforce and climate goals. 

Plan of Action

We propose a new Energy Security Workforce Training Initiative to coordinate youth workforce development training investments across the federal government, focused on critical and nearshored supply chains that will power energy security. ESWT will be charged with coordinating U.S. government workforce strategies to build the pipeline for young people to the jobs powering the energy transition. ESWT will rework existing education and training institutions to build critical skills and to transform how young people are oriented to, prepared for, and connected to jobs powering the energy transition. ESWT will play a critical role in cross-sector and intergovernmental learning to invest in what works and to ensure federal workforce investments in collaboration with industry address identified skills gaps in the labor market for the energy transition and resilient supply chains. Research and industry confirmation would inform investments by the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Education (ED), Department of Commerce (DOC), and Department of Labor (DOL) toward building identified critical skills through scalable means with marginalized communities in mind. A key facet of ESWT will be to normalize and align the metrics by which federal, state, and local partners measure program effectiveness to allow for better comparability and long-term potential for scaling the most evidence-driven programs.

The ESWT should be coordinated by the National Economic Council(NEC) and DOC, particularly the Economic Development Administration. Once established, ESWT should also involve an international component focused on workforce investments to build resilience in nearshore supply chains on which U.S. manufacturing and energy security rely. Mexico should serve as an initial pilot of this global initiative because of its intertwined relationship with U.S. supply chains for products like EV batteries. Piloting a novel international workforce training program through private sector collaboration and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), DOL, and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) investments could help bolster resilience for domestic jobs and manufacturing. Based on these results, ESWT could expand into other geographies of critical supply chains, such as Chile and Brazil. To launch ESWT, the Biden Administration should pursue the following steps.

Recommendation 1. The NEC should name an ESWT Initiative Coordinator in conjunction with a DOC or DOL lead who will spearhead coordination between different agency workforce training activities.

With limited growth in government funding over the coming years, a key challenge will be more effectively coordinating existing programs and funds in service of training young people for demonstrated skills gaps in the marketplace. As these new programs are implemented through existing legislation, a central entity in charge of coordinating implementation, learning, and investments can best ensure that funds are directed equitably and effectively. Additionally, this initial declaration can lay the groundwork to build capacity within the federal government to conduct market analyses and consult with industries to better inform program design and grant giving across the country. The DOC and the Economic Development Administration seem best positioned to lead this effort with an existing track record through the Good Jobs Challenge and capacity to engage fully with industry to build trust that curricula and training are conducted by people that employers verify as experts. However, the DOL could also take a co-lead role due to authorities established under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). In selecting lead agencies for ESWT, these criteria should be followed:

  1. Access to emerging business intelligence regarding industry-critical skills—DOC, DOE
  2. Combined international and domestic remit—DOE/DOL, DOC (ITA)
  3. Remit that allows department to focus investment on demonstrated skills gaps, indicated by higher wages and churn—DOC
  4. Permitted to convene advisory committees from the private sector under the Federal Advisory Committee Act—DOC

Recommendation 2. The DOC and NEC, working with partner agencies, should collaborate to identify and analyze skills gaps and establish private-sector feedback councils to consult on real-time industry needs.

As a first step, DOC should commission or conduct research to identify quantitative and qualitative skills gaps related to the energy transition in critical supply chains both domestically and in key international markets — energy efficiency in advanced manufacturing, electric vehicle production, steel, batteries, rare earth minerals, construction, infrastructure and clean energy. DOC should budget for 20 skills gap assessments for critical occupational groups (high volume of jobs and uncertainty related to required, relevant skills) in the above-mentioned sectors. Each skills gap assessment should cost roughly $100,000, bringing the total investment to $2 million over a six-to-twelve-month period.  Each skills gap assessment will determine the critical and scarce skills in a labor market for a given occupation and the degree to which existing education and training providers meet the demand for skills.

This research is central to forming effective programs to ensure investments align with industry skills needs and to lower direct costs on education providers, who often lack direct expertise in this form of analysis. Commissioning these studies can help build a robust ecosystem of labor market skills gap analysts and build capacity within the federal government to conduct these studies. By completing analysis in advance of competitive grant processes, federal grants can be better directed to training based on high-need industry skill sets to ensure participating students have market-driven employment opportunities on completion. The initial research phase would occur over a six-month timeline, including staffing and procurement. The ESWT coordinator would work with DOC, ED, and DOL to procure curricula, enrollment, and foreign labor market data. Partner agencies in this effort should also include the Departments of Education, Labor, and Energy. The research would draw upon existing research on the topic conducted by Jobs for the Future, IYF, the Project on Workforce at Harvard, and LinkedIn’s Economic Graph.

Recommendation 3. Host the Energy Security Workforce Development White House Summit to galvanize public, private, and social sector partners to address identified skills gaps.

The ESWT coordinator would present the identified quantitative and qualitative skills gaps at an action-oriented White House Summit with industry, state and local government partners, education providers, and philanthropic institutions. The Summit could serve as a youth-led gathering focused on workforce and upskilling for critical new industries and galvanize a call to action across sectors and localities. Participants will be asked to prioritize among potential choices based on research findings, available funding mechanisms, and imperatives to transform education and training systems at scale and at pace with industrial transformation. Addressing the identified skills gaps will require partnering with and securing the buy-in of both educational institutions as well as industry groups to identify what skills unlock opportunities in given labor markets, develop demand-driven training, and expanded capacity of education and training providers in order to align interests as well as curricula so that key players have the incentives and capacity to continually update curricula—creating lasting change at scale. This summit would also serve as a call to action for private sector partnerships to invest in helping reskill workers and establish buy-in from the public and civil society actors. 

Recommendation 4. Establish standards and data sharing processes for linking existing training funds and programs with industry needs by convening state and local grantees, state agencies, and federal government partners.

ESWT should lay out a common series of metrics by which the federal government will assess workforce training programs to better equip efforts to scale successful programs with comparable evidence and empower policymakers to invest in what works. We recommend using the following metrics: 

  1. Successful hiring of workers into quality green jobs
  2. The reduction of employer recruitment and training costs for green jobs
  3. Demonstrable decreases in identified skills gaps

Metrics 2 and 3 will rely on ongoing industry consultations—as well as data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of the diffuse nature of existing skills gap analyses across federal grantees and workforce training programs, ESWT should serve as a convenor for learning between jurisdictions. Models for federal government data clearinghouses could be effective as well as direct sharing of evidence and results between education providers across a series of common metrics.

Recommendation 5. Ensure grants and investments in workforce training are tied to addressing specific identified skills gaps, not just by regional employment rates.

A key function of ESWT would be to determine feasible and impactful strategies to address skills gaps in critical supply chains, given the identified gaps, existing funding mechanisms, the buy-in of critical actors in key labor markets (both domestic and international), agency priorities, and the imperative to make transformative change at scale. The coordinator could help spur agencies to pursue flexible procurement and grant-making focused on outcomes and tied to clear skills gap criteria to ensure training demonstrably develops skills required by market needs for the energy transition and growing domestic supply chains. While the Good Jobs Challenge required skills gap analysis of grantees, advanced analyses by the ESWT Initiative could inform grant requirements to ensure federal funds are directed to high-need programs. As many of these fields are new, innovative funding mechanisms could be used to meet identified skills gaps and experiment with new training programs through tiered evidence models. Establishing criteria for successful workforce training programs could also serve as a market demand-pull signal that the federal government is willing and able to invest in certain types of training, crowding-in potential new players and private sector resources to create programs tailored for the skills industry needs.

