American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE

November 1997

This monthly update goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee as well as the leadership of AGI's member societies and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications betw een GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

Members of Congress may be home for the holidays, but the permanent budget process goes on. Since the mid-November update, the only appropriations news to report is that the President has signed the two remaining geoscience-related spending bills: Commerc e and Agriculture. The fiscal year 1999 process is well under way in the executive branch -- the White House Office of Management and Budget began passing back budgets to the various federal agencies for fiscal year 1999. This monthly update includes:

Presidential Science Advisory Board Releases Report of Energy R&D
National Research Council and AGI Hold Forum on International Geoscience
Forum on Climate Change Kicks Off National Assessment
Government Performance Results Report Card Issued
Draft Strategic Science Plan for USGS Geologic Division
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site


Presidential Science Advisory Board Releases Report on Energy R&D
In early November, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report on federal energy research that calls for a gradual increase in support for the fossil fuel area as well as major increases for energy efficiency and renewa ble energy. The report, entitled "Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century," was prepared by a panel of experts in the fields of energy efficiency, fossil energy, nuclear energy (both fission and fusion), and renewable energy. The report finds R&D programs, predominantly at the Department of Energy, are not commensurate in scope and scale with the challenges that await us in the next century. Proposed budgets out to 2003 call for a doubling of support for appl ied energy-technology R&D from $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion. Under the proposal, funding for efficiency, fission, and renewable energy would more than double with fossil and fusion receiving smaller increases. The report praises AGI's National Geoscience Data Repository System project and recommends this effort to ensure archiving of data at risk of being discarded or destroyed.

The report repeatedly stresses the need to respond to the risk of global change by reducing carbon emissions through improved fossil technology and alternative fuels. In this context, its call for a significant increase in nuclear fission research is a re versal of current trends as nuclear power has become the alternative energy source that dare not speak its name. At a recent AGI-sponsored forum discussed below, Under Secretary of State Tim Wirth stated that the US suffers from "nuclear neuralgia" and mu st come to grips with its ambivalence over this energy source if carbon emissions are to be reduced. The report is available from the PCAST home page or by calling 202-456-6100 or fax ing 202-456-6026.

National Research Council and AGI Hold Forum on International Geoscience
On November 17, AGI joined with the National Research Council's Board on Earth Sciences and Resources (BESR) to host an international geosciences forum at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. The purpose of the conference was to bring toget her representatives from the many sections of the nation's geoscience community to consider the role of the U.S. in international geoscience affairs.

Much of the discussion focused on the role of the international geoscience unions and their interaction with geoscience societies. This discussion was framed by the presidents of the three principal earth science unions -- Robin Brett, International Union of Geological Sciences; Peter Wyllie, International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics; and Stephen Porter, International Union of Quaternary Research -- who appeared together for the first time in their organizations' history. In addition, special presenta tions were made by Sherwood Rowland, National Academy of Sciences' foreign secretary; Timothy Wirth, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs; and Clark Burchfiel, renowned geology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

AGI President Susan Landon wrapped up the session by emphasizing the importance of education and the need for greater communication with and awareness of international unions. AGI Past President Ed Roy noted that a report on the conference is forthcoming and concluded with a pledge to "continue to work to come to resolution with these issues."

Forum on Climate Change Kicks Off National Assessment
On November 12-13, GAP staff attended the U.S. Climate Forum on the Consequences of Global Change for the Nation sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). The forum was held at the mi dpoint of a series of regional workshops conducted throughout the U.S. and was aimed at presenting information gained thus far and refocusing for the remaining workshops. The forum also served as a kickoff for a national assessment process on the conseq uences of climate change and its implications for local, regional, and national decision-making and future sustainability.

OSTP Director John Gibbons opened the session by stating that climate change presents "an extraordinary opportunity as well as an extraordinary challenge." Dr. Eric Barron, Penn State University, followed with an explanation of the scientific understandin g of climate change. Dr. Rosina Bierbaum, OSTP, and forum chair Dr. Jerry Melillo, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, followed with presentations on the possible impacts of climate change and future plans for a national assessment. Participants the n gathered in breakout sessions to address current regional stressors and coping strategies for climate change as well as sectoral issues, such as food, forests, and human health. For more information on the forum or ways to become involved in the regiona l workshops, visit the USGCRP website at .

Government Performance Results Report Card Issued
Congress is determined to use the Government Performance and Results Act to hold federal agencies more accountable for achieving results. In early November, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) issued a "report card" on how well the agencies' recently submitted strategic plans fared. According to Armey, nobody did better than a C and all but five failed with scores ranging from 75 to 28 out of 100. The National Science Foundation and NASA were two of the five that passed, whereas the Departments of t he Interior and Commerce (the latter a favorite target in Congress for elimination) were at the bottom of the list. The grades were based on such factors as mission statement, general goals and objectives, strategies to achieve those goals, program evalua tions, coordination of cross-cutting functions, and congressional and stakeholder consultations.

Committee chairmen in the House recently sent letters to the Administration requesting that agencies link their FY 1999 budget requests to the primary goals in their strategic plans. According to Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI): "Federal agencies must clearly define their objectives when asking the American taxpayer to foot the bill for federal programs."

Draft Strategic Science Plan for USGS Geologic Division
Although still in draft form and not generally available, a strategic science plan for the USGS Geologic Division has been assembled, providing a glimpse of what the future of geology in the USGS may look like. The draft plan is organized around seven sci entific goals: conduct geologic hazard assessments for mitigation planning; provide short-term prediction of geologic disasters and rapidly characterize their effects; anticipate the environmental hazards posed by climate variability; advance the understa nding of the Nation's mineral and energy resources in a global geologic, economic, and environmental context; establish the geologic framework for ecosystem structure and function; interpret the links between human health and geologic processes; and deter mine the geological framework for ground water resource assessments and hazardous waste isolation.

According to the draft plan, these seven goals represent "a shift from describing how the earth works and reconstructing its history to developing a broader understanding of the interactions between man and the Earth. This necessitates an increased focus on understanding modern geologic processes and events...and forward modeling of their frequency and effects into the future." The draft plan includes a strong emphasis on multidisciplinary research and the importance of partnerships with other USGS divisi ons, federal agencies, states, universities, and professional societies.

The draft plan emphasizes the importance of outreach and making USGS information accessible and usable as well as the need to communicate the significance of USGS activities. Among the recommendations in this section, the draft plan calls for maintaining a first-rate earth-system science library. It also addresses the staffing challenge facing the division following the reduction in force two years ago, calling for increased postdoctoral opportunities and visiting scientist appointments to increase intera ction with universities and obtain short-term expertise.

Although the draft plan is currently available only on an internal USGS web site, it is being reviewed by a variety of external stakeholders including each of the state geologists. The committee that produced the report also had extensive discussions with a wide variety of stakeholders, including AGI and the leaders of several of its member societies. In addition, GSA immediate past president and Stanford University professor George Thompson was a member of the committee. The final report is to be publish ed in April, 1998.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
At their Salt Lake meeting, the GAP Advisory Committee set a tentative date of February 27-28, 1998 for their next meeting at AGI headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. That meeting would take place directly after the science community-wide Congressional Visits Day activities on February 25-26, which committee representatives and other interested geoscientists are urged to attend as well. More information and the minutes from the Salt Lake City meeting will be sent out shortly.

December 8-12		AGU Fall Meeting			San Francisco CA
December 11		PPP 2000 Hazards Workshop		Washington DC

New Material on Web Site
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site since the last monthly update:

(Contributed by David Applegate and Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs)

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

Uploaded December 2, 1997

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