Think that what happens at federal agencies doesn’t have much of an impact in Colorado? Think again.
When changes happen at the federal level, it’s easy to feel like those changes are restricted to Washington D.C. and won’t affect the daily lives of Colorado residents. This, however, is not so.
Colorado is home to federal agency offices in all sectors, from the military to veterans’ affairs to transportation — in fact, Colorado had more than 37,796 year-round, full-time, non-military employees in fiscal year 2015.
Federal agencies in Colorado also have a particularly strong presence when it comes to science, research, and the environment. According to publicly available data from the national Office of Personnel and Management, as of September 2016 there were of 11,483 employees in science and environmentally-focused federal agencies in Colorado (see a full list of employees by agency below). And, as we describe at the end of this post, there are also thousands of additional people whose jobs depend on federal agencies, whether those are part-time employees, contractors, seasonal employees, and partnerships with universities.
This means that the major budget cuts that the Trump administration is proposing for agencies including the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could have a significant and measurable impacts on Colorado.
When EPA transition leader Myron Ebell said, “What are all these people in the EPA air and safe drinking water offices doing?,” he was generalizing to a shocking extent. As we describe below, it turns out that these men and women provide enormous contributions to Colorado’s environment, economy, and communities. So, any cuts to their work and their jobs would be felt deeply in our state.
We’ve summed up which federal science and environmental agencies are in Colorado and what they do:
Environmental Protection Agency — 610 employees in Colorado
- The EPA protects all Americans from the dangers of pollution, and mitigates health risks to our children and families. The work the agency’s employees undertakes is deep and vast, and is tremendously important to keeping both Colorado’s communities and our land, air and water healthy. An independent federal agency, the EPA is tasked with protecting humans and the environment. The agency is responsible for enforcement against polluters, writes regulations in response to new laws, provides grants to states and a variety of environmental institutions and nonprofits, conducts research, and educates and informs the public about relevant issues. In the 2017 fiscal year, there were 149 grants and contracts for work in Colorado, with a total value of $6.37 million. See all the EPA cleanup sites in your community here.
Department of the Interior — 6,839 total employees in Colorado, not including seasonal workers. The public lands that DoI manages provide more than just jobs; particularly outside of metro areas, these lands provide energy, resources and are crucial for boosting local economies. Some of the offices you may be most familiar with are outlined below.
- National Park Service — 1,548 employees in Colorado
Colorado has four national parks, eight national monuments, and various other national historic sites and trails. This agency manages over 660,000 acres of land in the state for recreation, education, inspiration, and above all, the preservation of our state’s natural and cultural heritage.
- Bureau of Land Management — 1,030 employees in Colorado
The BLM manages 8.4 million acres of public lands in Colorado along with 29 million acres of subsurface minerals like oil, natural gas, and coal. BLM also maintains a transportation system consisting of about 4,000 miles of roads, 1,215 miles of trails, and 20 bridges. The role of the BLM is unique in that they are tasked with balancing conservation values with commercial development and use of resources. From recreation and historical/cultural tourism to mining and livestock grazing, the scope of BLM’s work in Colorado is vast.
- United States Geological Survey — 1,124 employees in Colorado
The USGS is the nation’s largest government science agency, providing biological and geological research as well as mapping services for the public. They conduct large-scale research and data collection across the country as well as resource monitoring that dates back over 100 years. The information they provide allows resource managers to make informed decisions about our nation’s land and water use, natural disasters and climate change.
- Bureau of Reclamation — 1,109 employees in Colorado
The Bureau of Reclamation manages dams, hydroelectric powerplants, and canals in the western U.S. The agency provides water to over 31 million people, including irrigation for 10 million acres of farmland. Chances are, you have the Bureau of Reclamation to thank for the vegetables on your plate at dinner tonight, and possibly for the electricity that powers your home.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife — 438 employees in Colorado
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is tasked with promoting stewardship and conservation of our nation’s wildlife. They protect and manage national wildlife refuges, migratory birds, fisheries, endangered species, and restore critical wildlife habitat like wetlands across the country.
Department of Agriculture
- U.S. Forest Service — 2,068 employees in Colorado
The Rocky Mountain region of the USFS manages nine national forests and two national grasslands in the state, amounting to over 10 million acres of land. This includes the most visited national forest in the country, the White River National Forest, which sees 9 million visitors every year in large part thanks to the ski areas that are located there. Employees of the Forest Service fight wildfires, conduct forestry research, collaborate with tribes to protect non-federal forests and watersheds, and provide technical assistance to landowners, the public, businesses, and the government to ensure sustainable forest management.
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) — 290 employees in Colorado
NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to agriculture producers to help them care for the land. They use a comprehensive, landscape approach to conservation that views the land as a sustainable system to provide long-term benefits to people and the environment.
Department of Energy — 821 employees in Colorado
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) — Located in Golden, NREL is the Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for research and development for renewable power technologies, sustainable transportation and energy efficiency. The groundbreaking research that scientists conduct at NREL actively changes the way we use energy in the nation and the world. Including both part and full time employees, there are 1,705 workers and researchers at NREL who could also be affected by budget cuts, as well as 700 visiting researchers, 80 post-doctoral students and 234 student interns.
- Western Area Power Administration and the DoE Golden Field Office personnel also contribute to the 821 DoE employees in the state. Both of the agencies help provide energy and electricity to our region.
Department of Commerce
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — 482 employees in Colorado
NIST provides scientific standards and measurements in order to support economic enhancement through innovation. While this might sound like it has nothing to do with you, it actually has everything to do with you. The car you drive, the phone you talk on, the computer you use and nearly every technology around us were manufactured based on standards of measurement designated by NIST.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — 373 employees in Colorado
Do you like knowing the weather? You have scientists and NOAA to thank. The range of science, research and environmental management that NOAA conducts at its Boulder campus is vast — including fisheries, severe weather, restoration, resource management, and climate monitoring. The diverse array of information they provide allows both the public and private enterprises to understand and make informed decisions. When contractors, researchers and other employees are included, the total grows to over 1,000 whose paychecks come from federal government funding.
The numbers get even bigger
The numbers that we’ve reported from the Office of Personnel Management above include only full-time, non-seasonal workers, which fails to account for part-time employees, contractors and partnerships with universities.
For example, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES) is a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA, and it employs approximately 800 scientists who seek to develop a better understanding of the dynamic Earth system using a scientific approach. The CIRES team studies everything from western water resources, to atmospheric chemistry to air quality. Additionally, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, but managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (a non-federal consortium of universities). In Colorado, NCAR has 885 employees.
Conclusion: budget cuts hurt Colorado
Each one of these 11,483 people who work in federal science and environmental agencies contributes to our Colorado way of life. We are dependent on the scientific research; energy innovations; water, land and resource management; public health and air quality monitoring; disaster mitigation; and so much more that these agency offices contribute to our society. Budget cuts to these offices threaten our values, our environment and our economy.