Depending on the local context, the key players, and the nature of the strategy to bridge the skills gap for each supply chain, the coordinating department will determine what financing mechanism and issuing agency is most appropriate: compacts, grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts. For example, to develop skills related to worker safety in rare-earth mineral mines in South Africa or South America, the DOL could issue a grant under the Bureau of International Labor Affairs. To develop the data science skills critical for industrial and residential energy efficiency, the ED could issue a grants program to replicate Los Angeles Unified School District’s Common Core-aligned data science curriculum.

Recommendation 6. Congress should authorize flexible workforce training grants to disperse—based on identified industry needs—toward evidence-driven, scalable training models and funding for ESWT within the DOC to facilitate continued industry skills need assessments.

Congress should establish dedicated staff and infrastructure for ESWT to oversee workforce training investments and actively analyze industry needs to inform federal workforce investment strategies. Congress and the Administration should also explore how to incentivize public-private partnerships and requirements for energy, manufacturing, and supply chain companies to engage in curriculum development efforts or provide technical expertise to access tax credits included in the IRA or CHIPS.

Recommendation 7. ESWT could also incorporate an international perspective for nearshored supply chains critical to energy security and advanced manufacturing. 

To pilot this model, we recommend:

  1. Bilateral coordination of federal workforce and training investments across agencies like State, USAID, and DFC: Mexico could serve as an ideal pilot country due to its close ties with U.S. supply chains and growth in the manufacturing sector. This coordination effort should direct USAID and other government funding toward workforce training for industries critical to domestic supply chains for energy security and green jobs.
  2. Two-way learning between domestic and international workforce programs: As ESWT develops effective strategies to address the skills gap for the energy transition, the interagency initiative will identify opportunities for two-way learning. For example, as curricula for eclectic vehicle assembly is developed and piloted in Mexico with support from USAID, it could inform U.S.-based community colleges’ work with the DOL and DOE.
  3. If successful, expand to additional aligned countries including Brazil, India, and South Africa and nations throughout the Americas that source energy and manufacturing inputs for the green economy: ESWT could facilitate scalable public-private partnership vehicles for partner country governments, private corporations, philanthropy, and nongovernmental organizations to collaborate and fund country-dedicated programs to train their energy and climate workforce. This step could be done in conjunction with naming a Special Envoy at the State Department to coordinate diplomatic engagement with partner countries. The Envoy and Coordinator should have expertise and experience in North and South America economic relations and diplomacy, and labor markets economics. Congress could incorporate dedicated funds for ESWT into annual appropriations at State.

Conclusion

The transition from an economy fueled by human and animal labor to fossil fuels took roughly 200 years (1760–1960) and was associated with massive labor market disruptions as society and workers reacted to a retooled economy. Avoiding similar labor market disruptions as we seek to transition off fossil fuels over decades, not centuries, will require concentrated coordinated action. The Energy Security Workforce Training Initiative will overhaul education and training systems to develop the skills needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the labor markets central to long-term U.S. energy security and ensure that supply chains are resilient to shocks. Such a coordinated investment in training will lower recruitment, selection, and training costs for firms while increasing productivity and move people into the middle class with the jobs fueling the energy transition. 

By focusing federal workforce funding on addressing the green skills gap, we will be able to address the human capital challenges implicit in scaling the infrastructure, manufacturing overhaul, and supply chain reconfiguration necessary to secure a just transition, both at home and abroad. By building in critical international supply chains both for manufacturing and energy security from day one, the ESWT Initiative incorporates two-way learning as a means to knit together strategic supply chains through bilateral investments in equitable workforce initiatives. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What can a coordinator/interagency collaboration model offer that existing approaches do not?

Existing investments in workforce development are fragmented and are not oriented toward building the workforce needed to a net-zero carbon world, with secure energy supplies and resilient supply chains. This collaboration model ensures that workforce investments are aligned towards the net-zero carbon by 2050 aim and are targeted to the domestic and international labor markets essential to ensuring that aim, energy security, and supply chain resilience.


Similarly, to the Feed the Future Coordinator, created in 2009 because of global food insecurity and recognizing after the L’Aquila Italy G8 Summit Joint Statement on Global Food Security towards a goal of mobilizing $20 million over three years towards global agricultural and development that we needed a greater focus on food security. 


This role would ensure that programs are aligned around common goal and measuring progress towards that goal. The NEC oversees the work of the coordinator. Ultimately, the Coordinator would work with Congress and the NEC to develop authorization language. 

How would the ESWT function with differing funding sources and agency stakeholders? Does Congress need to authorize this?

Instead of creating a new fund or program requiring congressional authorization, the ESWT strategy would align existing workforce investments across government with the Administration’s aim of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

What evidence is there that workforce training and education can meet the skills gap you identify? What is the risk of failure?

Skills gaps are persistent problems around the world as education and training systems struggle to keep up with changing demands for skills. Simply investing in training systems, without addressing the underlying causes of skills gaps, will not address skills gaps. Instead, investment must be tied to the development of market-demanded skills. In IYF’s experience, this requires understanding quantitative and qualitative skills gaps, developing an industry consensus around priority skills, and driving changes to curricula, teaching practices, and student services to orient and train young people for opportunities.

How does this approach align with current and past legislative priorities?

Our proposed unified approach to workforce development for the energy transition aligns with the priorities of the former Congress’s House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment, the US Strategy to Combat Climate Change through International Development; and the Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.

How does this approach align with USAID’s priorities?

Systemic workforce approaches that engage the public, private, and civil sectors spur catalytic investments and bring new partners to the table in line with USAID’s commitment to drive progress, not simply development programs. However, there has been little concentrated investment to build the necessary skills for the energy transition. A coordinated investment strategy to support systemic approaches to build the workforce also aligns with USAID’s localization agenda by:



  1. Building the capacity of local Technical Vocational Education and Training systems to develop the workforce that each country needs to meet its zero-emission commitments while continuing to grow its economy. 

  2. Developing the capacity of local organizations, whose mission will be to facilitate workforce development efforts between the public, private and civil sectors. 

  3. Incentivize industrial policy changes to include workforce considerations in the plan to decarbonize.

  4. Creating increased opportunities to generate and share evidence on successful workforce strategies and programs. To keep up with this rapid transformation of the economy, it will be essential to share information, lessons learned, and effective approaches across international, multilateral, and bilateral organizations and through public private partnerships. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank has identified the Just Transition as a strategic priority and is working with LinkedIn to identify critical skills. As Abby Finkenauer, the State Department’s Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues, has long championed, bringing domestic and international lessons together will be critical to make a more inclusive decarbonized economy possible.

Implementation Bottlenecks: Federal Talent will Drive IIJA and IRA Success

The past few years have seen a surge of climate and clean energy legislation at the federal level. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have changed what’s possible for the US when it comes to fighting climate change, deploying innovative clean energy technologies, and moving towards a net-zero world. 

Of course, passing the legislation is only the first step. Since the passage of the above packages, federal agencies have been working around the clock to carry out the mandates within. Agencies like Commerce, EPA, DOE, Agriculture, Transportation, and more have been releasing funding opportunities, holding prize competitions, setting up grants and rulemaking processes, developing guidance, and trying to distribute resources as quickly and as equitably as possible. 

The federal government has been hugely successful in many ways in implementing these massive bills. But there have also been – and will continue to be – bumps along the way. As quickly as agencies have been moving, they are still bound by regulations and other constraints, and just can’t move as quickly as other sectors are able to – in many cases, for good reason. 

And time is of the essence – many of the provisions in the legislation have deadlines. Even if they’re a decade away, it still lends urgency to the situation. In addition to strict deadlines, there are also political deadlines. Congress is already moving to claw back items from the past few years, and faces a major election only just over a year away. Although the bills are law, there are multiple ways critics could continue to undermine their original intent and funding.

