President's Budget Request Recommends Reduced Funding for USGS (5/02)

The following column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the May 2002 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologists . It is reprinted with permission.

It should come as no surprise that the president' fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget request would substantially reduce funding for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), especially considering how last year's proposed USGS cuts were not only restored but also increased by congressional action. Budget cuts seem to be a perennial problem for the USGS, in light of the fact that many of the agency's programs are national in scope. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has noted in both last year's and this year's budget documents that the key customer for USGS products should be Department of the Interior (DOI) bureaus. Obviously DOI is more interested in support for its own land and resource management bureaus than with external customers, despite the range of cooperative programs undertaken by USGS. Fortunately for the Survey, many of the externally focused programs have considerable support in Congress.

Another issue of concern is the lack of funding for USGS's significant activities in support of homeland security and the overseas war on terrorism. All four divisions of the USGS have been heavily involved in national security but neither the emergency supplemental appropriations passed last fall nor the FY 2003 budget provide funds directly for these activities. This situation would require that all such costs be absorbed within the existing decreased allocation.

What is particularly significant is that the proposed reductions for USGS are housed within the largest DOI budget request ever. Mind you, a part of that figure is due to an accounting system that would require the agencies to list employee retirement and benefits as part of its annual budget, which is a new system for the federal government. Funding for DOI activities within the Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill would total $9,704.2 million, but $245.6 million of this figure is in fact from the new accounting system. Without the employment benefits amount, funding for DOI activities would still increase, but only by $20.5 million to total $9,458.7 million. Department priorities seem to be focussed on restoring natural areas, rebuilding national parks and refuges, improving American Indian education and trust reform, and supporting the new Cooperative Conservation Initiative more than sound science on which to base resource management decisions.

The USGS Budget
The largest cuts in the president's request are proposed within the water resources programs. It is recommended that these programs receive a $28 million cut, which would result in a 13.6% decrease. The National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program, which collects information on the quality of streams, groundwater, and aquatic ecosystems, is marked for a significant cut. Currently the program gathers data from 42 large river basins and aquifers. The suggested $6 million decrease in funding would cause the termination of six study units, unless the program is able to follow the OMB recommendation that USGS obtain greater cost-sharing contributions from its partners and customers. Another program targeted for reduction is the National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP), which would see a decrease of $2 million (or 14.6%) under the budget proposal. This decrease would eliminate funding for 130 of the existing 7,200 streamgages. NSIP is a partnership between the USGS and more than 800 federal, state, tribal, and local agencies.

Two additional water programs are targeted for elimination -- one via transfer out of the agency and the other via zero funding. The Toxic Substances Hydrology program would be cut by $4 million with the remaining $10 million in funding transferred to the National Science Foundation, where it would be absorbed into other programs. The Toxics program supports long-term research concerning surface and groundwater contamination. It is a collaborative effort between USGS, local, state, and other federal agency scientists as well as university and private-sector researchers. Under the proposal, the funding for Toxics would be transferred to the Geoscience Directorate within NSF. Marked to receive zero funding, the Water Resources Research Institutes have had a history of being zeroed out in budget requests, then having Congress restore the cuts. An institute is situated in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal territories, making members of Congress especially fond of the program. Historically, the institutes have been a cooperative undertaking between USGS and states, with states matching two dollars for each one from the Survey.

Minor reductions are requested for geological programs. One program that was not saved from proposed cuts is the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program. The budget request would cut almost $6 million from this program, which is designed to produce digital geological maps as a cooperative effort between the USGS, the state geological surveys, and universities.

Conclusion
At the House Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies hearing held in March, committee members voiced strong opposition to the administration's plan to reduce funding for the USGS. Director Charles "Chip" Groat, who testified at the hearing, obviously constrained by his political leaders, defended the administration's request. He indicated that the decreased budget would require the reduction of 249 staff, but that he hoped this decrease could be accomplished through attrition and early retirements, rather than using the extremely unpopular reduction-in-force procedures. Subcommittee chairman Joe Skeen (R-NM) and ranking member Norm Dicks (D-WA) were extremely critical of what they considered to be substantial reductions in the agency's budget. Dicks indicated that the subcommittee had wisely rejected the same kind of proposal the year before. Other subcommittee members expressed concern about the impacts on specific programs involving water quality, flood monitoring, fire suppression, indicator species, energy exploration, and volcanic monitoring. It appears the Congress will not support the president's USGS budget proposal. However, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the agency responsible for crafting the federal budget, has made it clear that even though the FY2003 budget will require deficit spending, the government must show constraint in the growth of discretionary spending. The subcommittee hearing is just the beginning of the congressional appropriations process, so there are several more months before definitive action is taken.

The Government Affairs column is a bimonthly feature written by John Dragonetti, CPG-02779, who is Senior Advisor to the American Geological Institute's Government Affairs Program. E-mail: dragon@agiweb.org. For more information on the president's FY 2003 budget request and its impact on the geosciences, visit the AGI Web site at http://www.agiweb.org/gap.


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 August 12, 2002


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