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March 1, 1996 E-mail:

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 editor.
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, Hitzman reports.
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.

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