American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

House Appropriations Hearing on U.S. Geological Survey FY 1998 Budget Request

House Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
March 18, 1997

Witness List
Gordon P. Eaton, Director, U.S. Geological Survey

USGS Supporting Witnesses:
Richard E. Witmer, Acting Chief, National Mapping Division
Robert M. Hirsch, Chief, Water Resources Division
P. Patrick Leahy, Chief, Geologic Division
Dennis B. Fenn, Chief, Biological Resources Division

Subcommittee Members Present
Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH), Joe Skeen (R-NM), George Nethercutt (R-WA), David Skaggs (D-CO), and James Moran (D-VA).

Testimony and Discussion
USGS Director Eaton submitted his written testimony for the record and dispensed with his oral testimony in order to get straight to questions and answers. He then introduced the supporting witnesses and other USGS personnel on hand to answer questions.

Subcommittee chairman Regula began by asking how the melding of the National Biological Service (NBS) into the USGS was going. Eaton responded that he could not be more pleased with the way they were fitting in and asked Chief Biologist Fenn to respond as well. Fenn stated that his scientists were pleased and happy and that the transition had gone smoothly so far. Regula noted that the two agencies "seemed like a natural fit," and the merger would contribute to goals of streamlining, efficiency, and downsizing. Eaton reported that the merger process was essentially completed but that it would be necessary to consolidate some of the Survey's 400 offices across the country (32 in California alone). Regula asked whether the clientele were accepting the need for consolidation (yes), whether there was a lot of use of USGS resources by the public and other federal agencies (yes), how the USGS was changing the methods by which it disseminates information (100,000 pages on the web), whether a proposed National Park Service plan to create cooperative ecological units at universities represented overlap with USGS activities (Eaton described the Park Service plan as creating liaison posts, and Fenn described the position as one of coordination, not research).

Representative Skeen reported that he felt fine until he got up in the morning and professed his great endearment to the USGS because of their cooperation on water issues. He also noted that the Survey's new mapping techniques were absolutely marvelous both for water as well as oil and gas exploration. He asked if the funding request was adequate to which Eaton replied that he was compelled to say that everything's fine and the request was adequate, but he noted that there were always unmet needs. Skeen also asked whether the requirements of the Water Resources Research Act were being met. Chief Hydrologist Hirsch responded that the program would be reduced by $2.8 million, and the decision to reduce relates to fact that activities relate to state not federal needs. He also noted that at the committee's request, the grants were now awarded on a non-competitive basis to 39 states that made requests. He noted that the Water Resource Research Institute directors were not happy. Skeen asked whether the cut would undermine longstanding federal-state partnerships. What percentage of WRD programs were extramural through competitive or cooperative agreements? Could the private sector or universities provide WRD services (Hirsch: Survey provides unique, basic data collection, training, and national standards). Eaton noted that the states have asked for more funds than the USGS can provide.

Representative Skaggs noted that the Office of Management and Budget had removed (or "scrubbed") $55 million from the original USGS request. He asked for the record what areas were affected -- what was the delta of what went to OMB and what came back. Eaton stated that $15 million had been reprogrammed in order to meet new initiatives both from within the USGS and from outside. Eaton also stated that the Survey had long since passed the place where we can say we are doing more with less -- we are now doing less with less. Skaggs also asked about the streamgaging program and Army Corps of Engineers partnerships, noting the recent network news reports about the elimination of a crucial streamgaging station upstream from Falmouth, Kentucky. Hirsch replied that the decision on which stations to close down is "Russian roulette." That particular station was closed in 1994 when the Corps withdrew funds as did the state of Kentucky. Hirsch emphasized that the bulk of funds for these stations come from cooperating agencies and that the changing mission of the Corps had caused them to lose interest in stations originally put in place for dam-building projects.

Nethercutt asked about the cost of getting stream gaging stations up on the Web, and Hirsch estimated a $10,000 capital cost. Nethercutt also asked about decreasing in funding for hazard activities and geologic mapping and asked why the big increase for BRD. Is this now the focus of the USGS? Eaton did not respond to the first question but stated that th BRD had taken a 20% hit when it was the NBS and that Interior was beginning to build it back up to full capabilities. Nethercutt also asked about duplication of effort within Interior on data gathering, pointing to the number of agencies gathering information for the Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Study. In response, Eaton noted that duplication did exist outside of Interior because other agencies wanted their own technical expertise.

Regula noted that the National Academy of Public Administration is looking at duplication of mapping activities and the potential for consolidating government-wide mapping services.

Skaggs asked why the USGS was asked to absorb the entire cost of the international seismic network program and whether other agencies might contribute, particularly defense agencies given that the USGS was being forced to close gaging stations.

Regula asked whether water quality was decreasing and if public water supplies were at risk. Hirsch responded that the Clean Water Act had resulted in many reductions in sewage and industrial wastes but that residual problems remained from non-point sources such as agricultural runoff. Regula also asked about international cooperation and about the $9 million reprogramming for the President's Kalamazoo initiative, asking whether the new work was part of the NAWQA or USGS-wide strategic plans. Eaton stated that the change was in response to passage of the new Safe Drinking Water Act and Presidential concerns.

Regula also asked whether other agencies and the public realize the value of USGS information, particularly regional planning commissions. He emphasized the need to cooperate with other agencies and let people know about the USGS, calling the agency a fairly well-kept secret. He closed by saying that the USGS touches the lives of every American with each glass of water and by enhancing the country's resources through the information developed by the agency.

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Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs.

Last updated April 8, 1997

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