So implementation is critical – in order to take advantage of the current moment, resources, and crossroads, we need the federal government to act. If they’re not able to, we’ll lose out on key benefits and growth of the coming years. 

Major Implementation Barriers 

But federal, state, and local governments face hurdles when it comes to putting these laws into action. These hurdles are not unique to the IIJA and IRA, although many agencies were not organizationally prepared for the sheer amount of funding from the bills and now struggle to catch up. Some barriers, like long rulemaking or stakeholder engagement processes, ensure that agencies stay accountable and thoroughly research program impacts. But others are more bureaucratic or technical, and need institutional streamlining, innovation, or cross-sector support. 

For example, the IRA tasked the Department of the Treasury and the IRS with rolling out a number of energy-focused tax credits. Private firms, state governments, and other targets of the credits are eager to take advantage of the benefits, as the credits have the potential to supercharge clean energy industries. However, many of the guidelines are still unclear; feedback loops are slow and cumbersome, and companies and consumers are confused about what qualifies when. 

Another example is permitting. Permitting reform is not a new issue, but the demand for new clean energy projects and the potential strain on an outdated electric grid mean that the need for better processes is dire. Long timelines, major application backlogs, and struggles to get community buy-in could prevent us from seeing the full benefits of the IRA. 

While there are many possible solutions to these bottlenecks – involving cross-sector support from companies, community-based organizations, state and local governments, and more – one of the major issues underpinning the barriers to successful implementation is simply talent. 

Why Talent?

Large injections of funding like with the IIJA and IRA without the people power to deliver on legislation can result in slow implementation, undermining the intentions of the bills. It’s not just numbers – but getting high-quality employees with technical skill sets in the door quickly. It’s true for the above examples as well. Developing guidance for tax credits requires a large number of niche experts: tax attorneys with a keen understanding of a range of clean energy technologies. Similarly with permitting, regulations change across municipalities and states, and agencies don’t have enough staff to adjudicate applications at the rate the private sector is developing projects. 

FAS has focused on talent for a number of years – our Impact Fellowship helps place that type of high-quality technical expertise where it’s needed most in government. Our forthcoming in-depth report on hiring barriers within the Department of Energy details a number of strategies DOE and other agencies can use to hire more effectively. 

DOE has been a leader in hiring specifically to support the IIJA and IRA. Its Clean Energy Corps has hired over 600 people in the past year and a half, and the agency has stood up entire new offices like the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations. In the report we use the agency as an example of how these flexible hiring strategies can strengthen federal talent acquisition further and take advantage of the current momentum around climate and clean energy. 

Some of these strategies ask Congress to act – like increasing human capital budgets and expanding specific hiring authorities. But others are within the agency’s control, like using remote work flexibilities as a recruitment tool and using other authorities like the Intergovernmental Personnel Act more widely. Partnerships with outside entities, like clean energy workforce organizations, private recruitment firms, and higher education institutions can all provide talent support to agencies as well. 

These strategies are directly linked to helping DOE implement legislation more efficiently and effectively–and should be used by other agencies as well. A focus on talent and strengthening the federal workforce is necessary to take full advantage of the current moment.

Supporting Historically Disadvantaged Workers through a National Bargaining in Good Faith Fund

Summary

Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) are underrepresented in labor unions. Further, people working in the gig economy, tech supply chain, and other automation-adjacent roles face a huge barrier to unionizing their workplaces. These roles, which are among the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. economy, are overwhelmingly filled by BIPOC workers. In the absence of safety nets for these workers, the racial wealth gap will continue to grow. The Biden-Harris Administration can promote racial equity and support low-wage BIPOC workers’ unionization efforts by creating a National Bargaining in Good Faith Fund.

As a whole, unions lift up workers to a better standard of living, but historically they have failed to protect workers of color. The emergence of labor unions in the early 20th century was propelled by the passing of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act of 1935. Although the NLRA was a beacon of light for many working Americans, affording them the benefits of union membership such as higher wages, job security, and better working conditions, which allowed many to transition into the middle class, the protections of the law were not applied to all working people equally. Labor unions in the 20th century were often segregated, and BIPOC workers were often excluded from the benefits of unionization. For example, the Wagner Act excluded domestic and agricultural workers and permitted labor unions to discriminate against workers of color in other industries, such as manufacturing. 

Today, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a renewed interest in a racial reckoning in the United States, BIPOC workers—notably young and women BIPOC workers—are leading efforts to organize their workplaces. In addition to demanding wage equity and fair treatment, they are also fighting for health and safety on the job. Unionized workers earn on average 11.2% more in wages than their nonunionized peers. Unionized Black workers earn 13.7% more and unionized Hispanic workers 20.1% more than their nonunionized peers. But every step of the way, tech giants and multinational corporations are opposing workers’ efforts and their legal right to organize, making organizing a risky undertaking.

A National Bargaining in Good Faith Fund would provide immediate and direct financial assistance to workers who have been retaliated against for attempting to unionize, especially those from historically disadvantaged groups in the United States. This fund offers a simple and effective solution to alleviate financial hardships, allowing affected workers to use the funds for pressing needs such as rent, food, or job training. It is crucial that we advance racial equity, and this fund is one step toward achieving that goal by providing temporary financial support to workers during their time of need. Policymakers should support this initiative as it offers direct payments to workers who have faced illegal retaliation, providing a lifeline for historically disadvantaged workers and promoting greater economic justice in our society.

Challenges and Opportunities

The United States faces several triangulating challenges. First is our rapidly evolving economy, which threatens to displace millions of already vulnerable low-wage workers due to technological advances and automation. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated automation, which is a long-term strategy for the tech companies that underpin the gig economy. According to a report by an independent research group, self-driving taxis are likely to dominate the ride-hailing market by 2030, potentially displacing 8 million human drivers in the United States alone.

Second, we have a generation of workers who have not reaped the benefits associated with good-paying union jobs due to decades of anti-union activities. As of 2022, union membership has dropped from more than 30% of wage and salary workers in the private sector in the 1950s to just 6.3%. The declining percentage of workers represented by unions is associated with widespread and deep economic inequality, stagnant wages, and a shrinking middle class. Lower union membership rates have contributed to the widening of the pay gap for women and workers of color.

Third, historically disadvantaged groups are overrepresented in nonunionized, low-wage, app-based, and automation-adjacent work. This is due in large part to systemic racism. These structures adversely affect BIPOC workers’ ability to obtain quality education and training, create and pass on generational wealth, or follow through on the steps required to obtain union representation.

Workers face tremendous opposition to unionization efforts from companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars and use retaliatory actions, disinformation, and other intimidating tactics to stop them from organizing a union. For example, in New York, Black organizer Chris Smalls led the first successful union drive in a U.S. Amazon facility after the company fired him for his activities and made him a target of a smear campaign against the union drive. Smalls’s story is just one illustration of how BIPOC workers are in the middle of the collision between automation and anti-unionization efforts. 

The recent surge of support for workers’ rights is a promising development, but BIPOC workers face challenges that extend beyond anti-union tactics. Employer retaliation is also a concern. Workers targeted for retaliation suffer from reduced hours or even job loss. For instance, a survey conducted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that one in eight workers perceived possible retaliatory actions by their employers against colleagues who raised health and safety concerns. Furthermore, Black workers were more than twice as likely as white workers to experience such possible retaliation. This sobering statistic is a stark reminder of the added layers of discrimination and economic insecurity that BIPOC workers have to navigate when advocating for better working conditions and wages. 

