Science Policy & Funding News

New Law Puts the Squeeze on the Arizona Geological Survey

Arizona state services at risk include a program to map Earth fissures; the state's earthquake-monitoring network; and the Survey's mineral resources program.


A new law that consolidates the Arizona Geological Survey within the University of Arizona at Tucson could result in dramatic cuts to state geological services, according to the Survey and some industries that rely on its capabilities. However, Arizona governor Doug Ducey’s office maintains that the cost-cutting action benefits taxpayers while building on synergy between the Survey and the university.

The action, part of broader budget legislation Ducey signed into law in May, calls for the Survey to vacate its current quarters by 30 June and move into space 75% smaller, but the law does not provide funding for the Survey for fiscal year (FY) 2017, which begins on 1 July.

The University of Arizona has agreed to provide the Survey with the equivalent of the Survey’s FY 2016 state appropriation of $941,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, after which the Survey would need to become entirely self-supporting, according to Lee Allison, Arizona state geologist and director of the Survey. Allison serves as a member of the Eos editorial advisory board.

At risk is funding for mapping, hazard monitoring, and other services.

Reduction in Services

Since 2011, the Survey received $5.36 million from the state while entrepreneurially raising an additional $35.8 million through external research grants and contracts, according to a Survey document, which notes that the Survey had 27 employees earlier this year.

Allison applauded the University of Arizona for agreeing to replace state funds for the Survey for the coming year. However, he told Eos that the grant and contract funding that the Survey has raised on its own to support its state services now “will mostly go to the university to support [its] services, resulting in a 40%–50% reduction of those [Survey] functions and the staff that carried them out.” He said that concerns about the Survey’s future have prompted 20% of its staff to take other jobs. Allison also has notified another 25% of staff of pending layoffs.

The uncertainty of having only 1 year of assured funding for the remaining staff “puts the Survey’s medium-term capabilities and functions at risk,” he said. As the Survey transitions to a soft money grant-seeking center, Allison said that state service priorities, subsidized through indirect costs from grants and contracts, “could go by the wayside.”

State services at risk include a program to map Earth fissures—giant tension cracks formed by subsiding basins—which developers and local planners depend on; the state’s earthquake-monitoring network; and the Survey’s mineral resources program, according to Allison.

Governor’s Office Defends Action

The consolidation language, which was in the final state budget package approved in May, reflects a strategic way to cut the budget while taking advantage of synergies between the Survey and the university, according to Dan Scarpinato, spokesman for Arizona governor Ducey. He said the consolidation is a cost-efficient “net positive” for the Survey and the clients it assists and for the university.

“Anytime you change something that’s been operating one way for a very long period of time, there are going be concerns and there are going to be questions,” he said, adding that the state wants to address concerns so that the consolidation works. With the budget approved, experts need to “come to the table and figure out how we combine these programs [and] make the consolidation work in a way that doesn’t have an impact on the clients themselves or the services that are provided.”

University of Arizona spokesman Chris Sigurdson reiterated to Eos what he told the Arizona Daily Star—that the transfer of the Survey to the university “makes scientific sense to us and is in line with our land-grant mission of service.”

Consolidation Could Be “Devastating”

However, Doug Bartlett, president-elect of the Arizona Chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, said that moving the Survey to the university without a long-term funding mechanism “will be devastating to the Survey.”

He told Eos that the move will result in a loss of primary research, field mapping, monitoring for geological hazards, and detailed geologic mapping useful to Arizona’s minerals industries. “Private industry cannot and will not step in to replace what the Survey does,” he said.

Steve Trussell, executive director of the Phoenix-based Arizona Rock Products Association, said that perhaps the biggest concern about the changes affecting the Survey is what might happen to mapping and other services it provides. He said, for instance, that the Survey’s maps and other programs help the construction, real estate, mining, and natural resources–related industries.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), New law puts the squeeze on the Arizona Geological Survey, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO053643. Published on 03 June 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • LibertyStarLBSR

    My name is Jim Briscoe, Registered Professional Geologist Arizona, 1974 and California 1970, and degrees in geology, BS, 1964 & MS 67, University of Arizona. I first became acquainted with the predecessor to the Arizona Geological Survey in 1959, when I entered the University of Arizona Mining Exploration program and have been familiar with the various gestations over the last 57 years. It took approximately 50 years and the hiring of Lee Allison to consolidate the Arizona Bureau of Mineral Resources with the Arizona Geological Survey and to start their wonderful work. Lee Allison and the AZGS are now known worldwide because of their innovative science and high quality work. If left alone, State Geologist Dr. Allison will continue to create a world class entity right here in Tucson, Arizona, located in the largest copper producing area in the USA, and perhaps the most concentrated in the world.

    The mission of the Arizona Geological Survey cannot continue as is now directed and is not compatible with the University of Arizona, which would mean a drastic reduction in size and capabilities. The burden of the proposed rent alone will hurt productivity as seen by their proposed reduction in size of his facilities and a minuscule budget after deducting their rent that will cause an inability for its work to continue.
    This is not the Governor’s fault. He was simply ill advised.
    I will be happy to meet with the Governor and his aides to discuss this in depth. I do not think there is a person in the State that has the historic depth (57 years) of knowledge that I do – for both the AZGS and the University of Arizona, and I can quickly and clearly explain the differences.
    This travesty must be reversed.

    The State Constitution mandated that the Arizona Bureau of Mines “collect information about the States Mines and Mineral Industry.” During its 128 years of existence, my guestimate, based on my 57 years of experience mostly in Arizona, some 128,000 man years of mineral data has been collected from mining professionals by the Arizona Bureau of Mines now the AZGS. Under Dr. Lee Allison’s inspired leadership and dedicated staff, an enormous amount of documentation has been scanned into a computerized data base which is in part available to industry and is attracting millions of exploration dollars to the State from around the world. This unique database addresses and is the basis for future mineral discoveries of all types and trillions of dollars of mineral value and a very healthy tax base for the State over the next 200 years plus.

    The loss of this treasure trove of information would be devastating. The archival database is now used daily by mineral explorationists from all over the world (via the internet) who are contemplating coming to Arizona to spend millions of dollars in exploration for new mines. It is tantamount to destroying the Dead Sea Scrolls because we don’t have the money to store them or interpret them.

    This was a bad decision from the start and it should be reversed immediately.

    • Emily Devenport

      I hope you can meet with the governor, Jim. I’ve lived in Arizona my whole life, 57 years, and I’m astounded at this turn of events. It makes no sense whatsoever. This turn of events is so bizarre, I can scarcely credit it.

    • Ross Andrew Cayley

      Good luck Jim. In my experience, the best way to engage with government leaders is to highlight the nature of the ‘market failures’ that state geological surveys are specifically designed to address, why university business models cannot address them, and the huge costs-to-business and State of those market failures (which offsets the recurrent cost of geological survey funding with huge leverage). Most government managers will have little to no scientific background, but will recognize MBA jargon from a mile away……and take heed of it.