U.S. Geological Survey Customer Listening Session
Statement by David Applegate, Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute
January 29-30, 2003
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I wish
to commend the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for the effort you
are making to receive input from partners and cooperators. The American
Geological Institute (AGI) has a long history of partnership with
USGS, and we look forward to continued collaboration in the areas
of education, public outreach, data preservation, and information
dissemination. AGI also encourages USGS to enhance collaboration
with the institute's 40 member societies.
The three themes of this year's listening session -- public health,
public safety, and public prosperity -- are well chosen to underscore
the value of the Survey to the American people. These themes also
are a reminder that some of the Survey's most important activities
serve the entire nation and impact the nation's citizens where they
live and work, for example environmental monitoring (public health),
natural hazard reduction (public safety) and energy and mineral
resource assessment (public prosperity). In order to emphasize the
broad value of the USGS to society, AGI is working with other stakeholder
groups to establish a coalition that will focus attention on the
important work of the Survey and seek to build awareness of the
value of federal investments in this agency.
Two years ago, the National Research Council released its report,
Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey, which
states quite clearly that the Survey's value to the nation goes
well beyond the Department's stewardship mission for federal lands.
It is imperative that the national scope of the Survey's mission
be recognized and valued within the Department of the Interior and
the White House. That national scope includes, but is not limited
to, the Survey's responsibility to provide scientific support for
the land management agencies. This important component of the Survey's
mission helps to ensure that the federal lands are being managed
based on the best available scientific information. The Survey's
long-term ability to expand its national role is dependent on the
degree to which its sister agencies consider their scientific needs
are being met.
Americans today have a dramatically heightened awareness of our
vulnerability to terrorism, but similar awareness does not exist
when it comes to our ever-growing vulnerability to natural disasters.
Improving resilience to extreme events whatever the cause will strengthen
the nation's overall ability to respond to disruption by any means.
As recommended by the National Research Council, the USGS needs
to "continue to exercise national leadership in natural hazards
research and risk communication." With more people moving to
hazard-prone areas -- coasts, floodplains, and areas of increased
seismic, volcanic, and landslide risk --- there will be a growing
need for USGS science directed at characterizing and mitigating
The long-term databases produced by the Survey's monitoring programs
are one of the USGS's most important contributions to the nation,
and care must be taken not to disrupt them. Budgetary restrictions
have prevented the Survey from making the large strides needed to
modernize its national streamgage and seismic networks, both of
which will require substantially increased investments in the coming
years to take advantage of new technology and growing need. Recognizing
that the long-term value of such networks is a hard sell in an annual
budget cycle, we recommend that USGS make extra efforts to promote
The Advanced National Seismic System represents a tremendous opportunity
for the Survey to provide leadership in earthquake warnings for
the nation's most vulnerable urban areas. Vigorous support for this
program should be coupled with the Survey's active participation
as a partner of the National Science Foundation during the implementation
of the EarthScope project.
One of the Survey's most important contributions to public safety
is in the development and dissemination of domestic geospatial data.
This contribution has taken on even greater significance in light
of homeland security needs. And yet the role of the Survey is in
danger of being diminished as other federal entities with very different
missions are expanding their domestic mapping capabilities. Considerable
concerns exist within the geoscience community over the trend toward
increasing restrictions to geospatial data, a trend that could accelerate
if the USGS -- with its traditional support for maintaining open
access to data -- does not maintain its role in this area. These
restrictions are particularly problematic for the state and local
governments that are on the front lines when it comes to any sort
of disaster, whether due to natural forces or willful human acts.
The National Map represents an important opportunity for USGS and
the nation, and it should serve as a centerpiece for meeting the
nation's diverse geospatial needs.
The nation's strategic interests demand a full accounting of both
domestic and international resources: water, mineral, and energy.
