Science Policy & Funding News

Request Would Boost U.S. Geological Survey Budget by 14.3%

The White House's proposed budget for the U.S. Geological Survey calls for robust funding in many key areas.

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The Obama administration’s budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would provide the agency with $1.195 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2016, a 14.3% increase above the enacted FY 2015 budget of $1.045 billion. The proposal, which Congress needs to approve, would increase funding for all major activities within USGS. It would also support such key themes as climate resilience, the president’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, water and natural hazards science, minerals research, landscape understanding, foundations for land management, science infrastructure, and education.

“It’s a very strong budget for the USGS, and we are delighted that we will have the opportunity to move forward in some very important issues that face the nation today,” USGS Acting Director Suzette Kimball said at a 2 February budget briefing. “The 2016 request really recognizes the role that USGS science plays in addressing both Interior’s mission, key administration priorities, and priorities that we hear from our partners and colleagues across the country in the state and local community and tribal levels as well.” USGS is an agency within the Department of the Interior (DOI).

Funding for Climate and Land Use Change Science

The budget for climate and land use change would rise 41% to $191.8 million from $136 million. Within that, the budget for climate variability would jump to $85.6 million from $57.6 million. It would include funding for the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and DOI Climate Science Centers ($37.4 million, up from $26.7 million), climate research and development ($26.7 million, up from $21.5 million), and carbon sequestration ($18.5 million, nearly doubling from $9.4 million).

An early view of the United States from Landsat 8, which launched on 11 February 2013. David Roy, a coleader of the U.S. Geological Survey–NASA Landsat science team and researcher at South Dakota State University, made the map with observations taken during August 2013 by the satellite’s Operational Land Imager. Credit: David Roy, USGS-NASA WELD
An early view of the United States from Landsat 8, which launched on 11 February 2013. David Roy, a coleader of the U.S. Geological Survey–NASA Landsat science team and researcher at South Dakota State University, made the map with observations taken during August 2013 by the satellite’s Operational Land Imager. Credit: David Roy, USGS-NASA WELD

The budget for land use change also would include $97.5 million (up from $67.9 million) for land remote sensing. USGS funding for the Landsat satellite program would increase $24.3 million (45.6%) to $77.6 million. NASA has a parallel Landsat activity within its budget request.

The administration’s Sustainable Land Imaging program calls for several simultaneous activities to extend the Landsat series of measurements of the Earth’s land surfaces for 2 more decades. One such activity involves the initiation of Landsat 9, which would be a rebuild of Landsat 8 with a target launch in early 2023.

Budget Request for Water Resources

Funding for USGS water resources would increase less than 1% from $221.3 million to $222.9 million. Included is $46.8 million for the water availability and use science program (up from $40.9 million) and $96.1 million for the National Water Quality Assessment Program (up from $94.1 million). The groundwater and stream flow information program would receive $73.5 million (up from $69.7 million), including $55.5 million for the national streamflow network (up from $52.2 million).

Funding for energy, minerals, and environmental health would be boosted almost 12% to $103.3 million from $92.3 million. Within that, funding for mineral resources would increase to $47.7 million from $45.9 million. That amount includes a request for $31.8 million (up from $30.5 million) for the assessment of rare earth and other critical minerals and undiscovered resources. It also includes $15.9 million (up from $15.4 million) for minerals information, including for the National Minerals Information Center (NMIC).

Natural Hazards and Core System Science

USGS’s natural hazards budget would rise 8.3% to $146.4 million from $135.2 million. The budget includes a request for $57.95 million for earthquake hazards activities (down slightly from $59.5 million) while calling for $9.8 million (doubling from $4.9 million) for the Global Seismographic Network. In addition, the budget would provide $25.7 million for volcano hazards (up from $25.1 million) and $45.2 million (up from $40.3 million) for coastal and marine geology.

In the budget request, USGS’s ecosystems activity would increase to $176.3 million from $157 million. Within this, the line item for the environmental program element, which includes landscape science, would increase from $16.8 million to $19.3 million. Funding for the wildlife element would inch up to $46.7 million from $45.3 million, and the budget for the fisheries program would increase 21.5% from $20.9 million to $25.4 million.

The proposed budget for core system science would jump almost 20% to $127 million from $107.2 million. Within that, funding for the National Geospatial Program would jump 29% from $58.5 million to $75.7 million. The program includes funding for USGS’s 3D Elevation Program. According to information from the USGS, the 3D Elevation Program is a component of an interagency 3D Nation partnership to provide “an authoritative national geospatial foundation” to support mapping needs for commerce, agriculture, resource management, hazards response, and other activities.

The core system science budget proposal includes $25.3 million for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (up from $24.4 million) and $25.9 million for the Science Synthesis, Analysis and Research Program (up from $24.3 million).

USGS Optimistic and Realistic About the Budget Prospects

“This Congress, like Congresses that we’ve had recently, is struggling again with competing priorities and competing needs and a finite number of dollars,” Kimball told Eos. “So, we recognize that it is going to be very, very difficult for Congress to meet the entire federal agencies’ desires for a budget.”

Nonetheless, she stressed the particular importance of the USGS budget, which she said allows USGS scientists to provide information and develop decision support tools that, if deployed, can help individual citizens and communities make decisions on how to balance economic development, societal needs, and available resources.

