American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Special Update: AGI Responds to Member Society Concerns Over USGS Name


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

In recent months, U.S. Geological Survey Director Gordon Eaton has predicted that "Geological" may not be a part of the venerable agency's name in five years time. According to the USGS Office of Outreach, Dr. Eaton's remarks were "off the cuff" and do not represent official policy of the USGS or the Department of the Interior. The leadership of the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) felt that these remarks, even if unofficial, should not go unanswered lest silence be interpreted as agreement, and AIPG adopted a position in support of the current name and mission of the USGS. In April, the AIPG position was discussed at the Dallas meeting of the AGI Member Society Council, and it was decided that a letter should be written in support of current name. As a result of the council's decision, AGI President Ed Roy has written such a letter to USGS Director Gordon Eaton. A copy of the letter has been sent to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

The letter argues that a name change would risk the Survey's positive name recognition in Congress and in the population as a whole. Moreover, a name change could make the agency more of a political target just when the controversy over the integration of the former National Biological Service is subsiding, and the biologists are experiencing their first political calm in many years.

Letter from AGI President Ed Roy to USGS Director Gordon Eaton

May 20, 1997

Dr. Gordon P. Eaton, Director
U.S. Geological Survey
100 National Center
Reston VA 20192

Dear Dr. Eaton:

In several public statements recently, you have suggested that you expect the U.S. Geological Survey would change its name in the foreseeable future, including the removal of the word "Geological". Although I have been told that these remarks do not represent official policy at this time, your repetition of them at several stakeholder events suggests that you are seeking a reaction from affected communities. The American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) has already developed a draft position in support of the current name. Last month, at the American Geological Institute's Member Society Council meeting in Dallas, a motion was unanimously approved that I should write to you and express AGI's support for the draft AIPG position.

What's in a name? Recognition for one, and that was certainly a factor in the successful efforts to stave off congressional threats of abolition. People across the country recognized the value of services rendered by the USGS, and their broad support can largely be credited with the eventual outcome. Name changes put that recognition at risk, a move that would be counterproductive given the Survey's recent, laudable effort to develop a consistent visual identity for outreach activities.

In his comments at an AGI workshop last year, the Secretary of the Interior noted that when he created the National Biological Survey (NBS) amidst a political maelstrom, he had sought to give the agency the safest, most respected name he could think of -- one connoting that of the USGS. With the former NBS now part of the USGS, the relative calm must be quite welcome, and it seems ill advised to consider name changes that will again roil the political waters.

By focusing on the science, the current name avoids more politically charged designations. Changing the name to include environment or resources will only make the Survey a larger target for budget cutters and ideologues on either side of the political spectrum. Focusing on the science steers a middle course and is most appropriate given the Survey's role as a scientific agency separate from regulatory or management authority.

If the concern is with the breadth of the term, an argument can be made that the term "Geological" is quite broad enough to encompass the disparate functions of the Survey as has been pointed out quite well in the draft AIPG position. I would note in addition that the Geosciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation oversees research in the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, suggesting that the USGS could subsume NOAA without necessitating a name change!

Finally, I share AIPG's concern that losing the USGS name would further erode the already limited prominence of geology in the federal government at a time when this nation desperately needs the very best geological input for decision-making in the areas of hazards, environment, and natural resources. I urge you to take the views of the geoscience community into account as your consideration of this move continues to advance. Better yet, keep the name and focus on showing the nation just what a geoscience agency is capable of accomplishing.

Sincerely yours,

Edward C. Roy Jr.
American Geological Institute

CC: The Honorable Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior
AGI Member Society Presidents and Executive Directors
AGI Member Society Council

AIPG Position on the Mission and Name of the United States Geological Survey

(adopted April 26, 1997)

AIPG supports keeping "geological" in the name of the United States Geological Survey as a bureau within the Department of Interior.

Geology is "the study of the planet Earth--the materials of which it is made, the processes that act on these materials, the products formed, and the history of the planet and its life forms since its origin." (Glossary of Geology, American Geological Institute, 1987). By AIPG's definition, "geology is the science which treats the Earth and its origin and history, in general; the investigation, including collection of specimens, of the Earth's constituent rocks, minerals, fossils, solids, fluids including surface and underground waters, gases and other material from the center of its core to the outer limits of its atmosphere; the study of the Earth; and the application and utilization of this knowledge of the Earth. The knowledge and principles of geology are also applied to extraterrestrial bodies." By these definitions, geology has vital applications to a variety of national issues ranging from natural resources to hazards to environmental concerns. At a time when more geological information is required to better address numerous environmental issues in response to an expanding population and diminishing resources, geology is more vital to the safety, health and welfare of our citizens, not less.

AIPG enthusiastically supports the Congressionally mandated original mission of the USGS (1879), to classify the public lands and examine the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain. This mission has evolved into one that is much broader and self-defined, as stated in the Strategic Plan for the USGS, dated May 1996: "The U.S. Geological Survey provides the Nation with reliable, impartial information to describe and understand the Earth. This information is used to: minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; enhance and protect the quality of life; and contribute to wise economic and physical development." AIPG supports this expanded mission only to the extent that it applies to activities that are clearly in the national interest. The livelihoods of many AIPG members and other professional geologists are dependent on projects and activities that are of local and state concern. We believe that it is inappropriate for a Federal agency to duplicate and compete with them on these types of projects. The new Biological Resources Division of the USGS fits well into both the original mission and the more recent mission statement.

Activities of all divisions of the USGS appropriately fall within the term "geological." Ecological and environmental concerns of the Biological Resources Division; all surface- and ground-water activities of the Water Resources Division; hazard, energy- and mineral-resource, geologic mapping, and environmental programs of the Geologic Division; and base-map preparation of the National Mapping Division are directly related to studies of the Earth and "geology."

A move away from the term "geological" in the agency's name would not only be inappropriate by definition but also would be confusing to the public. The fiscal and other costs of changing the name of the USGS would far outweigh any benefits of such a change.

The USGS has developed an excellent reputation for impartiality and defensible science to help solve national problems. Symbolic destruction of the very best of impartial science in the federal realm is unwarranted.

The American Institute of Professional Geologists is a non-profit organization of more than 5,000 members. The purposes of AIPG are advancement of the geological sciences and the profession of geology, establishment of qualifications for professional geologists, certification of the qualifications of individual member geologists to the public, promotion of high standards of ethical conduct among its members and within the profession of geology, and representation of and advocacy for the geological profession before government and the general public.

Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

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

Last updated May 22, 1997

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