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Federal Agencies: Structure and Status ( 1/14/13 )

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The executive branch is comprised of the Executive Office of the President and the federal executive departments. The heads of these departments belong to the Presidential Cabinet. According to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, the Cabinet is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the member’s office. There are 14 executive departments as well as some independent agencies which can have cabinet status. Of the 14 departments, the geoscience community is concerned with the programs within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Education (ED), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of the Interior (DOI). The independent agencies the geoscience community follows are: the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the Smithsonian Institution.

Recent Action

 

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Previous Action

House Passes Government Spending Accountability Act of 2012 (09/12)
On September 11, 2012, the House passed the Government Spending Accountability (GSA) Act of 2012 (H.R. 4631) introduced by Representative Joe Walsh (R-IL). The bill limits travel expenses for government employees and aims to make agency spending more transparent.

H.R. 4631 does not impose a limit on the number of conferences a federal employee can attend. However, federal agencies must cap their travel expenses for government employees to attend a conference (defined as a meeting, retreat, seminar or symposium that is not entirely held in a government facility and requires 25 miles or more of travel) at 70 percent of the aggregate amount of such expenses in the fiscal year (FY) 2010 and spend no more than $500,000 for a single conference. This bill must now pass in the Senate before becoming law.

In addition, federal agencies must report travel expenses quarterly on their public web site including an itemized description of these expenses for conferences that 50 or more employees attend or costs more than $100,000. This bill was drafted in response to the General Services Administration (GSA) scandal of 2012 when it was revealed that the GSA cost taxpayers $823,000 for a 2010 conference in Las Vegas.

In April, the Senate passed (S.1789), the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012, which included Senate Amendment 2060 which includes similar language to H.R.4631, but would limit spending to 80 percent of the FY 2010 budget for travel expenses. This bill has not been passed in the House.

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Background

There are several key departments and agencies within the federal government that handle legislation that affects the geoscience community. Below is a list of those departments and independent agencies, followed by more detailed information about each department, geoscience programs and offices within the department, and links to the official websites.

Executive Departments Independent Agencies
 

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Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture (About)

The primary interests for the geoscience community at the USDA are the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the U.S. Forest Service (FS).

The NRCS (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) works with conservation districts, watershed groups, and the federal and state agencies having related responsibilities to bring about physical adjustments in land use that will conserve soil and water resources, provide for agricultural production on a sustained basis, and reduce damage by flood and sedimentation. The NRCS, with its dams, debris basins, and planned watersheds, provides technical advice to the agricultural conservation programs, and through these programs, works to minimize pollution. The long-term objectives of the NRCS are to maintain and improve the soil, water, and related resources of the nation's nonpublic lands by reducing excessive soil erosion, improving irrigation efficiencies, improving water management, reducing upstream flood damage, improving range conditions, and improving water quality.

The ARS is the chief scientific agency of the USDA, and has about 1000 research projects in about 100 locations in the United States and five other countries to find solutions to high-priority problems facing the nation's agricultural interests. The scientists work to protect and improve soil, water and other natural resources.

Congress established the Forest Service within the USDA in 1905 to provide quality water and timber for the Nation’s benefit. Over time Congress has expanded the Forest Service’s responsibilities to managing national forests for multiple uses and benefits and for the sustained yield of renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, wood, and recreation. Their mandate is to manage resources under the best combination of uses to benefit the American people while ensuring the productivity of the land and protecting the quality of the environment. The Forest Service’s Minerals and Geology Management Office has programs in place to facilitate any energy, mineral, or geological activities that take place within national forests. National forests encompass 191 million acres of land, which is an area equivalent to the size of Texas. The Forest Service is also the largest forestry research organization in the world, and provides technical and financial assistance to state and private forestry agencies.

About the Secretary
Secretary Vilsack has served in the public sector at nearly every level of government, beginning as mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1987, and then as state senator in 1992. In 1998, he was elected Governor of Iowa, an office he held for two terms. As Governor, he created the Iowa Food Policy Council to advance local food systems, enhance family farm profitability, and combat hunger and malnutrition. He led trade missions to foreign countries to market agricultural products and attended the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to push for expanded agricultural trade negotiations. In addition, he worked to support independent farmers and ranchers by enacting livestock market reform and mandatory price reporting legislation in 1999. He received a bachelor's degree from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, in 1972 and earned his law degree from Albany Law School in 1975.

