American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE

Mars Rocks; Back On Earth, Seismic Funding Under Siege


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies

IN A NUTSHELL: While all eyes are on Mars, funding for the USGS component of the Global Seismographic Network has been left out of the House Interior Appropriations bill, which goes to the full House today. The funding bill for NSF, NASA, and EPA passed the full House Appropriations Committee. The DOE funding bill begins its journey through Congress. House and Senate conferees begin negotiations over tax cut legislation.


As the appropriations process grinds ahead with mixed results, the big geology story is taking place several hundred million miles away from Washington. Geology has been in the news more the past week than in the past year thanks to NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission and its roving geochemist Sojourner. Great credit goes to the engineers for bouncing Pathfinder to a safe landing, but if any value is to come from the mission, it will be from the data interpretations made by Earth-bound geoscientists. It is not often that the word "Geology" appears in front-page Washington Post headlines -- this burst of press coverage is a tremendous opportunity for our community to take advantage of the public interest in our neighbor's geology. Of course, public interest is one thing and public understanding is another: AGI has already been contacted by a legal publication about the implications of Sojourner's findings for staking mining claims on Mars!

Funding for Global Seismographic Network Uncertain
Back in Washington, the news is primarily budget-related. Of greatest concern is the fate of funding for the Global Seismographic Network (GSN). Although the US Geological Survey (USGS) overall did well in the Fiscal Year 1998 (FY98) House Interior Appropriations bill, the Administration's request of $3 million for the GSN was denied with the rationale that it should continue to be funded by the Department of Defense (DOD). Trouble is that DOD's appropriations subcommittee has not indicated that it will go along with such a plan, nor is it at all clear that DOD funding is a preferable solution.

In past years, the National Security Appropriations subcommittee provided funding through DOD to both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USGS for the capitalization and initiation phase of the network, which serves three functions -- basic research, earthquake monitoring, and nuclear test verification. Two years ago, the President's National Science and Technology Council recommended that funding should come directly from these agencies. NSF has requested $4 million for its portion that supports university-based research through the IRIS consortium. The USGS budget request would cover its responsibility for the long-term operation and maintenance of the majority of the expanded and upgraded GSN as well as analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of GSN-collected data.

DOD already spends $10's of millions per year on seismic verification and shares the data from its seismic networks with the other agencies and academic community. Hence, there is little support within DOD for funding the USGS share of the GSN. It is not yet clear whether the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee plans to re-instate GSN funding in its version of the bill or whether either the House or Senate National Security Appropriations subcommittees have any intention of putting the $3 million in their bills.

The Seismological Society of America has sent out a message calling on its Action Initiative List members to contact the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, Senators Slade Gorton (R-WA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), respectively. Please contact us or SSA if you would like additional information.

The Interior Appropriations bill, H.R. 2107, is slated for floor action today following a one-vote defeat for proponents of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) when a procedural motion passed 217-216 forbidding any amendments to restore the agency's funds. The bill remains controversial both due to the near-elimination of NEA but also because of the lack of funding for public land acquisitions that were agreed to in the budget deal. The Senate subcommittee is expected to take up its bill in the next two weeks. Efforts to find offsets for restored NEA funding have focused on Strategic Petroleum Reserve oil sales or the Forest Service's administrative budget.

NSF, NASA, EPA Funding Bill Advances in House
The VA, HUD, & Independent Agencies FY98 funding bill passed the full House Appropriations Committee with no significant funding changes from the subcommittee-passed version discussed in the last special update (6-27-97). The committee added language related to vehicle emissions testing and providing for unmatched EPA grants to state, tribal, and local government for monitoring and data collection related to the new particulate matter standards soon to be promulgated. The bill will not receive a bill number until it goes to the floor, standard practice for appropriations legislation.

In a separate alert that should go out later today, we will be notifying you of the opportunity to comment on NSF's Strategic Plan.

DOE Funding Bill Approved by Senate Subcommittee
As was the case last year, the Senate has moved first on the Energy and Water funding bill with passage by the bill's Appropriations subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM). The bill's House subcommittee is taking it up in executive session this morning. Details on the Senate version were slim, because the bill report has not yet been released. Overall, the bill provides $20.7 billion in spending, a slight increase from last year but $1.9 billion less than the President's request. The bill funds most of DOE's programs, the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Tennessee Valley Authority. The massive DOE environmental management program, which is responsible for cleaning up the nation's defense nuclear complex, received $5.3 billion, a $300 million increase over the President's request. Additional information on this and other appropriations bills will be posted on AGI's web site and on the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy site.

Tax Legislation
The House and Senate have begun to conference on the two major pieces of balanced budget legislation separate from the appropriations process. The first bill makes changes in mandatory spending, such as entitlements and sales of government property. The conferees will begin discussions today on the second bill, H.R. 2014, which deals with tax issues. Earlier updates have reported on provisions relating to education. Efforts continue to block a House-passed provision that would end tax exemption for graduate student tuition waivers. A number of "Dear Colleague" letters in support of the exemption (Section 117(d) of the tax code) are circulating in the Senate, most notably one by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), which has been co-signed by a number of key Senate Republicans.

Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

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

Last updated July 11, 1997

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