The time to enact strong policy supporting historically disadvantaged workers is now. Advancing racial equity and racial justice is a focus for the Biden-Harris Administration, and the political and social will is evident. The day one Biden-Harris Administration Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government seeks to develop policies designed to advance equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underinvested in, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality. Additionally, the establishment of the White House  is a significant development. Led by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, the Task Force aims to empower workers to organize and negotiate with their employers through federal government policies, programs, and practices. 

A key focus for the Task Force is to increase worker power in underserved communities by examining and addressing the challenges faced by workers in jurisdictions with restrictive labor laws, marginalized workers, and workers in certain industries. The Task Force is well-timed, given the increased support for workers’ rights demonstrated through the record-high number of petitions filed with the National Labor Relations Board and the rise in strikes over the past two years. The Task Force’s approach to empowering workers and supporting their ability to organize and negotiate through federal government policies and programs offers a promising opportunity to address the unique challenges faced by BIPOC workers in unionization efforts.

The National Bargaining in Good Faith Fund is a critical initiative that can help level the playing field by providing financial assistance to workers facing opposition from employers who refuse to engage in good-faith bargaining, thereby expanding access to unions for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. In addition, the proposed initiative would reinforce Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) policies regarding employer discrimination and retaliation. The Bargaining in Good Faith Fund will provide direct payments to workers whose employers have retaliated against them for engaging in union organizing activities. The initiative also includes monitoring cases where a violation has occurred against workers involved in union organization and connecting their bargaining unit with relevant resources to support their efforts. With the backing of the Task Force, the fund could make a significant difference in the lives of workers facing barriers to organizing.

Plan of Action

While the adoption of a policy like the Bargaining in Good Faith Fund is unprecedented at the federal level, we draw inspiration from successful state-level initiatives aimed at improving worker well-being. Two notable examples are initiatives enacted in California and New York, where state lawmakers provided temporary monetary assistance to workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking a cue from these successful programs, we can develop federal policies that better support workers, especially those belonging to historically disadvantaged groups.

The successful implementation of worker-led, union-organized, and community-led strike assistance funds, as well as similar initiatives for low-wage, app-based, and automation-adjacent workers, indicates that the Bargaining in Good Faith Fund has strong potential for success. For example, the Coworker Solidarity Fund provides legal, financial, and strategic support for worker-activists organizing to improve their companies, while the fund invests in ecosystems that increase worker power and improve economic livelihoods and social conditions across the U.S. South.

New York state lawmakers have also set a precedent with their transformative Excluded Workers Fund, which provided direct financial support to workers left out of pandemic relief programs. The $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund, passed by the New York state legislature and governor in April 2021, was the first large-scale program of its kind in the country. By examining and building on these successes, we can develop federal policies that better support workers across the country.

A national program requires multiple funding methods, and several mechanisms have been identified to establish the National Bargaining in Good Faith Fund. First, existing policy needs to be strengthened, and companies violating labor laws should face financial consequences. The labor law violation tax, which could be a percentage of a company’s profits or revenue, would be directed to the Bargaining in Good Faith Fund. Additionally, penalties could be imposed on companies that engage in retaliatory behavior, and the funds generated could also be directed to the Bargaining in Good Faith Fund. New legislation from Congress is required to enforce existing federal policy.

Second, as natural allies in the fight to safeguard workers’ rights, labor unions should allocate a portion of their dues toward the fund. By pooling their resources, a portion of union dues could be directed to the federal fund.

Third, a portion of the fees paid into the federal unemployment insurance program should be redirected to Bargaining in Good Faith Fund. 

Fourth, existing funding for worker protections, currently siloed in agencies, should be reallocated to support the Bargaining in Good Faith Fund more effectively. To qualify for the fund, workers receiving food assistance and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits should be automatically eligible once the NLRB and the EEOC recognize the instance of retaliation. Workers who are not eligible could apply directly to the Fund through a state-appointed agency. This targeted approach aims to support those who face significant barriers to accessing resources and protections that safeguard their rights and well-being due to historical labor exploitation and discrimination.

Several federal agencies could collaborate to oversee the Bargaining in Good Faith Fund, including the Department of Labor, the EEOC, the Department of Justice, and the NLRB. These agencies have the authority to safeguard workers’ welfare, enforce federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, prosecute corporations that engage in criminal retaliation, and enforce workers’ rights to engage in concerted activities for protection, such as organizing a union.

Conclusion

The federal government has had a policy of supporting worker organizing and collective bargaining since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. However, the federal government has not fully implemented its policy over the past 86 years, resulting in negative impacts on BIPOC workers, who face systemic racism in the unionization process and on the job. Additionally, rapid technological advances have resulted in the automation of tasks and changes in the labor market that disproportionately affect workers of color. Consequently, the United States is likely to see an increase in wealth inequality over the next two decades.

The Biden-Harris Administration can act now to promote racial equity by establishing a National Bargaining in Good Faith Fund to support historically disadvantaged workers in unionization efforts. Because this is a pressing issue, a feasible short-term solution is to initiate a pilot program over the next 18 months. It is imperative to establish a policy that acknowledges and addresses the historical disadvantage experienced by these workers and supports their efforts to attain economic equity.

How would the Fund identify, prove eligible, and verify the identity of workers who would have access to the Fund?
Any worker currently receiving food assistance and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits would automatically become eligible once the instance of retaliation is recognized by NLRB and EEOC. If the worker is not enrolled or currently eligible, they may apply directly to the program.
Why is the focus only on providing direct cash payments?
Demonstrating eligibility for direct payments would depend on policy criteria. Evidence of discrimination could be required through documentation or a claims process where individuals provide testimony. The process could involve a combination of both methods, requiring both documentation and a claims process administered by a state agency.
Are there any examples of federal policies that provide direct payments to specific groups of people?
There are currently no federal policies that provide direct payments to individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by historical injustices, such as discrimination in housing, education, and employment. However, in recent years some local and state governments have implemented or proposed similar policies.

For example, in 2019, the city of Evanston, Illinois, established a fund to provide reparations to Black residents who can demonstrate that they or their ancestors have been affected by discrimination in housing, education, and employment. The fund is financed by a three percent tax on the sale of recreational marijuana and is intended to provide financial assistance for housing, education, and other needs.

Another example is the proposed H.R. 40 bill in the U.S. Congress that aims to establish a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations for African Americans who are descendants of slaves and who have been affected by slavery, discrimination, and exclusion from opportunities. The bill aims to study the impacts of slavery and discrimination and develop proposals for reparations that would address the lingering effects of these injustices, including the denial of education, housing, and other benefits.
Racial equity seems like a lightning rod in today’s political climate. Given that, are there any examples of federal policy concerning racial equity that have been challenged in court?
There have been several federal policies concerning racial equity that have been challenged in court throughout American history. Here are a few notable examples:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, was challenged in court but upheld by the Supreme Court in 1964.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which aimed to eliminate barriers to voting for minorities, was challenged in court several times over the years, with the Supreme Court upholding key provisions in 1966 and 2013, but striking down a key provision in 2013.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which banned discrimination in housing, was challenged in court and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1968.
The Affirmative Action policies, which aimed to increase the representation of minorities in education and the workforce, have been challenged in court multiple times over the years, with the Supreme Court upholding the use of race as a factor in college admissions in 2016.

Despite court challenges, policymakers must persist in bringing forth solutions to address racial equity as many complex federal policies aimed at promoting racial equity have been challenged in court over the years, not just on constitutional grounds.

118th Congress: Education & Workforce

Amid growing global competition in emerging technologies, increasing adoption of automation and artificial intelligence, and economic and national security trends upended by the pandemic, the United States is facing a generational challenge. In the labor market, major shifts that were once the product of future-casting are now squarely upon us, demanding a strategic approach to help the modern workforce adapt, and ensure the education system fosters the next generation of innovators.