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Department of Commerce (DOC)
John Bryson, Secretary of Commerce (About)

The primary interests for the geoscience community in the DOC are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

In 1970, NOAA was developed within the DOC by President Nixon to serve a national need "...for better protection of life and property from natural hazards...for a better understanding of the total environment...[and] for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources..." Of particular interest to geoscientists is NOAA research conducted through the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), which is the driving force behind NOAA environmental products and services that protect life and property and promote sustainable economic growth.

Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the DOC’s Technology Administration. NIST's mission is to develop and promote measurement, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life. NIST carries out its mission in four cooperative programs including the NIST Laboratories, the Baldrige National Quality Program, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Advanced Technology Program. NIST is also the lead agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP).

About the Secretary
Bryson served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison and Edison Mission Group, from 1990 to 2008. At Edison, he led the utility through the California energy crisis. As CEO, he created a competitive power subsidiary, the Mission Group, which expanded across the U.S and was a global leader in the privatization of power plants and electric systems in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines and several European countries.Bryson has served as a director on several public, educational and non-profit boards, including The Boeing Company, The Walt Disney Company and has served as an adviser and a director of entrepreneurial and start-up companies including Coda Automotive, Inc. and BrightSource Energy. He was a senior adviser to the global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR).Prior to joining the private sector, Bryson served as president of the California Public Utilities Commission and chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board. Before joining Edison, Bryson was a partner in the law firm of Morrison and Foerster. Shortly after earning his J.D. from Yale law school, he and some classmates received a grant from the Ford Foundation to form the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1971.

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Department of Education (ED)
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education (About)

More information to come (including MSP and GAANN).

About the Secretary
Prior to his appointment as Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools from June 2001 through December 2008, becoming the longest-serving big-city education superintendent in the country. Prior to joining the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan ran the non-profit education foundation Ariel Education Initiative (1992-1998), which helped fund a college education for a class of inner-city children under the I Have A Dream program. He was part of a team that later started a new public elementary school built around a financial literacy curriculum, the Ariel Community Academy, which today ranks among the top elementary schools in Chicago. Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1987, majoring in sociology.

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Department of Energy (DOE)
Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy (About)

The DOE programs of interest to the geosciences fall mainly within the Office of Science, Office of Fossil Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository program within the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

According to the DOE website, the Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the U.S., providing more than 40 percent of total funding. The Office of Science has a vital tradition of funding fundamental research that focuses on critical national challenges and produces important scientific breakthroughs and contributes to our Nation's well-being.

The priorities of the DOE energy programs are to: increase domestic energy production, revolutionize our approach to energy conservation and efficiency; and promote the development of renewable and alternative energy sources. The Office of Fossil Energy oversees two major fossil fuel efforts: emergency stockpiles of crude oil and heating oil, and research and development of future fossil energy technologies to ensure access to clean, and affordable fuel. With increasing concerns about climate change and finite resources, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is working to provide a prosperous future where energy is clean, abundant, reliable, and affordable.

About the Secretary
Before becoming Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu was the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004. Since becoming the director of Lawrence Berkeley in 2004, Chu focused on developing a research portfolio on alternative energy, particularly cellulosic-based biofuels. He was born in St. Louis in 1948 and completed undergraduate degrees in physics and mathematics at the University of Rochester and his doctorate in Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He worked at Bell Laboratories and later joined the Stanford University faculty. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for his work on the laser cooling and trapping of atoms at Bell and Stanford.

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Department of the Interior (DOI)
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior (About)

The agencies of interest within the DOI are the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Managment, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the National Park Service.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Created by an act of Congress in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS website) has evolved over the years, matching its talent and knowledge to the progress of science and technology. According to their website, the USGS serves the Nation as an independent fact-finding agency that collects, monitors, analyzes, and provides scientific understanding about natural resource conditions, issues, and problems. The value of the USGS to the Nation rests on its ability to carry out studies on a national scale and to sustain long-term monitoring and assessment of natural resources. Because it has no regulatory or management mandate, the USGS provides impartial science that serves the needs of our changing world. The diversity of scientific expertise enables the USGS to carry out large-scale, multi-disciplinary investigations that build the base of knowledge about the Earth. In turn, decision makers at all levels of government--and citizens in all walks of life--have the information tools they need to address pressing societal issues.

