IN A NUTSHELL: The House Appropriations Committee has restored funding for the U.S. Geological Survey and Department of Energy oil and gas research programs, slated for significant reductions in the president's request for fiscal year 2002. The committee also expressed concern over recent developments at the Smithsonian Institution regarding science programs there. The bill (as yet unnumbered) next goes to the full House for a vote, and the Senate has yet to begin action. Please contact your delegation on this subject and encourage them to support the committee's action. This alert contains details of the committee's decision. The FY 2002 Interior Appropriations bill number is H.R. 2217. The report number is H. Rept. 107-103.
Back in February, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that the administration was considering a 22 percent cut to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in its fiscal year (FY) 2002 budget request. Hundreds of geoscientists wrote to the Interior Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget to make the case for the value of this agency's programs. USGS supporters met with administration staff, and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton showed a growing interest in the agency as she became aware of its capabilities. When the president's budget request was unveiled in April, some of those funds had been restored, but the Survey still took a 9 percent cut overall in order to make room for campaign priorities. Individual programs were hit much harder -- the cut to the Water Resources Division came in at 22 percent. Things looked even worse for oil and gas programs in the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy, both receiving cuts of over 50 percent in the president's request.
Since that time, supporters of both these agencies -- including several AGI member society delegations -- have met with key members of Congress and committee staff in both the House and Senate. The high profile of national energy problems, along with issues such as global climate change, has also helped to convince legislators that now is not the time to cut funding for programs that provide vital scientific information in these areas.
The efforts are starting to pay off. In hearings by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, it was clear that both the chairman, Rep. Joe Skeen (R-NM), and ranking Democrat Norm Dicks (WA) disagreed with the cuts. In a subcommittee vote last week and a full House Appropriations Committee vote two days ago, there was bipartisan support for restoring both USGS and DOE programs to full strength, even adding a small increase.
But there is a long road ahead. The full House has yet to vote on this appropriations bill, and the Senate Appropriations Committee will probably not begin action until the end of this month or after the Fourth of July recess. It is important that geoscientists make an effort in the next few weeks to let their delegation know that they support the committee's action. If you live in the district of one of the House appropriators (see list at http://www.house.gov/appropriations/members.htm), please take the time to write and thank them for their support of a strong foundation of geoscience knowledge for decisionmaking.
This message contains details of the House bill -- which will not receive a bill number until it reaches the House floor -- and its accompanying explanatory report language on USGS, DOE, and the Smithsonian, where science is also under fire from within the Institution. In many cases, the committee's report language will be useful for letter writing. For information on communicating with Congress, see http://www.agiweb.org/roster/howto.html. AGI testimony on the USGS and DOE budgets can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/interior_fy2002.html. A sample letter that can be adapted for members of Congress was included in an earlier alert on USGS at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/usgs_alert0201.html.
House Committee-Passed Funding for USGS
Overall, the committee provided $900.5 million for the USGS, up $17.7 million from FY 2001 and up $87.1 million from the president's request. The bulk of the increase is for uncontrollable expenses (i.e. cost-of-living adjustments). The report states: "The Committee restored a number of high-priority research programs that were proposed for reduction or elimination. The Committee believes that the Department of the Interior and other Federal agencies should make resource decisions based on the best science available. The Survey's principal goals and objectives should include an appropriate mix of basic and applied science that address both the needs of the Department of the Interior as well as important scientific issues of national concern. The Committee has commissioned a number of studies by the Survey and the National Academy of Sciences that provided detailed recommendations on a program by program basis. The Committee believes that this informed process should help the Department develop a better science agency serving the Nation's best long-term interests."
The Geologic Division would receive $228.2 million, up $2.9 million from FY 2001 and up $14.4 million from the request. Increases over FY 2001 include $0.4 million for the Advanced National Seismic Network and $1 million for expanding the coastal geology program. Several cuts, for example to the Alaska minerals program, are for programs traditionally supported by the Senate. The committee report notes the "important and appropriate" function of the minerals information program and looks forward to a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review in the coming fiscal year. The report also states that "the Committee continues to believe that the Survey's highest hazards-related priority should be to continue to upgrade its various hazards monitoring networks, to acquire quality hazards information, and to engage in quality research. Therefore, the Committee has provided funding for the Survey's "Real Time Hazards" initiative.