Individuals in the STEM workforce have made substantial contributions to the nation’s innovation, growth and technological competitiveness, and will continue to be at the core of the economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM employment is projected to increase by 11 percent from 2020 to 2030. The Department of Defense and leading experts agree that the future of national security relies on advanced technologies such as artificial Intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, quantum computing and robotics, all of which require a strong STEM education pipeline. Unfortunately, STEM education trends in the United States have not kept up. According to the World Economic Forum, China had 4.7 million STEM graduates in 2016, India had 2.6 million STEM graduates, but the US had 568,000. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results reported that the average score for 9-year-old students fell 7 percentage points between 2020 and 2022, representing a 2 decade backslide in performance. And a 2021 National Academies review finds that only 22 percent of American high school graduates are proficient in science, with the average elementary classroom devoting less than 20 minutes per day to science, and 69% of elementary teachers say they are not well prepared to teach science.

The 118th Congress must act in this historic convergence of economic and educational demands. Much as the nation once rallied around its SPUTNIK moment and the Space Race, we now have an opportunity to reverse current education and workforce trends through a series of strategic investments.

Fostering a competitive job market and a strong economy. The United States built the 20th century in part through investments in education and training pathways to quality, economically-sound jobs. But today, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute survey of 750 executives, almost 30 percent of respondents perceived the skills gap to be the biggest challenge their companies are confronting.

To help American workers adapt and upskill, Congress and federal agencies should implement training and transition strategies for high-tech sector-specific workforces, such as in the fields of quantum computing, clean energy transition, or semiconductors, as was the intent of the CHIPS for America Workforce and Education Fund included in the CHIPS and Science Act. Congress should also leverage existing programs for work-based learning and retraining by reauthorizing and modernizing federally-registered apprenticeships. Similarly, effective government programs such as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program should be revisited and reformed to promote worker upskilling and assistance. Congress should also ensure robust appropriations for the Workforce Innovation Fund authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Further, the modern labor market calls for still bolder reimagining of workforce training opportunities. Just as the nation recognizes the value to national security, energy, and health presented by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) model, so too should we adapt this model to prioritize worker training at scale through an ARPA for Labor.

Amid a backdrop of historic and controversial layoffs from giants within the tech industry, Congress should take steps to ensure competitive labor markets for all Americans, through increased oversight of overly restrictive non-disclosure agreements and suffocating non-compete agreements that diminish labor mobility and competition.

Strengthen STEM Education & Training Pipelines to Compete Globally. The ability of employers and workers to compete on the global stage is inextricably linked to the education and training students receive today. But as mentioned above, the system is slipping. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that our education system is failing to produce enough graduates with critical STEM and technical skills, while results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate that US students continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math, and science. This stunts employers’ ability to hire and workers’ ability to secure higher-paying jobs. 

Fortunately, Congress put STEM education reform at the core of the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, which authorizes new and expanded investments in STEM education and training at all schooling levels. One of the major priorities of the new Congress should be to follow through with full funding for CHIPS and Science education programs at NSF and other science agencies at authorized levels. This includes $2.5 billion in FY 2024, and $13 billion total over five years, for the NSF STEM Education directorate (see more details below). These programs scale up research and innovations in preK-12 instruction, in addition to bolstering support for R&D to improve STEM education at undergraduate and community colleges, and other scholarship & fellowship programs.

The Act also tasks the NSF to update the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) by increasing the number of science and engineering graduate fellows supported annually, by increasing the cost education allowance, and by recruiting a more diverse pool of applicants. As was recommended by the Trump Administration’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), expanding the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a logical and easy way to expand and retain the critical American innovation pipeline. 

To ensure today’s students catch up to their international peers (and that we are already looking ahead to the challenges of the next decade) the US must prioritize R&D in education in a manner similar to fields like medicine and commerce. This requires a strategic investment in the research capacity at the Department of Education, as well as in the basic data infrastructure that will allow parents and districts to understand how their students are faring in comparison to their domestic and global peers.

Appropriations Recommendations

Full Funding for CHIPS and Science STEM Education. As mentioned above, Congress has the critical opportunity to invest in STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act. These programs support vital teacher training and collaboration with the scientific workforce, improved STEM education in afterschool programs, and a dedicated focus to diversify STEM fields through higher education programs. The full authorization for NSF Stem Education is $2.5 billion in FY 2024, which includes the following top-level programmatic investments: 

Other Strategic Investments in Economic Security. In addition to the initiatives laid out in CHIPS and Science, there are several other high-leverage investments Congress can make. Note: the top four recommendations are from the Alliance for Learning Innovation, a coalition advocating for research-based innovations in education, of which FAS is a member.

Return to introduction

CHIPS and Science Highlights: Developing a Scientific Workforce of the Future

With the goal of jump-starting American innovation post-pandemic, and building a foundation for the challenges of the future, including in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and semiconductor manufacturing, the CHIPS and Science Act was signed into law. The multi-year legislative effort  started as an attempt to build upon Vannevar Bush’s legacy, with a bill titled the “Endless Frontier Act” named after Bush’s famous report, “Science, The Endless Frontier.” But as Congress looked at creating a vision for science in America, almost everyone was focused on how much money the bill authorizes for scientific research. But there are many often-overlooked sections of Bush’s original report that are just as important to today’s scientific enterprise as the overall budget. In particular, what has been missing from the public discussion is his focus on the development of scientific talent.

There is no question that our science-funding institutions need significant investment and reform, but funding is only part of the puzzle. As Bush noted in the Endless Frontier, “the most important ways in which the Government can promote industrial research are to increase the flow of new scientific knowledge through support of basic research and to aid in the development of scientific talent.”

Authors of the CHIPS and Science Act clearly took note. After months of negotiations between the House and the Senate, the hard work of the staff who recognized this imperative was thus reflected in the final text of this legislation. Let’s look at some of these provisions.

Expanded GRFPs

The legislation increases the number of Graduate Research Fellowships from 2,000 to 3,000 per year. The GRFP is the National Science Foundation’s premier fellowship for graduate students in science and engineering, and it provides three years of support for exceptional students to pursue their research. The GRFP has an impressive track record: over forty Nobel Laureates and over four hundred and fifty members of the National Academy of Science started their graduate research with the help of GRFP. Aside from all the good company the award puts you in, the GRFP provides students the flexibility to work with an advisor that aligns with their interests rather than settling for whoever has money available to fund them, potentially stifling their potential. That is a big deal for these graduate students who’re still early in their career and whose interests may evolve over the years. A recent report looking at the success of GRFP recipients found that GRFP participation increased students’ likelihood of PhD completion. Fellows also published more peer reviewed papers, gave more presentations at national or international meetings, and were awarded more grants and contracts as a PI after graduate school. It also found that women who were awarded a GRFP filed more patents in graduate school than non-GRFP recipients.

Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science

In 2018, the National Academies released a report which looked at the factors that contribute to an environment tolerant of sexual harassment and its impact on women’s careers. The negative outcomes students experience when they are sexually harassed include: declining motivation to attend class, greater truancy, dropping classes, paying less attention in class, receiving lower grades, changing advisors, changing majors and transferring to another educational institution or dropping out. Additionally, Gender harassment that is severe or occurs frequently over a period of time can result in the same level of negative professional and psychological outcomes as isolated instances of sexual coercion. Therefore, Gender harassment, which is often considered a “lesser,” more inconsequential form of sexual harassment, cannot be dismissed when present in an organization. This further showed up in a recent survey conducted by the Association of American Universities to study the campus climate across 33 research universities. The survey found that 41.8 percent of all students have experienced sexual harassment since enrolling, and 18.9 percent of students have experienced sexual harassment that interfered with their academic or professional performance, limited their ability to participate in an academic program, or created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive social, academic, or work environment. Among women graduate and professional students who were sexually harassed, nearly one in four reported that the perpetrator was a faculty member or instructor. The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act included in the CHIPS and Science Act addresses key recommendations from the report and builds on steps that have already been taken to address this issue. The legislation will establish a grant program for research into the causes and consequences of sexual harassment, issue policy guidelines for agencies making extramural research awards, convene an interagency working group to coordinate efforts, and assess the progress of these efforts over time. The bill authorizes over $32 million in spending to enact this provision, making it one of the most aggressive commitments by the federal government to combat sexual harassment in science.

A Focus on Good Mentoring and Good Mental Health

The CHIPS and Science Act also increases NSF’s focus on mentorship as a workforce development tool by establishing new programs to promote mentoring relationships between graduate students and PIs, including an expansion of Individual Development Plans for graduate researchers. These programs will help ensure that all scientists have access to quality mentors who can guide them through their careers—a critically important component to ensuring success in science as laid out by a 2019 report by the National Academies. The legislation also directs NSF to support research on graduate education system and outcomes of various interventions including the effects of traineeships, fellowships, internships, the effects of graduate education and mentoring policies and procedures on degree completion, development and assessment of approaches to improve mentorship, and to research, collect and assess data around graduate student mental health crisis and developing strategies to support graduate student mental health. 

These provisions only scratch the surface. The bill includes many more provisions that would ensure we develop a scientific workforce that will be ready to tackle the challenges of the future. If we want to keep America at the forefront of scientific discovery, we need to make sure that we are constantly replenishing our pool of scientists with the best and brightest minds. The investment in future scientists contained in the CHIPS and Science Act will pay dividends not just for those individuals but for our country as a whole. By nurturing the next generation of scientific talent, we can ensure that America remains a world leader in science and technology for generations to come.

Expanding Pathways for Career Research Scientists in Academia

Summary

The U.S. university research enterprise is plagued by an odd bug: it encourages experts in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to leave it at the very moment they become recognized as experts. People who pursue advanced degrees in STEM are often compelled by deep interest in research. But upon graduation from master’s, Ph.D., or postdoctoral programs, these research-oriented individuals face a difficult choice: largely cede hands-on involvement in research to pursue faculty positions (which increasingly demand that a majority of time be spent on managerial responsibilities, such as applying for grants), give up the higher pay and prestige of the tenure track in order to continue “doing the science” via lower-status staff positions (e.g., lab manager, research software engineer), or leave the academic sector altogether. 

Many choose the latter. And when that happens at scale, it harms the broader U.S. scientific enterprise by (i) decreasing federal returns on investment in training STEM researchers, and (ii) slowing scientific progress by creating a dearth of experienced personnel conducting basic research in university labs and mentoring the next generation of researchers. The solution is to strengthen and elevate the role of the career research scientist1 in academia—the highly trained senior research-group member who is hands-on and in the lab every day—in the university ecosystem. This is, fundamentally, a fairly straightforward workforce-pipeline issue that federal STEM-funding agencies have the power to address. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) — two of the largest sources of academic research funding — could begin by hosting high-level discussions around the problem: specifically, through an NSF-led workshop and an NIH-led task force. In parallel, the two agencies can launch immediately tractable efforts to begin making headway in addressing the problem. NSF, for instance, could increase visibility and funding for research software engineers, while NSF and/or NIH could consider providing grants to support “co-founded” research labs jointly led by an established professor or principal investigator (PI) working alongside an experienced career research scientist.

The collective goal of these activities is to infuse technical expertise into the day-to-day ideation and execution of science (especially basic research), thereby accelerating scientific progress and helping the United States retain world scientific leadership.

Challenge and Opportunity

The scientific status quo in the United States is increasingly diverting STEM experts away from direct research opportunities at universities. STEM graduate students interested in hands-on research have few attractive career opportunities in academia: those working as staff scientists, lab managers, research software engineers, and similar forego the higher pay and status of the tenure track, while those working as faculty members find themselves encumbered by tasks that are largely unrelated to research. 

Making it difficult for STEM experts to pursue hands-on research in university settings harms the broader U.S. scientific enterprise in two ways. First, the federal government disburses huge amounts of money every year—via fellowship funding, research grants, tuition support, and other avenues—to help train early-career STEM researchers. This expenditure is warranted because, as the Association of American Universities explains, “There is broad consensus that university research is a long-term national investment in the future.” This investment hinges on university contributions to basic research; universities and colleges account for just 13% of overall U.S. research and development (R&D) activity, but nearly half (48%) of basic research. Limited career opportunities for talented STEM researchers to continue “doing the science” in academic settings therefore limits our national returns on investment in these researchers.

Box 1. Productivity benefits of senior researchers in software-driven fields.
Cutting-edge research in nearly all STEM fields increasingly depends on software. Indeed, NSF observes that software is “directly responsible for increased scientific productivity and significant enhancement of researchers’ capabilities.” Problematically, there is minimal support within academia for development and ongoing maintenance of software. It is all too common for a promising research project at a university lab to wither when the graduate student who wrote the code upon which the project depends finishes their degree and leaves.

The field of deep learning (a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning) underscores the value of research software. Progress in deep learning was slow and stuttering until development of user-friendly software tools in the mid-2010s: a development spurred mostly by private-sector investment. The result has been an explosion of productivity in deep learning. Even now, top AI research teams cite software-engineering talent as a critical input upon which their scientific output depends. But while research software engineers are some of the most in-demand and valuable team members in the private sector, career positions for research software engineers are uncommon at academic institutions. How much potential scientific discovery are U.S. university labs failing to recognize as a result of this underinvestment?

Second, attrition of STEM talent from academia slows the pace of U.S. scientific progress because most hands-on research activities are conducted by graduate students rather than more experienced personnel. Yet, senior researchers are far more scientifically productive. With years of experience under their belt, senior researchers possess tacit knowledge of how to effectively get research done in a field, can help a team avoid repeating mistakes, and can provide the technical mentorship needed for graduate students to acquire research skills quickly and well. And with graduate students and postdocs typically remaining with a research group for only a few years, career research scientists also provide important continuity across projects. The productivity boosts that senior researchers can deliver are especially well established for software-driven fields (see box).

The absence of attractive job opportunities for career research scientists at most academic institutions is an anomaly. Such opportunities are prevalent in the private sector, at national labs (e.g., those run by the NIH and the Department of Energy) and other government institutions, and in select well-endowed university labs that enjoy more discretionary spending ability. As the dominant funder of university research in the United States, the federal government has massive leverage over the structure of research labs. With some small changes in grant-funding incentives, federal agencies can address this anomaly and bring more senior research scientists into the academic research system. 

Plan of Action

Federal STEM-funding agencies — led by NSF and NIH, as the two largest sources of federal funding for academic research — should explore and pursue strategies for changing grant-funding incentives in ways that strengthen and elevate the role of the career research scientist in academia. We split our recommendations into two parts. 

The first part focuses on encouraging discussion. The problem of limited career options for trained STEM professionals who want to engage in hands-on research in the academic sector currently flies beneath the radar of many extremely knowledgeable stakeholders inside and outside of the federal government. Bringing these stakeholders together might result in excellent actionable suggestions on how to retain talented research scientists in academia. Second, we suggest two specific projects to make headway on the problem: (i) further support for research software engineers and (ii) a pilot program supporting co-founded research labs. While the recommendations below are targeted to NSF and NIH, other federal STEM-funding agencies (e.g., the Departments of Energy and Defense) can and should consider similar actions. 

