American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Reauthorizing the National Geologic Mapping Act

Geologic maps have always provided the basic framework for studies of the Earth's surface and 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, and understand complex ground-water systems. 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 and map production has not kept up. In 1988, the National Research Council released a study emphasizing the fundamental importance of geologic mapping and concluding that there would be a significant increase in the need for such maps in the future. Recognizing this problem, the USGS instituted a national geologic mapping program that included a cooperative program with state geological surveys. In order to provide direct statutory authority for these programs and to make more funds available, Congress passed the National Geologic Mapping Act, which was signed into law by President Bush, May 18, 1992. The Act authorized the program through the current fiscal year and now must be reauthorized during this session of Congress, for another five years.

The act was intended to expedite geologic map production and received strong support from the American Association of State Geologists (AASG), which played an important role in developing the bill along with the USGS. The bill passed through Congress with strong bipartisan support and huge vote totals.

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 AASG, and academic scientists. It also established an advisory board comprising representatives from the mapping partners, the private sector, and other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Forest Service. The mapping program was designed with four components: Federal Geologic Mapping (FedMap), Geologic Mapping Support (SupportMap), State Geologic Mapping (StateMap), and Geologic Mapping Education (EdMap). FedMap supports USGS mapping activities, and Support Map funds USGS work in geophysics, paleontology, geochronology, and other fields that contribute additional database information for geologic maps. StateMap funds competitive contracts to the state surveys, and the federal dollars are matched with state money. EdMap was to support university training of field geologists. The Act authorized funding levels that progressively increase from fiscal year 1993 through fiscal year 1996 (which began in October 1995).

Despite the authorization in the Act, however, additional funds have not been forthcoming, highlighting the separation between budget authority and the actual appropriation process. USGS has continued to fund its national mapping program at only slightly increased levels, and the moneys available for StateMap have never risen above $1.6 million despite the fact that $18 million was authorized, and available matching funds existed in the states. The EdMap component has yet to receive any funding. This situation is improving for fiscal year 1996: funding for StateMap will increase to $4.4 million and EdMap will be funded for the first time. Mapping Act proponents hope that by setting more attainable funding targets in the reauthorization, they will further encourage this increased support.

Because the original act authorized funds only through fiscal year 1996, it needs to be reauthorized during this Congress, sometime before fiscal year 1997 begins on October 1, 1996. The USGS and AASG reached agreement in September over draft language, which will be submitted in mid-October by Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Forests and Public Lands Management subcommittee, and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Resources Committee's Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee. Before the legislation can move through the committees, hearings must be held, and they are to take place sometime later in the fall. The bill's supporters expect it to be noncontroversial, passing Congress and being signed by the President without difficulty. The Administration's support from the outset will be helpful in ensuring a smooth process.

The reauthorizing bill as agreed to by the USGS and AASG is similar to the original bill in most respects, but it changes the funding arrangement. The original bill included large increases in funding for the StateMap component that never materialized. The new bill starts with the current funding expected to be $22 million, increasing it to $24 million in fiscal year 1997, then increasing by $2 million a year until fiscal year 2000. In the first year, it allots 76 percent of the funding to USGS for the FedMap and SupportMap components, and 22 percent to the StateMap component. That percentage will change by 1 percent in each successive year, decreasing the USGS share and increasing the states' share. Any increases or decreases in funding are to be split using the same formula. The remaining 2 percent of the funding is allocated for the EdMap component.

A thorny issue that plagued the original bill and is likely to affect the new one as well 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 activities that are contracted out. The original act contained a provision that reflected this influence, requiring the Secretary of the Interior to report to Congress on the degree to which certain geologic mapping activities can be contracted out to professional private mapping firms. The efforts to privatize USGS functions have gained momentum since the Republicans took control of Congress last year, finding a champion in House Resources chairman Don Young (R-AK). It is in keeping with the Republican philosophy that any function that can be done by the private sector should be done by the private sector, if at all possible. As a result, language was added to the FY1996 Interior appropriations bill directing the USGS to contract out up to 60% of its map production to the private sector within five years, up from the current 25%. The private mapping industry was also successful in adding a provision to the House version of the FY1996 omnibus budget reconciliation bill that would greatly increase contracting of all mapping and surveying activities within the Department of the Interior. Although it is certainly in the public's interest to contract out services where they can be done more cheaply and efficiently without sacrificing quality, such provisions have not been included in the language of these bills. If the reauthorization of the Mapping Act becomes saddled with contracting provisions, it could seriously jeopardize its passage and certainly damage its bipartisan support.

-- David Applegate, Director of Government Affairs, American Geological Institute,

Reprinted with permission from Geotimes.

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Last updated August 2, 1996

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