The USGS is the only science agency within the Department of the Interior, it is the primary civilian mapping agency, it is the primary natural hazards monitoring agency for the U.S. and much of the world, it is the primary surface water and ground water monitoring agency with more than 7,000 streamgages throughout the country, it monitors the Earth’s magnetic field in real time, it is involved in lunar and planetary mapping and with the inclusion of the Biological Survey in 1996, the survey now provides the primary data on the nation’s biological resources.

About the Director
Marcia McNutt is a leading geophysicist who most recently concluded a nearly twelve year tenure as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) before becoming the first female director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). She earned her doctorate in Earth Science from Scripps Institute of Oceanography and bachelor degree in physics from Colorado College, Suma Cum Laude. McNutt began working on earthquake prediction at the USGS in Menlo Park, California, as one of her first positions after graduate school before joining the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982. She has also taught at Stanford University and University of California, Santa Cruz. Additionally, she has served as the Chair of the President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration under President Clinton and as President of the American Geophysical Union from 2000-2002. McNutt is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM website) is responsible for managing 262 million acres of land (about one-eighth of the land in the United States) and about 300 million additional acres of subsurface mineral resources. The BLM is also responsible, entirely or in part, for wildfire management and suppression, and revegetation, protective fencing, and water development to conserve, enhance, or develop public land resources. The BLM manages a wide variety of resources including: energy and minerals, timber, forage, wild horse and burro populations, fish and wildlife habitat, wilderness areas, and archaeological, paleontological, and historical sites. The BLM also has an active program of soil and watershed management on 175 million acres in the lower 48 States and 86 million acres in Alaska. The BLM receives it mandate to manage the public lands for multiple use while protecting the long-term health of the land from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (Public Law 94-579).

About the Director
Robert Abbey has had a 32 year career in resource management, mostly in federal and state agencies. Abbey began his career with the Mississippi State Park system after graduating of the University of Southern Mississippi. He joined the BLM in 1980, holding various positions in Wyoming, Arizona, Washington D.C., Mississippi, Colorado, and Nevada. This included eight years as the Nevada State Director for the BLM where he oversaw a $1.5 billion resource management and environmental project as Chair of the Executive Committee for the implementation of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. Since retiring from the BLM in 2005, Abbey has been a western lands and resources consulting partner with Abbey, Stubbs, and Ford, LLC, in addition to serving on the boards of a number of non-profit organizations.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM website) was established in October 2011. BOEM manages the exploration and development of the nation's offshore resources. It seeks to appropriately balance economic development, energy independence, and environmental protection through oil and gas leases, renewable energy development and environmental reviews and studies.

About the Director
Tommy Beaudreau joined the Department of the Interior in June 2010 to help develop and lead the Department’s aggressive reforms of offshore energy management and oversight following the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill, including the reorganization of the former Minerals Management Service. He served as the senior advisor to the director of the former Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, where he played an integral role in designing and implementing the Bureau’s broad reform agenda with respect to the regulation of offshore oil and gas development. Prior to his work at Interior, Mr. Beaudreau was a partner at the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, where his practice focused on, among other things, internal investigations, including reviews of government agencies pursuing reform.  Mr. Beaudreau is a graduate of Yale University and received his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE website) was established in October 2011. BSEE's Offshore Regulatory Program develops standards and regulations to enhance operational safety and environmental protection for the exploration and development of offshore oil and natural gas on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). BSEE's Oil Spill Response division is responsible for developing standards and guidelines for offshore operators’ Oil Spill Response Plans (OSRP) through internal and external reviews of industry OSRPs to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and coordination of oil spill drill activities. It also plays a critical role in the review and creation of policy, guidance, direction and oversight of activities related to the agency’s oil spill response. BSEE's Environmental Compliance Division provides sustained regulatory oversight that is focused on compliance by operators with all applicable environmental regulations, as well as making sure that operators keep the promises they make at the time they obtain their leases, submit their plans and apply for their permits. The bureau also operates Ohmsett, the National Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility in Leonardo, N.J.

