National Research Council Report Summary: Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey (2-18-01)


This National Research Council (NRC) report was produced to analyze the future needs and responsibilities of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  The role of the USGS requires redefinition in light of recent technological advances, societal changes, and the incorporation of the National Biological Service into the agency.  The NRC report contains conclusions and recommendations to spur the USGS to become more effective in its role as a natural science and information agency.  A diverse group of experts from government, academia, and industry participated in the development of the report.  An AGI summary of the group's first meeting, in which the committee outlined goals of the study, can be found on this website.

The report gives conclusions and recommendations in three categories: major responsibilities, national and international roles, and improving effectiveness. The recommendations for the future of the USGS are derived from the conclusions of the panel.

Major Responsibilities

  • "Provide national leadership and coordination in monitoring, reporting, and forecasting phenomena, including earthquakes, volcanic activity, streamflow, and ecological indicators."
  • "Provide national leadership and coordination in assessing resources, including energy, minerals, water, and biota."
  • "Provide national leadership and coordination in providing geospacial information."
  • More resources should be allocated to data interpretation and making information more accessible, while continuing conducting surveys, monitoring, data analysis, research, information dissemination, and product generation.
  • National and International Roles
  • "Ensure that science information is provided to Department of the Interior (DOI) bureaus in an efficient and effective way."  The DOI bureaus also have a responsibility to ensure that USGS personnel and resources are used in department decision making.
  • "Develop international expertise in natural science problems relevant to the USGS mission."  In particular, the USGS should pursue studies that support U.S. interests, increase technical assistance to foreign countries that are developing relevant natural science programs, benefit domestic programs, and increase the international stature of the agency.
  • Improving Effectiveness

        Priority Setting

  • "Develop a more effective process to assess and prioritize customer needs."  The agency needs to set priorities and then reduce personnel and funds in projects outside of these priorities in order to avoid over-commitment of resources.
  • "Develop and set a research agenda that is balanced appropriately between problem- specific research and core research."
  • "Establish and make extensive use of external advisory committees to develop research agendas as well as designing individual programs."
  •     Meeting Technical Needs
  • "Devote substantial efforts to recruiting and retaining excellent staff."
  • Strengthen coordination and collaboration with other federal agencies, states, academia, and industry.
  • "Ensure that reimbursable contracts meet mission and strategic goals and that they do not compete unfairly with states or other organizations," that can provide a similar service.
  •     Budget
  • The budget of the USGS should increase in accordance with the increase in agency responsibility.  The agency should request and justify funds to support the development of a research portfolio in the national interest.
  • "Budget requests should contain sufficient flexibility to permit the USGS director to respond rapidly to new research challenges and opportunities."
  • The primary theme of all these recommendations is that the future responsibilities of the USGS could easily outstrip the agency's effectiveness if actions are not taken to allocate the agency's resources toward well defined goals; to better coordinate between other agencies, states, and private entities; to pursue more quality personnel; and to pursue monetary resources.

    The report can be read online from the National Academy Press website.



    Sources: NRC report "Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey", AGI website

    Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

    Contributed by 2001 Spring AGI/AAPG intern Mary H. Patterson and Margaret A. Baker, Government Affairs Program

    Posted February 18, 2001


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