Geology and Govt. -- Does Less Govt. Mean Less Science?
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- As a nation, we face the need to manage
resource development, protect ground and surface waters, reduce the
costs of natural disasters, clean up contaminated sites, and
dispose of nuclear wastes safely. These challenges affect the
lives of American citizens every day, and their solutions require
a knowledge of earth science. But the elected representatives sent
to Washington, D.C., are often in disagreement with the officials
managing federal science programs and with scientists themselves.
Why is there a fault zone between geology and government?
The March issue of GEOTIMES examines several perspectives on
national geoscience policy, gathering opinions from officials in
the White House, federal agencies, and on Capitol Hill. AGI
Director of Government Affairs David Applegate serves as guest
Geologist Murray W. Hitzman, an AAAS/Sloan Fellow with the
Office of Science and Technology Policy, gives an overview of the
Clinton administration's approach to federal science. Although the
president supports a strong federal role in research, budget
realities mean that federal science agencies must work harder to
eliminate redundant programs and focus on national priorities,
Robert Huggett, director of the Environmental Protection
Agency's Office of Research and Development, describes the agency's
mix of long- and short-term research priorities. In the long-term,
the agency must support research that anticipates future
environmental problems and fills in knowledge gaps -- particularly
in the area of environmental risk -- that might prevent EPA from
meeting regulatory goals, he says.
The Minerals Management Service is making "sound science" the
basis for its decisions on managing offshore mineral resources,
reports MMS Director Cynthia Quarterman. She discusses partnership
efforts and MMS programs in which geologists play important roles.
Having survived the threat of abolishment, the U.S. Geological
Survey is seeking to "re-engineer the way it serves the American
public," reports Director Gordon Eaton. Eaton explains that the
survey is focusing on four broad policy areas: natural hazards,
environmental quality, resources, and information.
Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the House
Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Interior
Department budget, believes that the nation needs the sound earth-
science information provided by the USGS. But he warns that the
agency must improve its focus and efficiency to survive.
Future government support for earth-science research, writes
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), depends on the ability of geologists to
focus their efforts on widely recognized, high-priority national
needs; produce results on time and in a useable form; and
communicate the usefulness and importance of their work.
GEOTIMES is published by the American Geological Institute, a
non-profit federation of 29 member societies representing 80,000
earth and environmental scientists. AGI's Government Affairs
Program (GAP) serves as a leading voice in Washington, D.C., on
science-policy issues of concern to the nation's geoscience
community. The Institute provides information services to a
worldwide geoscience community through its books, publications, and
GeoRef, an online bibliographic database of more than 1.9 million
geological references -- the most comprehensive geoscience database
in the world. The Institute coordinates improvements in earth-
science education, offers scholarship assistance to minority
students, and works to increase public awareness of the vital role
geology plays in our society.