Written Statement Submitted by the
American Geological Institute
for the
Department of the Interior
Strategy and Performance Dialogue on Using Natural Resources
January 14, 2002

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I wish to commend you for the effort you are making to involve the Department's stakeholders in your strategic planning. This statement responds to the specific questions addressed in the December 7, 2001, letter from P. Lynn Scarlett, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Policy, Management and Budget. I have also attached a statement prepared for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Customer Listening Session on October 11, 2001.

The American Geological Institute (AGI) is a nonprofit federation of 39 geoscientific and professional societies that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. The institute serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening earth science education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role that the geosciences play in mankind’s use of natural resources and interaction with the environment. For more on AGI, please visit www.agiweb.org.

How can we define and measure “success” in providing safe and sustainable use of resources from public lands to help meet the Nation’s needs (i.e., what end outcomes do our programs in this area promote)?

The Department of the Interior bears an important burden in managing the Nation’s public lands for the benefit of all its citizens. Many of the management decisions involve stewardship of the natural resources contained on those lands: mineral resources, energy resources, water resources, and biological resources. To be fair, those decisions must take into account a broad array of public interests and needs, but they also must be underpinned by a solid scientific knowledge base. Thus, a key measure of success is the extent to which the Department incorporates the best available scientific information into its decisionmaking process -- information that bears on the extent and geographic distribution of the resources and the impacts that developing one resource has on other land uses. If that information is to be useful, it must be impartial, accurate, reliable, timely, and -- above all -- scientifically sound. Having a firm scientific foundation will not necessarily make management decisions any easier, nor will they be the only factor in reaching a decision. Without such a foundation, however, such decisions will be lacking this critical factor in establishing fairness and generating broad acceptance.

What strategies should the Department pursue in this area and how can progress towards those strategies be measured?

Ensuring that decisions regarding natural resources are based on the best available scientific information requires the Department to pursue several strategies. An important prerequisite for the use of scientific information is knowing what information is available or needed that could be relevant to a decision. In turn, that means pursuing a strategy of incorporating technical input at the earliest stage of the decisionmaking process. An issue that has been emerging for some time is clearly the need for more integrated science in support of ecosystem management. But greater efforts are needed to inform Interior land managers about what data are available and how the data can contribute to well-informed decisionmaking. As a recent report by the National Park Service Advisory Board made clear, the land management agencies are more familiar with their biological information needs and may be wholly unaware of the value of geological, hydrological, and pedological information that bears on ecosystems and their abiotic framework. The Department needs to facilitate greater interaction between its resource managers and scientists both inside and outside the Department, taking advantage of the tremendous improvements in geospatial analytical tools that make it possible for land managers to more easily consider how various aspects of the landscape relate to one another.

Another important prerequisite to using the best scientific information is making sure that the information exists when and where it is needed. That means pursuing a strategy of establishing and maintaining the scientific infrastructure needed to ensure that reliable, impartial information is collected and made broadly available. Much of the value of geological, hydrological, and biological information comes from examination of long-term trends in landscape evolution and environmental change, placing a premium on continuous, long-term data sets. The Department needs to support development of national databases of natural resources information that provide basic environmental data such as geologic maps and water quantity and quality data.

What programs managed by the Department have the biggest impact on our ability to carry out those strategies? What performance measures can we use to hold ourselves accountable for these activities?

As the Department of the Interior’s premier science agency, the U.S. Geological Survey plays a pivotal role in ensuring the scientific underpinning of departmental decisions. The USGS has unique capabilities regarding all types of resources on public lands, and its geospatial data capabilities are crucial to data integration and assimilation. Key programs within the USGS include the Mineral Resource Surveys Program, Energy Resource Surveys Program, National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, Mineral Information Program, the National Water Quality Assessment Program, and the Streamgage Network.

The scientific resources of the Department extend well beyond the Survey. Talented scientists can be found in the land management agencies (for example the Geologic Resources Division in the National Park Service), Minerals Management Service, Office of Surface Mining, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Department should work to coordinate scientific activities so that there are neither overlaps or gaps in the capabilities of the USGS and the other Interior bureaus.

There are two sets of performance measures to consider: The Department’s management functions should be measured on the extent to which they seek out scientific information, involve technical experts in management teams, and incorporate the best available scientific information into the decisionmaking framework. In turn, the Department’s science functions should be measured on their ability to deliver timely and valuable information in a format that can be easily used by managers.

To what extent might your constituents be able to assist in implementing these strategies and measuring success?

Ensuring a sound scientific underpinning to natural resource decisions is no small task. The geoscience community represented by AGI and its 39 member societies stands ready to assist the Department in reaching that goal and measuring success. AGI and many of its member societies have a long history of partnership with the USGS, the National Park Service, and other Interior bureaus in the areas of education, public outreach, data preservation, and information dissemination, and we welcome additional opportunities to provide assistance.

The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council has assessed the goals and effectiveness of a number of USGS programs, including mineral resources, energy resources, volcano hazards, and water quality. Most recently, the Academy’s report, Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey, assessed the public value of the bureau as a whole. As discussed in the attached comments from the October 2001 USGS Customer Listening Session, AGI supports the report’s findings and urges the Department to act on them. This process of soliciting independent scientific assessments of the Survey’s performance should be continued and could be focused directly on the challenge of measuring success. The Department should also consider similar reviews for scientific functions located in its other bureaus. Such assessments are a valuable complement to stakeholder-involvement efforts such as this one.

Thank you again for this opportunity to appear before you. I would be happy to provide additional information on any of these topics. I can be reached at 703 379 2480 ext. 228 or applegate@agiweb.org.

The AGI statement prepared for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Customer Listening Session on October 11, 2001 followed.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Posted by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Posted March 25, 2002

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