SPECIAL UPDATE: The President's FY 2004 Budget Request: U.S. Geological Survey

(Posted 2-13-03)

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $895.5 million in President Bush's fiscal year (FY) 2004 budget request, more than the president proposed a year ago but 2% below the level at which the Survey is currently funded. Where last year's proposed cuts focused on water programs, this year the focus was on mineral resource assessments, seismic networks, mapping research and geospatial data collection. Biological programs are the only ones to receive more funding than either last year's request or current levels. This update is the first in a series describing the president's budget request. Subsequent ones will cover the Department of Energy, other Interior agencies, EPA, NASA, NOAA, NSF, and the Smithsonian. Information on previous budget requests and appropriations can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap.


Interpreting the president's budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2004 is complicated by the fact that there is no final FY 2003 budget in place to compare against. Four months into the fiscal year, Congress is still working away at a final compromise as discussed in an AGI alert sent out last week. As a result, this new request is presented entirely in terms of last year's presidential request. Meanwhile, federal agencies are being funded under a series of continuing resolutions at FY 2002 levels. Wherever possible, this update provides numbers as changes both with respect to the president's last request and in terms of the FY 2002 levels at which the agencies are actually functioning. We apologize in advance for any confusion that results.

Looking at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as a whole, this year's request is much more favorable to the agency than last year's request but still represents a step backward from FY 2002 levels. The total request is $895.5 million, down from $913.9 million in FY 2002 (-2%) but up from the $867.3 million request in FY 2003 (+3.3%). Last year's request was hardest on water programs as the administration sought large cuts and transfers to other agencies. This year, the administration has restored most of those cuts. Transfers are not mentioned.

One interesting shift from past years is the inclusion in the request of several projects added during the congressional appropriations process in previous years. Typically, the administration strips those projects out of the following year's request, leaving it to Congress to put them in again. While this game continues for many congressional add-ons, projects for surficial mapping in the Great Lakes region, subsidence studies in Louisiana and state/local access to geospatial data made the jump into presidential favor.

In all cases, the many increases and decreases described here do not take into account the uncontrollable costs (salaries, maintenance, etc…) that increase each year and cut into funds available for actual program activities. Only 40% of those uncontrollable costs are covered by the budget request, and the rest must come out of program funds. In addition, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has instituted across-the-board cuts to reform all information technology (IT) activities in the federal government. Science-intensive agencies like USGS take a disproportionate share of such cuts -- the Department of the Interior as a whole faces $66 million total reduction of which the USGS share is $10.4 million (for comparison, the Survey's budget makes up less than 7% of the department's total expenditures).

Geologic Programs

Overall, geologic programs would receive $221.6 million, $11 million below FY 2002 levels (-5%) and $3.1 million below last year's request (-1.4%). In addition to cutting funds for mineral resource assessments and seismic networks as described below, the request also calls for the survey's energy resources program to use existing funds to provide scientific information regarding methane hydrates to the Minerals Management Service.

Mineral Resources
The biggest hit in the geologic discipline goes to the Mineral Resources Program, which would receive a $9.1 million cut. This reduction is on top of $3.6 million in proposed reductions from the president's FY 2003 request ($1.3 million for studies of aggregates and industrial minerals, $1.5 million for the Alaska data-at-risk project, and $0.8 million for the minerals information team). Together, these cuts represent a total decrease of $12.7 million, or roughly 25%, below FY 2002's level of $55.7 million. As with other programs, such cuts are in addition to the budgetary erosion due to increases in uncontrollable costs. The proposed cuts would eliminate a global mineral resource assessment currently underway as well as geochemical process studies on the effects of toxic materials associated with mineral deposits. Assessment activities for federal and local land managers would be reduced, among other activities.

Advanced National Seismic System
The other major cut to geologic programs is a $1.9 million decrease for the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). The program has never come close to the funding levels called for in the last reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP). That legislation, signed into law in November 2000, authorized $170 million over five years. The requested cut in this year's budget would eliminate nearly half of the increases that previous budgets had provided toward that lofty goal. On February 27th, AGI will be co-sponsoring a congressional briefing on NEHRP, which is again up for reauthorization this year.

Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program
In last year's request, this program was slated for a $6 million cut, the bulk of which is restored by a $.4.5 million increase in the FY 2004 request. That still represents a $1.5 million cut below FY 2002 levels. The budget request also includes $0.5 million to support an ongoing surficial mapping project in the central Great Lakes region. The project, funded at that level in FY 2002, was not included in the president's FY 2003 budget request.

Water Programs

As noted above, the budget request restores most -- but not all -- of the cuts proposed in last year's request. Overall, water programs would receive $200.1 million, still $6.3 million below FY 2002 levels (-3.1%) but $22.3 million above what the president asked for last year (+12.5%).

The National Water-Quality Assessment program would receive an increase of $6.3 million, restoring proposed FY 2003 cuts and resulting in a $0.5 million boost above FY 2002 levels. The Toxic Substances Hydrology program, last year proposed for cutbacks and a transfer of what remained to the National Science Foundation, would receive an $11 million boost, still $2.9 million below its FY 2002 level. The National Streamflow Information program -- the network of 7,000 streamgages -- would receive a $2.1 million increase, offsetting a $2 million proposed decrease in FY 2003. The National Water Information System would receive a $1.8 million increase over last year's budget, which had cut out a number of congressionally specified projects. The net increase over FY 2002 is $0.6 million.

The budget does not even mention the Water Resources Research Institutes, which were zeroed out in the president's FY 2003 request and remain zeroed out in this request. These institutes were funded at $6 million in FY 2002 -- the level at which they are still funded under continuing resolutions. Congressionally popular, they are a perennial political football between the White House and Capitol Hill.

Mapping Programs

Overall, mapping programs would receive $120.5 million, $12.7 million below FY 2002 levels (-11%) and $8.8 million below last year's request (-7.3%). The request would eliminate the Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information (CINDI), a $1.4 million cut, along with $2.8 million in cuts for "lower-priority mapping research." A $4.4 million cut to the National Map program is supposed to "transition" the program from data collection toward a focus on standard setting. This shift in focus is cited for several other USGS programs as the administration seeks to decrease the Survey's role in data collection and shift toward analysis and dissemination functions.

The budget provides a $3 million increase for AmericaView, "a successful pilot project that increased the ability of a State-user community to quickly access and apply geographical data." The increase would restore a $3 million cut in the FY 2003 request. This project, which began as OhioView, was initially funded through the auspices of Rep. Ralph Regular (R-OH) when he chaired the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

Biological Programs

Biology is the only discipline whose budget request is larger than either the FY 2003 request (by $8.4 million or 5%) or the FY 2002 actual level (by $2.7 million or 1.6%). Totaling $168.9 million, biology programs would receive increases for research related to invasive species ($4.6 million over FY 2003 request), chronic wasting disease ($1 million), and amphibians ($0.5 million), and $1.3 million for the Science on the Interior Landscape initiative, funding priority research areas identified by sister bureaus.

Additional Budget Information

The Department of the Interior's "Budget in Brief" document is available on the web at http://www.doi.gov/budget/2004/04Hilites/toc.html. More detailed information is available from the USGS Budget Office at http://www.usgs.gov/budget/2004/.

Special update prepared by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: Department of the Interior budget materials.

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

Posted February 13, 2003

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