About the Director
Prior to his appointment as Bureau Director in October 2011, James Watson served as the U.S. Coast Guard's Director of Prevention Policy for Marine Safety, Security and Stewardship where he was responsible for maritime investigations, quality traveling inspectors, waterways management, boating safety, commercial vessel safety and security, and ports and cargo safety and security. Watson served as the Deputy Commander of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in April 2010, and, on June 1, 2010, was designated as the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the government-wide response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A 1978 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelors of Science degree in Marine Engineering, Watson also earned two Master of Science degrees from the University of Michigan in 1985, one in Mechanical Engineering and the other in Naval Architecture. In 2001 he graduated from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces with a master's degree in Strategic Studies.

National Park Service
Established in 1916, the National Park Service (NPS website) has stewardship responsibilities for the protection and preservation of the national park system. According to their website, the system, consisting of 388 separate and distinct units, is recognized globally as a leader in park management and resource preservation. The national park system represents much of the finest the Nation has to offer in terms of scenery, historical and archeological relics, and cultural heritage. Through its varied sites, the National Park Service attempts to explain America's history, interpret its culture, preserve examples of its natural ecosystems, and provide recreational and educational opportunities for U.S. citizens and visitors from all over the world. Yellowstone National Park, the nation’s first national park, was created in 1872 through the National Yellowstone Park Act. It was not until August, 1916 that the Congress created the parks service through the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. The General Authorities Act of 1970 and the Redwoods Act as amended in 1978 united the parks into a National Parks System and reaffirmed the mandates of the organic act throughout the entire system.

About the Director
Jonathan Jarvis’s career with the NPS spans over 33 years and numerous roles. Most recently Jarvis had served as the regional director for the Pacific West Region, overseeing nearly 60 National Park System units. After graduating from the College of William and Mary with a B.S. in Biology in 1975, Jarvis served as a park ranger in numerous parks throughout the next decade. He later served as both Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources and Chief Biologist at North Cascades National Park. Through the 1990’s and up to his appointment as Regional Director, he served as Superintendent of Craters of the Moon National Monument, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Mt. Rainier National Park. Between 1997 and 1998, Jarvis served as President of the George Wright Society, a professional organization promoting science on and management of protected lands. Jarvis will be the first NPS Director with a biology background.

About the Secretary
Before becoming Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar represented the state of Colorado in the Senate for 4 years. He is a fifth generation Coloradan, who grew up on a ranch, farmed for 30 years, operated several small businesses, practiced water and environmental law, and served as the Attorney General for Colorado and as a member of the Governor’s cabinet. He received a political science degree from Colorado College in 1977, and graduated with a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1981.  He also received honorary doctorates of law from Colorado College in 1993 and the University of Denver in 1999.

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Lisa Jackson, Administrator (About)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by President Richard Nixon’s Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970, an executive order that consolidated the responsibilities of development and enforcement of environmental standards, environmental monitoring, and scientific research to better protect human health and improve the quality of the nation’s air, water, and landscape into one agency. The EPA officially became operational on December 2, 1970, a year in which environmental awareness reached new levels with the first-ever Earth Day and the signing of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However the EPA lacks an Organic Act by Congress establishing it as a standing federal agency with clearly codified functions and responsibilities. The EPA’s numerous responsibilities are designated by 25 laws and executive orders, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund), the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Energy Policy Act. EPA water quality activities involve promoting state of the art research in water monitoring, clean-up, and purification technologies, development and enforcement of water quality standards, maintaining water quality information and records, and public education regarding protection of watersheds. The Superfund program, established in 1980, is a multi-faceted process with the goal of mitigating the nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites. The EPA is also heavily involved with climate science and initiatives towards efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote more energy efficient technologies in the marketplace. The EPA is also responsible for publishing the official inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  

About the Administrator
Before becoming EPA’s Administrator, Lisa Jackson served as Chief of Staff to New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine.  Prior to that, she was appointed by Governor Corzine to be Commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2006. Jackson joined DEP in 2002, serving as Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement, then Assistant Commissioner for Land Use Management, before becoming Commissioner. Prior to joining DEP, she worked for 16 years as an employee of the U.S. EPA, initially at its headquarters in Washington and later at its regional office in New York City.  Jackson is a summa cum laude graduate of Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering and earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University.