The Water Resources Division, hardest hit in the president's budget, would receive $205.5 million, up $2 million from FY 2001 and up $46 million from the request. The committee provided full funding plus a $0.5 million increase for the Water Resource Research Institutes, zeroed out in the request, and also calls on the Survey to contract with the NAS to examine water resources research. The report directs that $1 million is to go to a Mississippi River-based Long-Term Estuary Assessment Group. It calls on the Survey "to prepare a report describing the scope and magnitude of the efforts needed to provide periodic assessments of the status and trends in the availability and use of freshwater resources" in the US.
The National Mapping Division would receive $130.7 million, nearly level with FY 2001 and up $7 million from the request. The Biological Resources Division would receive $163.5 million, up $2.9 million above FY 2001 and up $14.2 million over the request. The Science Support account would receive $86.3 million, a $12.5 million fixed-cost increase over FY 2001 and $5 million above the request. The Facilities account would get $86.4 million, down $2.9 million from FY 2001 and up $0.5 million from the request, primarily related to technical adjustments.
The bill also restores $20 million for USGS from the Land Conservation, Preservation, and Infrastructure Improvement Program -- the so-called Title VIII money first approved in last year's appropriations bill. The president did not request any of these funds, derived from federal oil and gas royalties, for USGS. Last year's USGS funds were used for upgrading the streamgage network, cooperative geologic mapping, and earth science information delivery.
Committee-Passed Funding for DOE Fossil Energy
The Committee report includes a section responding to the administration's National Energy Policy, praising the Cheney report for recognizing "the need to explore many different options for addressing the energy needs of this country and for ensuring that energy efficiencies and emissions reductions are achieved worldwide." The committee supports the president's clean coal initiative and also recommends "restoring most of the reductions proposed in the budget request for energy conservation research and for research to improve fossil energy technologies. We need to do all these things if we are to have a balanced and rational national energy strategy."
Overall, DOE Fossil Energy R&D would receive $579 million, up $146 million over FY 2001 and up $130 million over the request. In addition to the president's $150 million clean coal initiative, the bill provides $40.3 million for natural gas technologies, down $4.8 million from FY 2001 but up $19.3 million from the request. Within the gas account, it restores funding for gas hydrates research to $9.8 million as opposed to the $4.8 million requested. Natural gas exploration and production research would receive a $5.3 million boost over FY 2001. The Petroleum/Oil Technology program would receive $56 million, up $1.1 million from FY 2001 and up $25.5 million over the request. Increases over the request include $11 million for exploration and production research, $9.1 million for reservoir life extension, and $5.4 million for the effective environmental protection program. The report also calls on DOE to work with industry to develop a deep-water oil and gas research program.
Committee Discussion of Smithsonian
Recent actions by Secretary of the Smithsonian Lawrence Small to cut science programs and reorganize the reporting structure for science have raised eyebrows within the geoscience community and led Natural History Museum Director Robert Fri to announce his resignation. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over these federal museums, included the following report language: "The Committee has been concerned about the recent actions taken by the Smithsonian to set a new direction for science in the Institution, particularly the attempt to close the Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia. The Committee commends the Board of Regents for directing the Smithsonian to form a Science Commission to advise the Smithsonian Regents on future new research strategies. The Committee supports the principle of reviewing existing research programs and improving the focus of those programs, including greater collaboration within and outside the Smithsonian. However, the process for making significant research changes must be thoroughly vetted within the research community and through the budget process. The Committee expects that no action regarding the science programs and related facilities of the Institution will be taken until the new Science Commission has made recommendations to the Regents and the Regents have approved those recommendations."
Sources: House Appropriations Committee.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted June 15, 2001; Last updated June 20, 2001
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