Science Policy & Funding News

USGS Budget Plan to Advance Earth Observations, Hazards Measures

The request for across-the-board increases in fiscal year 2017 also seeks to improve water monitoring and terrain mapping, downsize infrastructure, and grow operations in support of scientific work.

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In its latest budget proposal, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) aims for a significant boost to the nation’s satellite Earth-observing capabilities, better protections for communities against the risks of earthquakes and geomagnetic storms, and major improvements to monitoring water use during droughts. These represent a few highlights of a proposed fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget of $1.169 billion that would grow about 10% over the FY 2016 enacted level if Congress approves the agency’s request.

To enhance Earth observation from space, USGS would increase funding for the Landsat 9 Earth-observing satellite to $19.7 million, an increase of $15.4 million, which would help move up the spacecraft’s launch date to 2021 from 2023. A follow-on mission to Landsat 8, Landsat 9 will provide a direct but improved replacement for the still-orbiting Landsat 7 satellite, according to USGS.

“We are in lock step in planning with NASA and the Landsat science team to accelerate the launch date and design of the instruments and delivery of those for launch in 2021,” said Virginia Burkett, USGS associate director for climate and land use change, at an 11 February briefing about the agency’s FY 2017 funding proposal, which was released on 9 February.

Other budgeting related to Earth-viewing satellites includes $2.2 million in new funding to acquire data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellites and $2.99 million in new funds to develop computing and online storage resources to produce and disseminate Landsat-based information products.

Increases for Hazards, Water Conservation, Mapping

To prepare for future hazards, the agency intends to maintain funding for an earthquake early warning system at the FY 2016 enacted level of $8.2 million. Also, $16.7 million (up $3.63 million) for unconventional oil and gas research includes funds to reduce the risk from induced seismicity. About $1.7 million in new funding to improve geomagnetic monitoring would support the administration’s National Space Weather Strategy and assess the risk of geomagnetic storms to the power grid and electronic systems. Among other priorities, $6.24 million (up $2.11 million) would help with building landscape-level resilience to coastal hazards.

Aiming to better evaluate the effectiveness of water conservation measures, USGS is proposing $37.06 million (up $18.36 million) to spend on improved methods for near-real-time assessments of water use during droughts. “There has been a big push to up our game in understanding water use, monitoring it, and [in] how to estimate what’s going on,” said Don Cline, USGS associate director for water. He added that all of the pieces of the water initiative in the budget are aimed at strengthening programs focusing on water availability, water use, and water as a hazard.

Other significant funding includes $21.89 million (up $2.39 million) for the enhancement of landscape-scale three-dimensional maps that are used for a variety of applications, including aviation safety, precision agriculture, and managing infrastructure and construction, and $6.72 million (up $1.5 million) to accelerate map modernization for Alaska.

Increases Foreseen Across the Agency

On the whole, the FY 2017 budget proposal would provide funding hikes for all USGS mission areas (see Table 1).

Table 1. U.S. Geological Survey FY 2017 Budget Requesta
Appropriation Category FY 2016 Enactedb FY 2017 Requestb Changeb Percentage Changec
Ecosystems     160,232     173,938    13,706   8.6
Climate and Land Use Change      139,975     171,444    31,469 22.5
Energy and Minerals Resources and Environmental Health         94,511       99,483      4,972   5.3
Natural Hazards      139,013     149,701    10,688   7.7
Water Resources      210,687     227,992    17,305   8.2
Core Science Systems       111,550     118,395      6,845   6.1
Science Support       105,611     110,592      4,981   4.7
Facilities      100,421     117,258    16,837 16.8
Total appropriations 1,062,000 1,168,803 106,803 10.0
aSource: U.S. Geological Survey.
bBudget authority in thousands of current dollars.
cCalculated from data.

The proposed budget “does a good job in forwarding our mission to protect and enhance the nation’s communities, especially in regard to natural resource issues,” USGS deputy director William Werkheiser said at the briefing. “We have a wide diversity of science to bring to the table. We’re proud of that diversity, and we think this budget allows us to continue in that tradition.”

Officials said they are optimistic about the budget proposal’s prospects. Predicting bipartisan appeal for the plan in Congress, Barbara Wainman, USGS associate director for the Office of Communications and Publishing, noted that the agency has “the luxury of being nonpartisan and providing objective science.” Among USGS areas typically supported on both sides of the aisle, officials mentioned coastal resilience, magnetic storms, and natural hazards.

However, some areas of the budget proposal could be tougher sells, including getting traction on Capitol Hill for requested increases in science support and infrastructure, said Kevin Gallagher, USGS associate director for core science systems. The FY 2017 plan includes $2.71 million for operations and maintenance, plus new funding of $10.9 million for the agency to continue reducing the footprint of its facilities, including consolidating operations and improving space utilization. “I think it’s fair to say [that] at times our need for our facilities budget, our science support, has been underappreciated,” said Gallagher.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), USGS budget plan to advance Earth observations, hazards measures, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO046887. Published on 24 February 2016.

© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0