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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Charles Bolden, Administrator (About)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to conduct space and aeronautical research, development, and flight activities for peaceful purposes designed to maintain U.S. preeminence in aeronautics and space. NASA's unique mission of exploration, discovery, and innovation is intended to preserve the U.S. role as both a leader in world aviation and as the pre-eminent space-faring nation. It is NASA's mission to: advance human exploration, use and development of space; advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe; and research, develop, verify and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies. The geoscience community is most interested in the Earth science observations conducted within the recently re-organized Science Mission Directorate: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Planetary Science and Astrophysics.

NASA receives its mandate from the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (42 U.S.C. §§ 2471 et seq).

About the Administrator
Charles Bolden has over 34 years experience in the U.S. Marine Corps and was selected in 1980 to become a NASA astronaut. He went into orbit four times aboard the space shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission. Prior to Bolden's nomination for the NASA Administrator's job, he was employed as the Chief Executive Officer of JACKandPANTHER LLC, a small business enterprise providing leadership, military and aerospace consulting, and motivational speaking. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s degree in system management from the University of Southern California. Bolden's many military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006. A more complete biography is available here.

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National Science Foundation (NSF)
Subra Suresh, Director (About)

The NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…" NSF serves as the funding source for about 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by American colleges and universities. A key program of interest to the Earth sciences is NSF's Geosciences Directorate.

NSF fulfills its mission by issuing limited-term grants, currently about 10,000 new awards per year with an average duration of three years, to fund specific research proposals that have been judged the most promising by a rigorous and objective merit-review system. Most of these awards go to individuals or small groups of investigators. Others provide funding for research centers, instruments and facilities that allow scientists, engineers and students to work at the frontiers of knowledge. NSF's goal is to support the people, ideas and tools that together make discovery possible.

Equipment that is needed by scientists and engineers but is often too expensive for any individual or group to afford is also funded by NSF. Examples of such major research equipment include EarthScope, giant optical and radio telescopes, Antarctic research sites, high-end computer facilities and ultra-high-speed connections, ships for ocean research, sensitive detectors of very subtle physical phenomena, and gravitational wave observatories.

Another essential element in NSF's mission is support for science and engineering education, from pre-school through graduate school and beyond. The educational programs supported by the Education and Human Resources Directorate is integrated with basic research to help ensure that there will always be plenty of skilled people available to work in new and emerging scientific, engineering and technological fields, and plenty of capable teachers to educate the next generation.

NSF receives its mandate from the National Science Foundation Organic Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861-75), with additional amendments from the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act and regulations stipulated in the Code of Federal (45 C.F.R. Part VI).

About the Director
Dr. Subra Suresh became director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in October 2010 after more than 30 years as a practicing mechanical engineer. He served as Dean of the Engineering School and Vanneyar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), joining the department as a faculty member in 1993. His most recent research has its groundings in material science and biology, investigation the biomechanics of red blood cells under the influence of diseases such as malaria. Dr. Suresh has campaigned and worked to increase the number of minorities and women in the sciences and brings this hope with him to the NSF. Under his supervision, MIT saw growth in the number of women faculty in engineering. Dr. Suresh holds a bachelors degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras; a master's from Iowa State University; and a doctorate from MIT.

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Allison Macfarlane, Chairman (About)

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was established as an independent agency by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to provide oversight for the nation’s domestic nuclear power industry. The commission became operational on January 17, 1975, and took over the regulatory work done by the controversial Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which was abolished by Congress in 1974. The development and production of nuclear weapons and nuclear power was left to the Department of Energy. The NRC’s regulatory activities include reactor safety oversight, reactor license renewal for existing power plants, licensing of new nuclear facilities, nuclear materials safety oversight, nuclear materials licensing, and both high-level and low-level nuclear waste. In addition to these activities, the NRC also coordinates emergency preparedness programs and response procedures in the event of an incident at a nuclear facility.

