SPECIAL UPDATE: The President's FY 2003 Budget Request: USGS

(Posted 2-7-02)

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

IN A NUTSHELL: Water programs take the largest hits in the president's fiscal year (FY) 2003 request for the U.S. Geological Survey. Overall, the Survey is slated to receive a $47 million, or 5.1%, cut. The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program would be eliminated with a portion of its funds transferred to the National Science Foundation. The National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program is down nearly $6 million. The Water Resources Research Institutes are zeroed out, a $6 million cut. The National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program is to be reduced by a similar amount, and the federal streamgage program funding would drop by $2 million. The larger cuts reflect administration priorities favoring activities that support the mission of the Department of the Interior over externally focused programs. Smaller cuts remove funds provided by Congress for specific projects in the FY 2002 appropriations process. This update is the second in a series describing the president's request. The first covered NSF, and subsequent ones will address the Department of Energy, other Interior agencies, EPA, NASA, and NOAA. More information can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap.


For the second year in a row, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) faces substantial cuts in the president's request. Last year's proposed cuts totaled $70 million, but Congress ultimately restored those funds and provided an additional $30 million for the Survey to total $914 million. For fiscal year (FY) 2003, the Bush Administration is seeking a $47 million, or 5.1%, cut to $867.3 million. Geologic programs would be cut $8.2 million (-3.5%) to $224.7 million; water programs take the biggest hit, down $28 million (-13.6%) to $177.8 million; mapping is down $4 million (-3.0%) to $129.3 million; and biological programs are down $5.9 million (-3.5%). In addition, the USGS is expected to save $6 million through unspecified management reforms, and $1 million from travel reductions. Taking into account the cost-of-living increases, actual program funds would fall $55.2 million.

Although some of the requested reductions simply remove congressionally added projects (earmarks), others reflect the lower priority assigned to, in the words of the Interior Department budget documents, "programs that primarily benefit external customers." The document goes on to state that "the first and most important customers of USGS science are the land and resource management bureaus of the Department of the Interior."

This aversion to funding externally focused programs reflects two political realities. First, many USGS programs have a truly national mission that extends well beyond the Interior Department's responsibility for public lands, creating a mismatch between the bureau and its parent department. Second, because externally focused programs have the most support in Congress, they are the ones most likely to be restored.

Another troubling aspect of the president's request that is not apparent from the budget documents is the lack of funding for the USGS activities in support of homeland security and the war on terrorism overseas. All four disciplines within the Survey have made and continue to make significant contributions to these efforts, but neither the emergency supplementals nor the FY 2003 request provide any direct funding. Instead, those costs must be absorbed in addition to the proposed cuts.

A final note before addressing some of the specific changes: the official budget request number for USGS is $904 million, which includes a one-time transfer of $35.9 million for the pension system and health benefit program for current employees. Under the present system, those funds go through the Office of Personnel Management, and OMB is seeking to have the funds assigned to individual agencies. Because it does not appear that the proposal will make it through Congress, we will use the lower number of $867.3 million, which is directly comparable to previous years.

Water Programs Receive Brunt of Proposed Cuts

As was the case a year ago, USGS water programs take the brunt of the cuts in the president's request. Several programs are targeted for elimination and, in one case, transfer out of Interior. Funding for the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program is to be cut by 9.2% to total $57.3 million for collecting data from 42 large river basins and aquifers.  According to a USGS budget fact sheet on NAWQA, the proposed $5.8 million decrease would terminate activities in 6 of the 42 study units -- with a systematic analysis to determine which specific ones to cut.  Budget language states that this decrease "reflects a plan to obtain cost-sharing funds from NAWQA partners and customers."  More information on NAWQA is available at http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/.

Two other water programs would be eliminated by the budget request: the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program (Toxics) and the Water Resources Research Institutes.  The Toxics program supports long-term research on water resource contamination in both surface and groundwater environments.  Toxics research is a collaborative effort of USGS scientists, university and private-sector researchers, and state, local, and federal agency scientists.  Research from the program has helped to understand the transport of various contaminants, such as MTBE and radioactive waste, in ground water.  The administration proposal would downsize the program from the $13.9 million allocated in FY 2002 to only $10 million, which would be transferred to the National Science Foundation.  Budget language notes that there would be a three-year transition period in which the two agencies will work together "for the orderly phase-out of USGS long-term research and methods development activities."  More information on Toxics is available at http://toxics.usgs.gov/. For more on the program transfers, see the February 6th Special Update on the President's Request for NSF at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/fy2003budgetupdate_usgs.html.

The Water Resources Research Institutes, also targeted for elimination, were established by the Water Resources Research Act of 1984.  For years, different administrations and Congress have played a funding game with this popular program -- administration requests of either no funding or nominal funding always countered with congressional restoration of funds or increases.  Members of Congress are especially fond of the institutes because there is one located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and federal territories.  Historically, the program has been a cooperative between USGS and states, with states matching two dollars for each one from USGS.  More information on WRRI is available at http://water.usgs.gov/wrri/.

Geologic Mapping and Streamgage Programs Cut

For the past two years, several USGS cooperative programs have received funding through a separate account in the Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill known as the Title VIII Conservation Funding category.  Originally added in the FY 2001 bill, Title VIII was a slimmed-down version of a much broader plan to use funds collected from oil and gas royalties to be used for environmental activities at the state and local level. (The broader plan, known as the Conservation and Reinvestment Act or CARA, is still being considered in Congress; more at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/ocs.html.)  Title VIII funding was planned as a six-year initiative, but funding is not mandatory and thus not guaranteed from year to year.

Last year, the USGS receive an additional $25 million from Title VIII. As was the case last year, those funds are zeroed out in the president's request. The National Cooperative Geologic Mapping program is marked for a nearly $6 million decrease of which almost $5 million is from the Title VIII account; this decrease would return the program close to the FY 2000 level. The program funds federal, state, and university geologic mapping projects with a significant cost-share in the case of the state projects. More on the program at http://ncgmp.usgs.gov. The National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP), a network of nearly 7,200 streamgages, would receive a $2 million cut (14.6%), which would eliminate funding for 130 streamgages. Because most streamgages are funded by USGS partners on an as-needed basis, the federally funded portion provides a backbone with much-needed long-term data continuity. More information on NSIP is available at http://water.usgs.giv/nsip/. Several other programs are in a similar situation with a decrease in funding because of the removal of Title VIII funds in the request.

Cuts to Earmarks and Limited Program Increases

In all, the budget request cuts 35 separate programs in USGS. More than half of these programs are considered by OMB as congressional earmarks, and most of those are projects in specific locations. Six programs would receive additional funding in areas that are administration priorities, supporting the president's National Energy Policy plan, researching environmental and human health connections, and implementing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.  Focused primarily on the Mexico/U.S. border, the environmental health project is marked to receive $1 million.  USGS would receive a $4 million from the National Park Service to support multi-agency science activities related to the Everglades project.  In the energy arena, USGS would receive $1.2 million to build upon activities from last fiscal year to conduct estimates of undiscovered oil and natural gas resources on onshore federal lands.  Also included was $1 million to produce digital base maps in areas of Alaska with future leasing potential.  Geothermal energy would receive a small boost of $0.5 million.

The USGS budget documents are available at http://www.usgs.gov/budget/2003/.  More details on the budget will be available in the coming days from the AGI Government Affairs web site at http://www.agiweb.org/gap.

Special update prepared by Margaret A. Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: Department of the Interior, Library of Congress, U.S. Geological Survey.

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

Posted February 7, 2002; Technical Correction February 13, 2002

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