She continued that regardless of the issue and regardless of the societal questions that are being asked, key decisions in the national interest are being made that require a foundation of strong unbiased science. “And that’s what we can provide. And so we do not take a stake in any individual particular management decision, but we provide the information that can be used by a wide variety of interests,” she said.

She stressed that having the best available science to inform decisions will be “essential as we move forward developing our national policies, whether those are domestic or international policies.”

State Geologists and Others Applaud Budget Request

Jonathan Arthur, president of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) told Eos that the proposed increase of nearly $150 million to the USGS budget “bodes well for important state-federal partnerships, which leverage state geoscience resources and expertise with federal funds.” In particular, he said that AASG “is pleased to see increases in the proposed levels of funding for the National Cooperative Geological Mapping Program and implementation of a National Groundwater Monitoring Network. Increased development of tools to reduce losses from natural hazards, particularly floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanos, and sinkholes, are notably important, as are coastal resiliency initiatives.”

Within those line items, Arthur hopes to see specific efforts highlighted. “Budgetary emphasis on the science and impacts of hydraulic fracturing as it relates to water resource protection is appreciated at the state level.” AASG also supports any increase in funding for the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program, he said.

Robert Gropp, chairman of the nongovernmental USGS Coalition, told Eos that the budget proposal “is appropriate and would enable the USGS to move some programs forward that have been slowed because of budget sequestration. Although the top line number is great, I look forward to seeing details about how the money will be prioritized and what programs are slated for cuts. I have yet to see this information.”

Gropp, who also is director of public policy for the American Institute of Biological Sciences, added, “I do hope the budget maintains investments in core programs while making important new strategic investments in cross-cutting research. The USGS is a unique agency with irreplaceable long-term physical and biological monitoring data and scientific collections.”

Water Groups Favor USGS Increases

The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) applauded the overall increase in the USGS budget, which includes a $1 million increase for the National Groundwater Monitoring Network. NGWA Government Affairs Director Lauren Schapker said that the overall boost to the USGS budget will increase the agency’s ability to contribute important scientific information for policymaking.

Steve Dye, legislative director for the Water Environment Federation (WEF), told Eos, “As a nation, we’re investing billions of dollars annually on infrastructure and other measures to protect water quality, so from that perspective the millions of dollars the USGS is spending on water monitoring, research, and analysis are a reasonable bargain to ensure that those infrastructure investments are having the desired impact to protect water.”

Support for Landsat and Hazards Research

Jeff Dozier, who served as chair of the U.S. National Research Council’s Committee on Implementation of a Sustained Land Imaging Program, commented on the proposed budget for Landsat. “The USGS does an excellent job of distributing data, so the increased budget and the idea of providing more products derived from imagery, in addition to just the images themselves, is a welcome addition to their portfolio,” said Dozier, professor of environmental science and management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Lisa Grant Ludwig, president of the Seismological Society of America, told Eos that “this is the best budget proposal in several years” for USGS. She highlighted funding for earthquake early warning systems and the Global Seismographic Network, which she said will enhance public safety and improve the ability to issue alerts. “The hard work will be in ensuring the program increases and new program starts are carried all the way through the appropriations process for FY 2016,” she added.

Underscoring the Importance of Continuous Streams of USGS Data

U.S. Geological Survey hydrologic technicians Tyler Meyer and Jesse Rigge document the river stage and ensure that the stream gauge on the James River at Huron, S. D., is working properly during high water in March 2011. Credit: USGS
U.S. Geological Survey hydrologic technicians Tyler Meyer and Jesse Rigge document the river stage and ensure that the stream gauge on the James River at Huron, S. D., is working properly during high water in March 2011. Credit: USGS

Brian Pallasch, managing director of government relations and infrastructure initiatives for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), said the proposed USGS budget reflects the vital role USGS plays in advancing scientific discovery and innovation to support sustainable economic growth, natural resource management, and science-based decision making for critical societal needs.

“Specifically, ASCE strongly supports the critical USGS collection and dissemination of reliable, impartial, and timely information that is needed to understand the nation’s water resources. Part of this is the critical national streamflow network, which provides streamflow information from about 8,130 stream gages, nearly 100% of which deliver information in real time,” Pallasch said.

Ellen Bergfeld, CEO of the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies, said, “We are pleased that the president’s budget includes significant new investments in USGS science to better understand and adapt to climate change and address complex water quantity and quality challenges,” noting that ”continued access to high quality USGS data is invaluable to our understanding of the environment and our efforts to supply food and clean water for society.”

Concern Raised About Mineral Resource Budget

Luke Popovich, vice president for external communications at the National Mining Association, expressed concern about funding for mineral resources, stating that it is not clear which, if any, of NMIC’s programs will receive increases. “Our preference is that the NFIC address “critical minerals”: their availability to serve the needs of industry and national defense.  And it isn’t clear this priority is the USGS priority,” he said. Critical minerals include rare earth elements and other resources, according to the USGS.

“The statistical and analytical information provided by [NMIC] provides the basis for informed policy decisions and is extensively used by government agencies, members of Congress, state and local governments, as well as industry, academia and nongovernmental organizations,” Popovich said. “Collection of this information provides a fundamental service to the nation. Mineral resource supply and demand issues are global in nature, and our nation is becoming more dependent upon foreign sources to meet our metals and minerals requirements.”

Visit Eos.org in the coming weeks for continued coverage of the administration’s proposed budget for federal agencies.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015),  Request would boost U.S. Geological Survey budget by 14.3%, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO024095. Published on 13 February 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0