Of interest to geoscientists, is the NRC regulation of uranium extraction and nuclear storage faculties. The NRC regulates extraction of uranium if in-situ leaching methods are used at a mining facility (if uranium ore is mined using conventional methods, the operation is regulated by the Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining). Regardless of the extraction method, the NRC provides all oversight once uranium ore reaches a processing mill for development of nuclear fuel. In the licensing process of low- and high-level waste storage facilities, the NRC must define regulations that consider geologic conditions in accordance with EPA site-specific standards. In June 2008, the NRC received an application from the Department of Energy to license the high-level waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The licensing application is still under consideration at the NRC, but is being forwarded through the process mainly as a test of the system after the Obama Administration expressed interest in finding alternatives to Yucca Mountain. 

About the Chairman
Dr. Allison Macfarlane became Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June 2012. Dr. Macfarlane has had an extensive career in science policy, geology, and nuclear energy and nuclear weapons issues. She received a PhD in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, has held fellowships at institutions including Harvard University, Radcliffe College, and Stanford University, and has contributed to numerous National Academy of Sciences panels on nuclear energy. In 2006 MIT Press published her book Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste, which discusses nuclear waste disposal at the Yucca Mountain geologic repository. She was nominated to President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future in January 2012, was chair of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and served on the Keystone Center's Energy Board. Dr. Macfarlane previously worked as an Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University.

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Smithsonian Institution
G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian (About)

The Smithsonian Institution is unique in the Federal establishment. Established by the Congress in 1846 to carry out the trust included in James Smithson's will, it has been engaged for over 150 years in the "increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" in accordance with the donor's instructions. With the expenditure of both private and Federal funds over the years, it has grown into one of the world's great scientific, cultural, and intellectual organizations. It operates magnificent museums, outstanding art galleries, and important research centers. Its collections are among the best in the world, attracting approximately 25 million visitors annually in recent years to its museums, galleries, and zoological park, according to the Smithsonian website. As custodian of the National Collections, the Smithsonian is responsible for more than 140 million art objects, natural history specimens, and artifacts. These collections are displayed for the enjoyment and education of visitors and are available for research by the staff of the Institution and by hundreds of visiting students, scientists, and historians each year. Other significant study efforts draw their data and results directly from terrestrial, marine, and astrophysical observations at various Smithsonian installations. The Smithsonian receives its mandate from the Smithsonian Institution Organic Act of 1846.

About the Secretary
Before his appointment to the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough served as president of the Georgia Institute of Technology for 14 years. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Georgia Tech in 1964 and 1965 and a doctorate in 1969 in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. Clough has been a professor at Duke University, Stanford University and Virginia Tech. He served as head of the department of civil engineering and dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, and as provost at the University of Washington. Clough currently serves as a member of the National Science Board and as chair of the National Research Council Committee on New Orleans Regional Hurricane Protection Projects.

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U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC)
Virgil Sharpton, Chairman (About)

The U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC) is a federal agency tasked with coordinating federal scientific research efforts in Arctic regions, and making policy recommendations to the President and Congress. Established by the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984, the commission has a wide range of duties including: guidance of national policy, priorities, and goals for scientific research in the Arctic, working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to implement, support, and  coordinate collaboration on research between the federal agencies. USARC is also tasked with providing guidance to the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) in the development of national research projects and to coordinate communication with Arctic residents, international scientists, and local Arctic organizations and institutes to gain the widest spectrum of insight on Arctic research needs. USARC oversees the U.S. polar ice-breaking fleet and tackles climate change issues as they relate to national security and arctic research.

The commission is comprised of seven members appointed by the President, and is located in Arlington, VA and Anchorage, AK. Four members are from academic or research institutions, two from private industry involved in commercial operations in the Arctic, and one member representing the indigenous U.S. citizens in Arctic regions. Major recommendations from the commission regarding Arctic research policy and priorities are published in the biennial report on Goals and Objectives for Arctic Research.

About the Chairman
Dr. Virgil “Buck” Sharpton was designated by President Obama to serve as the Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission in August 2010 and was originally appointed to the commission in 2008. A President’s Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dr. Sharpton has conducted research in remote sensing and plans to direct the university’s participation in a NASA project to map the surface of Venus. He has also been involved in other projects, including the Geographic Information Network of Alaska and the Pacific Area Climate Monitoring and Analysis Network cyber infrastructure program. Dr. Sharpton earned his B.S. in Geology from Grand Valley State University and his Ph.D. and Sc.M. in Geological Sciences from Brown University.

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Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy staff

Background section includes material from Federal Agency websites.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on January 14, 2013

 

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