American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


AGI Testimony: National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1997


Written Statement by
Robert D. Hatcher Jr., M.S., Ph.D.
to the
Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
Committee on Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
in support of
H.R. 709: National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1997
February 27, 1997

To the Chair and Members of the Subcommittee:

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to submit testimony in support of H.R. 709 and efforts to reauthorize the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992. I am a UT/ORNL Distinguished Scientist and Professor of Geology at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. I am a member of the Advisory Committee for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program and have spent most of my professional career making geologic maps, teaching others to make geologic maps, and reviewing the geologic maps and related work of others. I am also testifying as the immediate past-president of the American Geological Institute, a nonprofit federation of 30 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

Let me begin by commending Chairwoman Cubin and Representative Gibbons for introducing this important piece of legislation. Reauthorization of the National Geologic Mapping Act sends a strong message that geologic mapping is of national importance. It also forcefully endorses the importance of initiating partnerships in order to maximize the impact of scarce federal dollars in this time of shrinking budgets. This program has the potential to become the premier joint venture between the USGS, the state geological surveys, and academic institutions. Unfortunately, the funding made available to create these partnerships has been inadequate, and the President's fiscal year 1998 request calls for an 8% cut in funding for the program. I hope that by reauthorizing this Act, Congress will send a signal to the Administration that geologic mapping should be a high priority for the U.S. Geological Survey and encourage increased support for the cooperative elements of this program.

The National Geologic Mapping Act as originally authorized emphasizes partnerships, and the Advisory Committee on which I serve comprises representatives from these partners. Although the promise of the Act has been slow to materialize, there are signs that progress is underway. For example, this committee was stipulated in the 1992 Act but did not meet until this past year. The cooperative State Geologic Mapping (STATEMAP) component, which matches federal funds with state funds for mapping performed by state geological surveys, never received more than $1.6 million during the first three years. The component received an increase to $4.4 million in fiscal years 1996 and 1997 but would receive only $4.0 million in the President's request. Also, the Geologic Mapping Education (EDMAP) component, created to help train the next generation of geologic mappers by matching federal and university dollars, was not funded at all during the first three years and finally received a small but important amount of funding ($360,000) in fiscal year 1996. That amount increased to $438,000 in fiscal year 1997. I am particularly distressed that the USGS plans to cut this aspect of the program in fiscal year 1998 despite the fact that it is quite small to begin with and is just getting on its feet. The President's request reverses what appeared to be a growing commitment on the part of the USGS to broaden its base of cooperation.

Geologic Mapping Education

I will now address the EDMAP component and the promise that it represents. EDMAP is the smallest part of the overall program in terms of funding but has the potential to deliver the greatest long-term benefit, providing valuable experience and training for the next generation of field-oriented geoscientists. From the relatively small amount of funding provided in 1996, along with that provided by STATEMAP, the cooperative program has already built new bridges and repaired some old ones between academic institutions and federal and state agencies where the need for geologic maps has long been recognized.

It is critically important that the Administration and Congress work together to fully fund EDMAP and ensure that we will continue to have a cadre of trained mappers ready to tackle the problems of the next century. Not only is it imperative that we continue to train geologists to gather the data to construct geologic maps, but we must also continue to train all who want to become geologists to understand the field relationships portrayed in geologic maps. The laboratory of our science is the crust of the Earth, and accurate geologic maps are the most fundamental data set by which the crust can be portrayed. Unfortunately, there is a trend today toward less field- and more indoor laboratory-oriented geologic research in most of academia. This trend is attributable in part to the kinds of research that the primary sources of grants for the Earth sciences -- the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and NASA -- wish to fund. Full funding of EDMAP will help to restore some balance to this situation.

EDMAP awards are given through a competitive, peer-reviewed process. This past year, I served as a member of the selection committee with Prof. Edward B. Evenson of Lehigh University, Dr. Steven J. Reynolds of Arizona State University, and Dr. Sandra J. Wyld of Rice University. Despite the short timeframe between the announcement and the proposal deadline for the first competition, universities from 34 states submitted proposals. The committee identified a group of high quality projects that are now providing important new information that have both direct benefits to state and local planners, engineers, and others, as well as providing a useful opportunity for graduate students to gain valuable experience and conduct research toward advanced degrees. If the program is allowed to grow toward its original funding goals, we hope to be able to provide support for some undergraduate students as well as those seeking advanced degrees. Most of the awards are approximately $10,000 per project.

Examples of funded proposals include construction of new geologic maps in parts of the rapidly growing Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Atlanta metropolitan areas. Students will gain first-hand experience in identifying problem areas for regional planners and developers, as well as for engineers in major construction projects.

