American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Government Affairs Report: Revival of the National Geologic Mapping Act (9/97)

The following column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the October 1997 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologis ts. It is reprinted with permission.

After a one-year interruption, we are once again endowed with legislation formulated to advance geologic mapping throughout the nation. Public Law 105-36, better known as the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1997, was signed by Presiden t Clinton on August 5, 1997. The proposal began its journey on February 12th of this year when identical bills were introduced in both houses of Congress as S. 317 by Senator Larry Craig (Republican-Idaho) and H.R. 709 by Representative Barbara Cubin (Rep ublican-Wyoming) to reauthorize the original National Geologic Mapping Act (NGMA) of 1992. Both Craig and Cubin head the respective subcommittees with jurisdiction over the issue. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent on July 23rd after it had b een held hostage for several months in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) finally agreed to accept the House version of the bill, which had passed that body by voice vote in early Marc h.

The NGMA of 1992 actually expired last year during the 104th Congress. The plight of the 1996 reauthorization bills in that Congress represents another illustration of that old saw that "one should never watch laws or sausages being made." The legisla tion passed the House, but despite having no substantive enemies and with backing from virtually every interested quarter, the Senate bill was a casualty of the Senate "hold" procedure. This process allowed whole classes of bills to be suppressed under th e threat of senatorial filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican-Mississippi) deserves credit for reforming the "hold" process in the present Congress to nullify a system that previously caused complete work stoppages in the past. By the time the "hold" was removed in the 104th Congress and the geologic mapping bill was ready to surface, it was in the final hours of October 4th -- the last day of the session. The Senate adjourned just minutes before it was to deal with this and several ot her non-controversial bills.

Although many groups and individuals have supported the creation and passage of the NGMA of 1992 and its 1996 and 1997 descendants, the organization most responsible for success is undoubtedly the Association of American State Geologists, and the forem ost individual who has led the effort over the years is Oklahoma State Geologist Charles Mankin. Earlier this year, the AIPG held a Washington Fly-In that also helped to prompt congressional representatives to champion the 1997 version. (The Profession al Geologist, July, 1997, pp.13-14).

Despite the passage of both the 1992 and 1997 Acts, funding for geologic mapping has never lived up to the levels authorized in the legislation. Unfortunately, when the original NGMA of 1992 was enacted and throughout its existence, government austerit y was in full bloom, and mushrooming public concern over the national deficit conspired to suppress fiscal support for geologic mapping among many other scientific programs. Within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), where Congress placed management of the program, there has been some reprogramming over the years to sustain the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping program, but the demand that federal agencies reduce budget requests has induced the USGS to seek less funding than desired in each year's Pres idential budget. The 1997 Act authorizes $26 million for fiscal year 1998, $28 million for fiscal year 1999, and $30 million for fiscal year 2000, but authorization is assuredly not appropriation. These are two absolutely separate and highly territorial functions within the Congress. In the present allocation process, both House and Senate Appropriations Committees only voted for a $21.9 million funding level. This amount is equal to the fiscal year 1997 appropriation and is $1.7 million more than the A dministration requested. Many in government are looking to the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 to correct or modify this arcane and ludicrous segregation of authorization from appropriation. (The Professional Geologist, April 1997, pp.18-19 ).

For the most part, the new act is similar to the original NGMA of 1992, but there are some changes. The 1997 version continues to be administered by the USGS under four categories: federal geologic mapping (FEDMAP); geochemical, geophysical and paleont ological support for geologic mapping (SUPPORTMAP); state geologic mapping (STATEMAP); and mapping within the university system (EDMAP). Within these categories, the 1997 law specifies that not less than 20 percent of the funds are to be apportioned to st ate mapping activities, and not less than 2 percent for educational mapping ventures. A major difference from the earlier 1992 version is the inclusion of U.S. territories that now have the potential to receive federal matching grants administered by the state cooperative program. The USGS program also includes the development of a National Geologic Map Database which is intended to function as a national archive of geologic maps and related databases. According to Peter Lyttle, the program's associate co ordinator, all of the maps currently being developed are in digital format. There is also an effort to generate a common set of standards nationwide which will promote the capability to search, transfer, and use metadata and actual datasets (Geotimes, June 1995, pp. 16-18; September 1997, p. 11).

It is hoped that the awareness established throughout the legislative and executive branches so convincingly and by so many throughout the geological community will result in proper funding so that geologic mapping can perform its essential role in res ponding to the nation's critical economic and environmental needs.

The Government Affairs Column is a bimonthly feature written by John Dragonetti. John Dragonetti is the Senior Advisor the American Geological Institute's Government Affairs Program.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist, published by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. AGI gratefully acknowledges that permission.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted April 17, 1998

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