American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FY 1999 USGS budget

The Interior Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on the Fiscal Year 1999 (FY99) USGS budget on March 18, 1998. USGS Acting Director Tom Casadevall testified briefly on the budget, then opened up the floor for questions. A summary of the President' s FY99 budget request for the USGS is available from the USGS website and the AGI website. In addition to Casadevall, other USGS leaders were on hand to answer questions, including James Devine, Senior Advisor for Scientific Applications; Patrick Leahy, chief of the Geologic Division; Barbara Ryan, Associate Director of Operations; Robert Hirsch, Chief of Water Resources Divi sion; and Dennis Fenn, Chief, Biological Resources Division.

Question and Answer Period
Chairman Ralph Regula(R-OH) led off the question and answer session with the following questions:
Has the USGS successfully incorporated the Biological Survey into its organization?
Casadevall:Yes, it gives the USGS additional expertise to more fully respond to environmental problems.

What causes El Nino?
Casadevall: explained the ocean warming trends in the Pacific and how it affected the nation, but said the scientific community has offered several different explanations for the phenomenon. Fortunately NOAA scientists had predicted the event, and that warning minimized the effects.

What is the request for a federal hazards network all about?
Devine: The USGS is the lead in a proposed coalition of several emergency response agencies to build a national network that would coalesce existing facilities and create new facilities to respond to natural hazards.

Are the partnerships in the National Geological Mapping program working?
Casadevall: Yes, especially in 3D mapping.

Tell me about partnerships in the glacial states and the Great Lakes?
Leahy Good cooperation with other federal agencies, state and local governments. The Great Lakes workshop held earlier in the year was attended by representatives from 90 governments of all levels.

Does the USGS work with other federal agencies to prioritize the clean-up of abandoned mine sites, and has the strip mine law lessened the problems associated with mining?
Casadevall: The USGS has several programs with other agencies to restore mining sites. Since the law has been in effect, mine operators now conduct more environmentally sound systems.

Is the USGS doing scientific studies in the Everglades?
Casadevall: The USGS has been working with the EPA and others over several years to study the Everglades.

Rep. David Skaggs(D-CO) posed the following questions: Is there any data on the value and cost savings resulting from the early warnings of El Nino, and with better weather information would there be greater savings?
Casadevall : not aware of any definitive figures.

Is remote sensing of assistance in predicting weather anomalies?
Casadevall:: An excellent example is the coordinated program between the USGS, NOAA, and the FAA to use remote sensing to track the path of ash from volcanic eruptions that pose a threat to jet aircraft.

Would like to have an accounting of benefits related to remote sensing programs.
Casadevall will provide for the written record.

What USGS programs are involved with climate issues?
Casadevall : The USGS work in global warming and the coastal program are studying sea level rise. Will provide more examples for the written record.

Does the USGS receive any funding from the CIA or DOD or any other sources for its global seismic network for work related to the test ban treaty or other security matters?
Leahy : No money comes from the defense or security agencies, but digital applications are funded in part by NSF and IRIS.

Aware of the USGS RIF, the appeals still pending, and the many still unemployed. Also the many who lost jobs with the abolishment of the Bureau of Mines, and the downsizing of the Biological Service. Are any of these people being considered in the Depa rtment of the Interior request for additional FTE's?
Ryan : Lists exist for use by the entire federal government for those who lost jobs to be considered for new positions for which they are qualified. However, the USGS cannot hire additional people under their agreement with OPM on the "buyout" proc edures.

Zach Wamp (R-TN) continued the questions.
There is a $48 million request to respond to weather abnormalities. Are such aberrations really unusual?
Casadevall: Hard to know if climatic events are within the normal range. But El Nino, the drought in Hawaii, and the increased wetness in California is expected to increase the pest problem are atypical. Some of the budgetary request is to study ha bitats, water quality, and some fixed costs.

The Vice President is pushing clean water initiatives. Is clean water a global crisis, and are we focusing too much on water at the expense of air concerns?
Hirsch: There has been a great deal of progress in cleaning up the nation's water. The most significant remaining problem is pollution from non-point sources such as domestic animal feedlots, and pesticide uses. Where and how such pollutants move t hrough the watershed is where future study is required. There has also been progress in sulfur in the air.

Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA) asked the following questions:
The request indicates that software is lacking in Washington for people to access real time data from gauging stations on the Internet. Such data now takes 2 - 6 hours to come up on the Internet. Is it possible to speed up the process?
Hirsch: Under normal conditions it takes 4 hours to make such information accessible, and that is sufficient. During floods the information is available in one hour. We've lost 260 stations that the Weather Service considers critical, and we are wo rking with them to restore those stations. Although we have not increased the number of stations, we've greatly increased the capability at existing stations.

Can you explain exactly how an expanded network would be set up, if additional funding were made available?
Hirsch: Will provide that information for the record.

Under Executive Order 12615 agencies are required to privatize commercial activities. Has the Biological Division complied with that order?
Fenn : Do not believe the division has any commercial activities, but will explore the issue and respond to the record.

There is a $15 million request to fund an interagency disaster information network. Does this duplicate the NOAA network?
Devine: There is no overall network at present, but NOAA is involved in the planning process to establish one. The request is solely for the USGS who has the lead in creating the network. However, any existing federal facilities will be connected to the proposed network.

Does the USGS webpage provide necessary information to farmers and the agricultural industry?
Casadevall : Many USGS programs provide information to the agricultural community. Both the National Water Quality Assessment program and the digital orthophotoquad program have specific agricultural components. The USGS webpage gets about 5 millio n hits a month. Although organizational "hits" are identified, there is no way to tell if a farmer or citizen has accessed the system.

Rep. James Moran (D-VA) concluded the questioning.
Considering the astounding growth in northern Virginia, does the USGS provide necessary data to cities and counties?
Casadevall : Yes, and mentioned the Loudon county study.

There have been recent announcements of harmful organisms in oysters in the Chesapeake. Does more need to be known, and is there some kind of warning system?
Casadevall : Both the Water Resources and Biological divisions have ongoing efforts to assess detrimental aspects in the aquatic food chain. That information is released as soon as it is known.

Sources: Hearing testimony

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

Prepared by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs Senior Advisor
Posted March 27, 1998

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