Science Policy & Funding News

USGS Funding Slashed 15% in Proposed Federal Budget

Requested fiscal year 2018 spending levels support energy and mineral resources programs but make deep cuts to climate programs and many other areas.

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The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $922 million under the Trump administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget proposal, a sharp reduction from the $1.085 billion in the FY 2017 omnibus spending plan signed into law on 5 May. The 15% funding loss would apply to the fiscal year that begins on 1 October.

The requested FY 2018 budget pushes forward with administration priorities such as assessing energy resources and critical mineral supplies. However, it reduces the USGS workforce by 16%; kills region-specific research projects; hobbles research efforts related to natural hazards, land and water resources, ecosystem studies, and core science systems; and defunds some climate change–related programs. The proposed USGS budget also makes it harder for the public to access scientific information.

“In reaching our budget targets and needing to fund some of the priorities that just have to be funded, there was barely a program that wasn’t touched,” said USGS acting director Bill Werkheiser at a budget briefing late last month. “There’s not a cut that we made that wasn’t difficult to make.”

“We’ll see how much of this budget comes to pass. Congress has it now, and they will analyze it and evaluate it and evaluate their priorities,” Werkheiser said, adding that the agency “will do our best to educate members [of Congress] on the value we bring.”

Congress, which provides funding, may get a chance to weigh in on the budget later this week when Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke testifies at an 8 June hearing conducted by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. USGS is an agency within the Department of the Interior.

Wasteful Spending?

“President Trump promised the American people he would cut wasteful spending and make the government work for the taxpayer again, and that’s exactly what this budget does,” Zinke said in a 23 May press release.

However, at the briefing Werkheiser said that Zinke’s comment was a general statement. “As far as wasteful spending goes, I would have to say that in USGS we have been very diligent over the years to try to eliminate as much wasteful spending as possible,” he said.

Julie Palakovich Carr, cochair of the USGS Coalition, concurred, telling Eos that USGS has worked hard “to contain costs while continuing to deliver high-quality science.” The coalition is an alliance of more than 80 organizations committed to the vitality of the USGS.

Carr called the cuts “troubling” and said they “would jeopardize important monitoring and research programs across all of USGS’ mission areas.” She said the coalition is urging Congress to reject the administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal and to continue the bipartisan support for USGS that was demonstrated last month with the passage of the FY 2017 spending plan.

David Spears, president of the Association of American State Geologists, said that states place a high priority on the USGS’s geologic mapping, energy and mineral resource studies, applied geologic hazards research, and water resources science. He told Eos that the proposed FY 2018 USGS budget “negatively impacts programs in every one of these areas and in many cases reduces or eliminates cooperative programs that fund state-employed scientists.”

Table 1. Proposed Federal Budget for the U.S. Geological Survey for FY 2018a
USGS Program FY 2017 Omnibus Spending Lawb FY 2018 Budget Requestb Changeb Percentage Change
Ecosystems 160 132 −28 −17.3
Climate and Land Use Changec 149 113 −36 −24.4
Energy and Minerals and Environmental Health 94 92 −3 −3.0
Natural Hazards 145 118 −27 −18.6
Water Resources 215 173 −42 −19.4
Core Science Systems 116 93 −23 −19.9
Science Support 106 89 −16 −15.4
Facilities 100 112  +12 +11.7
USGS Total 1085 922 −163 −15.0
aSources: U.S. Geological Survey, “The U.S. Department of the Interior Budget Justifications and Performance Information: Fiscal Year 2018” and “Division G-Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017,”  and analysis by the American Geophysical Union Public Affairs Department.

bIn millions of U.S. dollars, rounded to the nearest million.

cFY 2018 budget restructures this as the USGS Land Resources Mission Area.

Decimating Climate Programs

Climate change–related programs are among the hardest hit in the USGS budget request (see Table 1). The spending proposal, which renames the Climate and Land Use Change Mission Area as the Land Resources Mission Area, eliminates four of eight National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers. It reduces funding for the remaining centers to $17.44 million (down from the $27.34 million level in the 2017 omnibus). The administration’s plan also zeroes out the Climate Research and Development Program and largely eliminates the Carbon Sequestration Program, with some funding shifted to the agency’s energy and minerals program.

The proposed budget provides a $22.4 million increase to develop the ground system for the Landsat 9 Earth-imaging satellite and to support a launch goal in FY 2021. However, the administration’s request still cuts $9 million overall from satellite operations by deferring “noncritical” system maintenance and the distribution of satellite data other than from Landsat spacecraft.

ShakeAlert and Geomagnetism Funding Zeroed Out

Funding for natural hazards also takes a hard hit in the proposed spending blueprint, with the elimination of USGS efforts to implement the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System on the West Coast. Gone as well is the Geomagnetism Program, a cut that would reduce the accuracy of forecasts of the magnitude and impact of geomagnetic storms. The funding request would suspend implementation of the National Volcano Early Warning System and pare funding for programs to reduce marine hazards.

“The public should know that if this budget were enacted without changes, it would severely reduce the nation’s ability to respond to the economic and public safety issues resulting from earthquakes and tsunami,” Nan Broadbent, executive director of the Seismological Society of America, told Eos. She added that the budget “is shortsighted. Federal investment prompts investment by state, local, and private entities. Dollars invested in mitigation efforts save lives and reduce the cost of recovering for communities hard hit by earthquakes and other natural disasters.”

Other Program Concerns

In the USGS Core Science Systems program, the biggest dollar cut targets the National Geospatial Program ($51.94 million, down from  $67.35 million in FY 2017). Funding for the Science Synthesis, Analysis and Research Program drops to $18.75 million, down from $24.30 million, including a $3 million reduction in USGS library-related funding, which would eliminate public access to USGS library locations and place USGS library collections into a “dark archive,” according to budget documents.

At the briefing, Kevin Gallagher, USGS associate director for Core Science Systems, said a dark archive consolidates a physical collection at a location such as a warehouse where a research librarian could retrieve documents and provide digitally scanned copies to customers.

Within the Water Resources Mission, the budget request lowers funding for the National Water Quality Program to $74.47 million (down from $90.53 million) and zeroes out many region-specific water programs.

Don Cline, associate director for water, said at the briefing that his priority was to protect water monitoring programs because of their immediate impact on life and property and because the programs provide baseline information. “We can delay assessments or we can postpone research,” he said, “but if we put a gap in the monitoring of water, we can never go back and fill that gap.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), USGS funding slashed 15% in proposed federal budget, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO075517. Published on 07 June 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Susan Gawarecki

    Looks like the best employment prospect will be to take up mining coal….