In all three cases, the USGS is the nation's premier science authority
and data source. The Survey's unique capabilities in remote sensing
and geospatial data analysis will also be brought to bear in the
re-assessment of domestic security needs. In recent years, there
has been an erosion in several of these areas, particularly the
Survey's mineral resource assessment capabilities. That trend must
be reversed if the USGS is to provide all the analytical needs that
the present crisis demands in assessment of global resources to
meet societal needs.
As the nation's need for water, energy, and mineral resources inexorably
grows, USGS expertise must be brought to bear, working with its
many partners to provide a sound basis for decisionmaking.
Public prosperity is not served when the federal government unfairly
competes with the private sector. The National Research Council's
Future Roles report sounds a cautionary note that in the Survey's
efforts to prove its relevance and serve its customers, it has provided
services to local jurisdictions that have put it in conflict with
the private sector -- a major political liability. The report urges
the Survey to undertake local projects only when they clearly serve
a broader national goal. At the same time, much of what the Survey
does constitutes a unique public good, and efforts to privatize
or contract out Survey programs should be done with care to ensure
that the public continues to be well served.
The budgetary juggernaut of biomedical research has been fueled
by a broad political consensus on the need for advances in this
field. A strong case has been made for the reliance of modern biomedical
breakthroughs on technological advances made possible by federal
investment in fundamental physical science research, and there is
growing discussion among policymakers about the need for a balanced
research portfolio. But this physical science underpinning of biomedical
research is not the only linkage that can be made between human
health and non-medical science. Indeed, the USGS is uniquely positioned
to demonstrate linkages between the earth sciences, ecology and
human health through its interdisciplinary work on environmental
exposure pathways. The Survey's skills in collecting and characterizing
natural settings lend themselves to collaborations with agencies
such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Public Health Service.
These collaborations should be planned at the highest level, involving
scientists both inside and outside the agencies.
For too long, there has been a divide between the geoscience community
and the public health community leading to mistrust and poor communication
over such geology-related health issues as radon, arsenic, and asbestos.
The USGS partnership with the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences holds great promise for helping to bridge the divide
and should be strengthened. The USGS global mineral assessment has
a great deal of potential for developing derivative products that
can be used for making decisions that balance resource needs and
environmental impacts affecting both ecosystem and human health.
Research by USGS scientists into long-range transport of pathogens
by airborne dust and the impacts of geologic materials on human
health both contribute immensely to our understanding of the associated
public health risks.
Although we tend to think of natural disasters primarily as a public
safety issue, they also represent a threat to public health. For
example, the flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999 had a major
impact on both human and environmental health in North Carolina
due to inundation of industrial hog farms. A better understanding
of natural processes, better warning systems, and better integration
of USGS data and analysis into decisionmaking can help alleviate
these public health hazards.
A Look to the Future
Even as the USGS seeks to be responsive to pressing issues, the
need will remain for basic environmental data. That means the Survey
must continue to support geologic mapping, long-term monitoring
programs, and related activities that can serve as the basis for
decisionmaking about a wide range of societal challenges.
If the Survey is to adequately serve the nation in these three
important thematic areas, it must keep a close eye on the future
of its workforce. Creating an environment in which the best scientists
can work on challenging problems that address societal needs must
be a top priority for USGS leadership. The USGS has a tradition
of excellence in a number of geoscience disciplines, including seismology,
economic geology, and hydrology. If the Survey is to meet societal
needs in the future, that expertise must be maintained by a new
generation of scientists. The establishment of the Mendenhall postdoctoral
fellowship program is an excellent step toward achieving this goal,
and it must be followed up with longer-term opportunities. Building
partnerships with the academic and private sectors can be done through
creative use of fellowships, detailees, and other short-term arrangements.
Thank you again for this opportunity to appear before you. I would
be happy to provide additional information on any of these topics.
The American Geological Institute is a nonprofit federation
of 40 geoscientific and professional societies that represent more
than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists.
The institute serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession,
plays a major role in strengthening earth science education, and
strives to increase public awareness of the vital role that the
geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with
the environment. For more information on AGI, visit www.agiweb.org.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted: April 9, 2003