Science Policy & Funding News

USGS Acting Director Receives Support at Senate Hearing

Confirmation of Suzette Kimball as U.S. Geological Survey director might happen this time. In 2014, a Senate committee approved her nomination, but Congress adjourned before voting on confirmation.

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Political bickering over White House nominations gave way to bipartisan support at a U.S. Senate hearing 20 October on Suzette Kimball to head the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Kimball, who has served as acting director of USGS since February 2013, received backing from both sides of the aisle at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to consider a number of White House appointments.

The committee unanimously approved her nomination in June 2014. However, because the congressional session ended before the full Senate could vote on her nomination, the process had to begin again.

“She’s the same Suzette Kimball she was a year ago,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), noting that his fellow West Virginian “will serve us very ably and capably.” He said USGS is not a partisan agency “issuing burdensome regulations,” but one that provides “crucial impartial data” to federal agencies and the public.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said Kimball’s expertise and experience would benefit her state and the country. She noted the agency’s positive impact in identifying coal and mineral resources, helping with accurate mapping, providing real-time warning systems, and monitoring water quality—including during a major chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River in January 2014.

More Leverage with Confirmation

Because Kimball has already served as acting director for 2 years, getting confirmed “really doesn’t make a difference in terms of what I do on a day-to-day basis or how I interact with our scientists or any of our partners,” Kimball told Eos. However, confirmation would change Kimball from a political appointee to a career executive appointee, which would provide subtle additional leverage in her official duties, she said.

She noted that because USGS tries to provide “absolutely unbiased information that anybody can use,” it enjoys good working relationships on both sides of the aisle. “One of my priorities is to preserve those working relationships,” Kimball told Eos.

The delay in confirmation is nothing personal, said Kimball. For instance, no senator has indicated wanting to put a hold on the nomination, she said. “I just think that Congress at the moment is involved in dealing with a lot of critical issues,” Kimball added. Compared with those, “the confirmation process isn’t as high a priority.”

Questions. Then Action?

The committee now has an opportunity to submit questions to Kimball for the record. After the panel receives responses, it will schedule a business meeting to vote on nominations. If the committee again approves Kimball’s nomination, it would go before the Senate for a vote.

Kimball and her supporters hope things will turn out differently this time and that the full Senate will act quickly in her favor.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), USGS acting director receives support at Senate hearing, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO038379. Published on 29 October 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0