Part 1. Identify needs, opportunities, and options for federal actions to support and incentivize career research scientists.2

Shifting academic employment towards a model more welcoming to career research scientists will require a mix of specific new programs and small and large changes to existing funding structures. However, it is not yet clear which reforms should be prioritized. Our first set of suggestions is designed to start the necessary discussion.

Specifically, NSF should start by convening key community members at a workshop (modeled on previous NSF-sponsored workshops, such as the workshop on a National Network of Research Institutes [NNRI]) focused on how the agency can encourage creation of additional career research scientist positions at universities. The workshop should also (i) discuss strategies for publicizing and encouraging outstanding STEM talent to pursue such positions, (ii) identify barriers that discourage universities from posting for career research scientists, and (iii) brainstorm solutions to these barriers. Workshop participants should include representatives from federal agencies that sponsor national labs as well as industry sectors (software, biotech, etc.) that conduct extensive R&D, as these entities are more experienced employers of career research scientists. The workshop should address the following questions:

The primary audience for the workshop will be NSF leadership and policymakers. The output of the workshop should be a report suggesting a clear, actionable path forward for those stakeholders to pursue.

NIH should pursue an analogous fact-finding effort, possibly structured as a working group of the Advisory Committee to the Directorate. This working group would identify strategies for incentivizing labs to hire professional staff members, including expert lab technicians, professional biostatisticians, and RSEs. This working group will ultimately recommend to the NIH Director actions that the agency can take to expand the roles of career research scientists in the academic sector. The working group would address questions similar to those explored in the NSF workshop.

Part 2. Launch two pilot projects to begin expanding opportunities for career research scientists.

Pilot 1. Create a new NSF initiative to solicit and fund requests for research software engineer (RSE) support. 

Research software engineers (RSEs) build and maintain research software, and train scientists to use that software. Incentivizing the creation of long-term RSE positions at universities will increase scientific productivity and build the infrastructure for sustained scientific progress in the academic sector. Though a wide range of STEM disciplines could benefit from RSE involvement, NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate is a good place to start expanding support for RSEs in academic projects. 

CISE has previously invested in nascent support structures for professional staff in software and computing fields. The CISE Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) was created to build research independence among early-career researchers working in CISE-related fields by funding graduate-student appointments. Much CRII-funded work involves producing — and in turn, depends on — shared community software. Similarly, the Campus Research Computing Consortium (CaRCC) and RCD Nexus are NSF-supported programs focused on creating guidelines and resources for campus research computing operations and infrastructure. Through these two programs, NSF is helping universities build a foundation of (i) software production and (ii) computing hardware and infrastructure needed to support that software. 

However, effective RSEs are crucial for progress in scientific fields outside of CISE’s domain. For example, one of this memo’s authors has personal experience with NSF-funded geosciences research. PIs working in this field are desperate for funding to hire RSEs, but do not have access to funding for that purpose. Instead, they depend almost entirely on graduate students.

As a component of the workshop recommended above, NSF should highlight other research areas hamstrung by an acute need for RSEs. In addition, CISE should create a follow-on CISE Software Infrastructure Initiative (CSII) that solicits and funds requests from pre-tenure academic researchers in a variety of fields for RSE support. Requests should explain how the requested RSE would (i) catalyze cutting-edge research, and (ii) maintain critical community open-source scientific software. Moreover, academia severely lacks strong mentorship in software engineering. A specific goal of CSII funding should be to support at least a 1:3 ratio of RSEs to graduate students in funded labs. Creative evaluation mechanisms will be needed to assess the success of CSII. The goal of this initiative will be a community of university researchers productively using software created and supported by RSEs hired through CSII funding. 

Pilot 2. Provide grants to support “co-founded” research labs jointly led by an established professor or principal investigator (PI) working alongside an experienced career research scientist.

Academic PIs (typically faculty) normally lead their labs and research groups alone. This state of affairs leads to high rates of burnout, possibly leading to poor research success. In some cases, starting an ambitious new project or company with a co-founder makes the endeavor more likely to succeed while being less stressful and isolating. A co-founder can provide a complementary set of skills. For example, the startup incubator Y Combinator is well known for wanting teams to include a CEO visionary and manager working alongside a CTO builder and designer. By contrast, academic PIs are expected to be talented at all aspects of running a modern scientific lab. Developing mechanisms to help scientists come together and benefit from complementary skill sets should be a high priority for science-funding agencies.

We recommend that NSF and/or NIH create a pilot grant program to fund co-founded research labs at universities. Formally co-founded research groups have been successful across scientific domains (e.g., the AbuGoot Lab at MIT and the Carpenter-Singh Lab at the Broad Institute), but remain quite rare. Federal grants for co-founded research labs would build on this proof of concept by competitively awarding 5–7 years of salary and equipment funding to support a lab jointly run by an early-career PI and a career research scientist. A key anticipated benefit of this grant program is increased retention of outstanding researchers in positions that enable them to keep “doing the science.” Currently, the most talented STEM researchers become faculty members or leave academia altogether. Career research scientist positions simply cannot offer competitive levels of compensation and prestige. Creating a new, high-profile, grant-funded opportunity for STEM talent to remain in hands-on university lab positions could help shift the status quo. Creating a pathway for co-founded and co-led research labs would also help PIs avoid isolation and burnout while building more robust, healthy, and successful research teams.

Conclusion

Many breakthroughs in scientific progress have required massive funding and national coordination. This is not one of them. All that needs to be done is allow expert research scientists to do the hands-on work that they’ve been trained to do. The scientific status quo prevents our nation’s basic research enterprise from achieving its full potential, and from harnessing that potential for the common good. Strengthening and elevating the role of career research scientists in the academic sector will empower existing STEM talent to drive scientific progress forward.

Frequently Asked Questions
Are there places where research scientists are common?

Yes. The tech sector is a good example. Multiple tech companies have developed senior individual contributor (IC) career paths. These IC career paths allow people to grow their influence while remaining mostly in a hands-on technical role. The most common role of a senior software engineering IC is that of the “tech lead”, guiding the technical decision making and execution of a team. Other paths might involve prototyping and architecting a critical new system or diving in and solving an emergency problem. For more details on this kind of career, look at the Staff Engineer book and accompanying discussion.

Why is now the time for federal STEM-funding agencies to increase support for career research scientists?

The United States has long been the international leader in scientific progress, but that position is being threatened as more countries develop the human capital and infrastructure to compete in a knowledge-oriented economy. In an era where humankind faces mounting existential risks requiring scientific innovation, maintaining U.S. scientific leadership is more important than ever. This requires retaining high-level scientific talent in hands-on, basic research activities. But that goal is undermined by the current structure of employment in American academic science.

Which other federal agencies fund scientific research, and could consider actions similar to those proposed in this memo for NSF and NIH?

Key federal STEM-funding agencies that could also consider ways to support and elevate career research scientist positions include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Energy, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

A Digital Military Talent Initiative for Noncitizen Technologists

Summary

Competent and innovative technologists are crucial to the future of U.S. national security. But the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) warns that a digital-talent deficit at the Department of Defense (DOD) represents the greatest impediment to the U.S. military’s effective embrace of emerging technologies (such as artificial intelligence). Absent radical course correction, demographic factors, including aging populations, stand to exacerbate this problem in coming years.

A new Digital Military Talent Initiative could help address the military’s digital-talent gap by providing an expedited path to U.S. citizenship through military service for noncitizen technologists aligned to NSCAI archetypes. Modernization of an already-existing DoD program, coupled with minor tweaks to the National Defense Authorization Act, could infuse digital talent by providing vetted noncitizens a pathway to accelerated naturalization through military service.