I want to emphasize that the EDMAP component of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, like the cooperative STATEMAP component, involves contractual agreements to universities and colleges that contain clear deadlines and deliverables, along with a required cost-sharing component, matching federal dollars with state and university funds, and a requirement for coordination with specific needs identified by either state geological surveys or the USGS. I strongly support these attributes of the program and feel that they will contribute to its ultimate success.

Background

Geologic maps have always provided the fundamental data to help earth scientists understand the basic framework of the Earth's surface and its underlying architecture. These maps are also immensely practical tools for geologists and non-geologists alike who are trying to mitigate natural hazards (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides), undertake energy and mineral resource assessments, characterize potential nuclear and other hazardous waste disposal sites, understand complex ground-water systems, and plan growing urban areas. The development of geographic information systems (GIS) has greatly enhanced the use of geologic maps in digital form as a primary data source for ecosystem management, land-use planning, hazard mitigation, and engineering projects.

Over the years, the need for geologic maps has grown steadily, but geologic map production has not kept up. In 1988, the National Research Council released a study emphasizing the fundamental importance of geologic maps and concluded that there would be a significant increase in the need for these maps in the future. Recognizing this problem, the state geological surveys and the USGS instituted a national cooperative geologic mapping program. In order to provide direct statutory authority for these programs and to "expedite the production of a geologic-map data base for the nation" by making more funds available, Congress passed the National Geologic Mapping Act with strong bipartisan support, and it was signed into law by President Bush, May 18, 1992. Because the original act authorized funds only through fiscal year 1996, it should have been reauthorized during the last Congress, and it is now doubly important that it be reauthorized this year. I hope that this legislation will continue to be noncontroversial and bipartisan, passing Congress and signed by the President without difficulty. The Administration's support from the outset will be helpful in ensuring a smooth reauthorization.

The original 1992 legislation designated the USGS as the lead federal agency and set up a "mapping association" consisting of the USGS, individual state surveys represented by the Association of American State Geologists, and academic scientists. It also established an advisory committee comprising representatives from the mapping association, the private sector, and other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The mapping program was designed with four components: Federal Geologic Mapping (FEDMAP), Geologic Mapping Support (SUPPORTMAP), STATEMAP, and EDMAP. FEDMAP supports USGS mapping activities, and SUPPORTMAP funds USGS work in geophysics, paleontology, geochronology, and other fields that contribute additional database information for geologic maps. As discussed earlier, STATEMAP and EDMAP are both cooperative programs, leveraging federal dollars with state and university funds.

The Act authorized funding levels that were to progressively increase from fiscal year 1993 through fiscal year 1996. Despite the authorization in the Act, however, additional funds have not been forthcoming. USGS has continued to fund its internal geologic mapping program at only slightly increased levels, and the money available for STATEMAP has never come close to the $18 million that was authorized and for which matching funds already existed in the states. Although H.R. 709 is similar to the original Act in most respects, it establishes a more realistic and more fair funding arrangement. I hope that by setting more attainable funding targets in the reauthorization, this bill will further encourage increased support.

Contracting: A Separate but Related Issue

A thorny issue that affected the original Act is the role of contracting for mapping services. The private cartography and survey industry has been very forceful in its efforts to increase the amount of these services that are contracted out to the private sector or privatized outright, primarily focusing on aerial photography, photogrammetry, and other support services. Although we generally favor the use of contracting for topographic map production, aerial photography, and other services where the private sector has demonstrated that it can do a better job, we are concerned that cost and quality be considered in any calls for an increase in contracting of the mapping functions of the USGS and other Interior agencies. I also question whether the primary geologic or topographic mapping functions can be carried out in the private sector because these functions cannot be driven solely by immediate or local need, and they must be viewed from a national or at the least a state perspective.

This issue has been taken up on a much broader scale by the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, which has coordinated efforts to develop a comprehensive, unbiased study of all federal surveying and mapping functions, not just geologic mapping, that is being undertaken by the National Academy of Public Administration. This study will address the appropriate federal role in these activities, identify functions that are suitable for commercialization or privatization, and also identify opportunities for consolidation or restructuring of these functions to achieve greater efficiencies. I would urge Congress to await the completion of this study before acting on contracting or privatization issues. I particularly urge this committee to refrain from attaching provisions on such matters to H.R. 709, as they could seriously jeopardize the bill's bipartisan support and wide acceptance.

I appreciate this opportunity to present my views to the subcommittee, and I would be pleased to provide additional information for the record.

Thank you.


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Last updated February 27, 1997

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