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FYI Number 57: April 30, 2001

Appropriators Question USGS Budget Cuts

Key Members of Congress questioned reductions in the U.S. Geological Survey FY 2002 budget proposed by the Bush Administration during two appropriations hearings last week. While it is much too early to predict the final outcome, early indications point to a better budget for USGS than that advocated by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Norton appeared before the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee last Tuesday, and its House counterpart on Wednesday. Her perspective on the overall federal budget mirrored that of an OMB official (see FYI #56), both claiming that the current year's budget reflected "extraordinary growth." In the case of this year's Interior budget, Norton said the 20% increase "included substantial emergency and one- time appropriations that need not be continued in 2002." The Interior budget would be cut 3.4% under the administration's request. Norton did not refer to USGS in her oral testimony; her written testimony only said that USGS would survey onshore oil and gas reserves.

Senators did not raise the proposed 7.9% cut in the USGS budget at the outset of their hearing. But toward the end of the 90-minute session, the two key senators with direct responsibility over the Survey's FY 2002 budget raised concerns. Appropriations subcommittee chairman Conrad Burns (R-MT) told Norton that her request would "take away a lot of money" from the Survey, linking his concern to the deteriorating energy situation in Montana. He cautioned Norton about the size of the proposed cut, saying that USGS provided information on "what our earth is." Burns asked Norton to explain the requested cut. The Secretary replied that the Survey is engaged in a broad range of activities, and that the administration was trying to focus these activities on those pertaining to the management of Department of the Interior resources. Efforts would continue, she said, to examine the Survey's programs to determine which were the most valuable and significant. In instances where the Survey provides services to other entities, a cost-sharing effort would be made so that the Survey would not carry the full financial burden.

Ranking Committee Member Robert Byrd (D-WV) was also skeptical. He spoke of the "serious" impact the reduction would have on the Survey, saying that it warranted close scrutiny. Since mapping and geologic hazards research are part of the Survey's core activities, he wanted Norton to explain how reducing the budget in these areas was focusing its resources. Norton replied that she was attempting to reduce duplicative programs and leverage private and state money.

Norton ran into more skepticism the next day at the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee hearing. Rep. James Moran (D-VA) used the words "slashed and burned" in describing the request, and wanted to know who would do the research USGS would be forced to abandon. The Secretary replied that the program changes were still being negotiated and finalized, and again spoke of cost-sharing in activities such as the water quality program. No reductions would be made in stream gauging, she told Moran. Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), the second most senior Republican on the subcommittee, expressed concern about the diffusion of various USGS functions. He spoke of the subcommittee's efforts to consolidate the Survey's activities to increase accountability in its scientific duties for the management of federal lands. Noting that Norton would be visiting USGS headquarters last week, Regula told the Secretary, "I hope you will rethink" the budget request. Norton replied that it was "a tough balance to try and find," and acknowledged the need for a critical mass of scientists at the Survey. Regula declared that it is "critical that whatever we do is based on good science."

Within the next two months the two subcommittees should write their bills. Last year, the House passed the Interior appropriations bill by mid-June. The Senate passed their version of the bill a month later.

House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee site, with a roster and address

The Senate site

Guidance on contacting Members of Congress can be viewed at the AIP Science Policy site.


Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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