Challenge and Opportunity

A paucity of digital talent threatens the U.S. military’s current and future capability goals, as evidenced by the military’s ongoing inability to staff cyber units or achieve objectives set by the Pentagon’s Chief Data Officer. Global competition for digital talent requires the U.S. to get more creative with recruitment. The Director of the DOD’s Defense Innovation Unit noted that the Pentagon’s efforts to add science and technology talent to its workforce are “insufficient” given competitors’ gains in these arenas

If current efforts are insufficient to meet digital-talent needs, future efforts may have to be drastic. Projections suggest the U.S. population is aging, such that fewer working-age persons will be available relative to the broader population in years to come. This trend may have an outsize negative impact on the military’s available talent pool, as the military fills its ranks predominantly with younger workers. Compounding the problem, military-eligible tech talent is often highly sought-after in the private sector, where compensation may be orders of magnitude greater than in the military. Last, lack of lifestyle perks and flexibility may make the military a hard sell, especially for innovative and free-thinking talent.

Even the newest models for bringing private-sector talent into the military, such as the U.S. Digital Corps and cyber direct-hire authorities, only harness talent from existing U.S. citizens. Proposals for training more government technologists (i.e., by creating a federal digital service academy) are limited by the number of citizens who may be willing and able to participate. 

There is a blueprint that may help overcome these challenges. During the Global War on Terror, the U.S. military enlisted over 10,000 foreign volunteers through the Military Acquisitions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. Under this program, a select group of pre-screened noncitizens was offered the chance to obtain U.S. citizenship in exchange for military service. Notwithstanding an untimely termination that gave rise to a series of lawsuits, MAVNI was widely recognized as a success. However, the program was somewhat limited in scope. Although many MAVNI participants held advanced degrees, the skillsets the program sought were limited to certain foreign languages and medical specialties. Modernizing and expanding MAVNI — with statutory authority commensurate to the realities of modern conflict — may help mitigate digital talent shortages.

Modernizing and expanding MAVNI would also align with the NSCAI’s recommendation for a “comprehensive” legislative strategy to enable “highly skilled immigrants to encourage more AI talent to study, work, and remain in the United States.” Our nation’s inadequate strategies for recruiting foreign digital talent have caused leading companies like Google to appeal for Congressional assistance, even as peer nations like Canada have developed novel, effective policies to support digital immigration. During the Trump administration, Toronto became the fastest-growing location for tech-sector jobs in North America. The upshot is clear: the U.S. military — and the U.S. generally — faces a widening tech talent gap that requires out-of-the-box thinking to address.

Plan of Action

The authors propose a three-part plan of action for launching a national Digital Military Talent Initiative. Part 1 engenders minor modifications to existing law governing U.S. military eligibility. Part 2 involves modernizing the existing MAVNI program by expanding the definition of skills deemed “vital to the national interest”. Part 3 involves piloting and scaling the modernized MAVNI program in line with leading national security and cybersecurity practices. More detail on each of these components is provided below.

Part 1: Amend existing law governing U.S. military eligibility. 

Three sections of the U.S. Code should be modified. First, 10 U.S.C. § 504(b)(2) — which governs military enlistment of individuals who are neither U.S. citizens, permanent residents, nor citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, or Palau,1 should be modified to read:

“Notwithstanding paragraph (1), and subject to paragraph (3), the Secretary concerned may authorize enlistment of a person not described in paragraph (1) if the Secretary determines that such person possesses a critical skill or expertise that is vital to the national interest.”

In other words, 10 U.S.C. § 504(b)(2) should be modified by removing provision (B), which currently requires that an enlistee use their referenced “critical skill or expertise” in their “primary daily duties”. This requirement unnecessarily inhibits military commanders at all levels, since critical skills and expertise often include skills and expertise deployed only in moments of the utmost exigency.

Second, 10 U.S.C. § 504(b)(3) should be modified to read: 

“A Secretary concerned may not authorize more than 10,000 enlistments under paragraph (2) per military department in a calendar year until after the Secretary of Defense submits to Congress written notice of the intent of that Secretary concerned to authorize more than 10,000 such enlistments in a calendar year.” 

This language increases the enlistment number at which the Secretary of Defense is statutorily obligated to notify Congress and does away with the 30-day waiting period that the Secretary must wait between notifying Congress and proceeding with the enlistment authorization. These modifications are needed to accommodate anticipated recruitment under an expanded MAVNI and help the Secretary to move quickly on leveraging such a talent pool. It should be noted that over 14,000 individuals expressed interest in the first year that the U.S. Army sought to enlist recruits in the Global War on Terror pursuant to 10 U.S.C. § 504(b)(2)).

Third, 8 U.S.C. § 1440(a) should be modified by adding the following new subsection:

“Any person enlisted pursuant to 10 U.S.C. §504(b)(2) who has served honorably in an active-duty status in the military, during any period which the President by Executive Order designates as a period in which Armed Forces of the United States are or were engaged in nontraditional military operations in preparation for a substantial foreign threat that is new or novel in nature, may be naturalized as provided in this section if (1) at the time of enlistment, reenlistment, extension of enlistment, or induction such person shall have been in the United States, or (2) at any time subsequent to enlistment or induction such person shall have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.”

This language increases the President’s authority to authorize expedited naturalization in certain instances of sub-threshold conflict. The included requirement that the President expressly designate such instances via an Executive Order creates political accountability around this authority.

Part 2: Modernize the DOD’s existing MAVNI program by authorizing enlistment for certain vetted noncitizens with critical digital competencies.

The Military Acquisitions Vital to the National Interest program authorizes certain noncitizens to enlist if they possess critical skills limited to certain foreign languages and medical specialties. As the demands of modern conflict have adjusted at the speed of technological advancement, so too should the way the U.S. staffs its military. The DOD should expand the MAVNI program to include skills aligned to the NSCAI’s digital-talent archetypes, the President’s recent Executive Order on improving the nation’s cybersecurity, and the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act. The DOD should also validate key assumptions to confirm pilot feasibility, including:

Part 3: Pilot and scale the modernized MAVNI program to grow recruitment numbers and increase impact on military-service missions.

DOD should scale based on need using the following steps:

  1. Determine aggregate need for digital talent across the joint services to meet operational and institutional requirements.
  2. Define enlistment pathways for recruited digital talent. For instance, a recruit might first enter into a non-classified military occupational specialty — whether a unique specialty for uncleared digital talent or a traditional specialty. After naturalization, the recruit could a) shift to an existing enlisted role in information technology/networking, cyber, and electronic warfare, b) enter a potentially new digital-specialty role, or c) commission as a warrant or officer. 
  3. Scale MAVNI program infrastructure in alignment with DOD zero trust principles and architecture requirements.
  4. Develop professional-development and career pathways that incentivize recruited digital talent to remain engaged with the military requirements and to communicate about their experiences and successes. 
  5. Gather and implement feedback from program alumni and participants on topics including recruitment, retention, training, incentives, community-building, diversity, and inclusion

Conclusion

The DOD’s current digital-talent deficiencies may evolve into an existential vulnerability without significant course correction. The DOD can begin addressing these deficiencies through an integrated Digital Military Talent Initiative. Such an initiative should comprise three parts: (1) amending existing law governing enlistment eligibility; (2) expanding the definition of skills deemed “vital to the national interest;” and (3) piloting and scaling the MAVNI program to recruit tech talent for the military in alignment with leading national security and cybersecurity practices. Together, these actions will dramatically grow the U.S. military’s eligible digital talent pool, thus enabling it to better compete in future sub-threshold and armed conflict.