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FYI Number 27: March 8, 2002

Administration Plans to Cut USGS Criticized by Key House Subcommittee

It only took a few minutes at yesterday's hearing to determine that key House appropriators are opposed to administration plans to cut funding for USGS programs in the next fiscal year. If the appropriators' statements at this hearing of the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies are any indication, the administration's FY 2003 request stands no better chance of being enacted than a previous downsizing proposal made a year ago.

FYI #19 summarizes the FY 2003 USGS request. Under the Bush Administration's request, USGS funding would decline 5.1% next year. All of the survey's six major budget categories would decline, ranging from a cut of 0.2% to 13.6%. The budget for Water Resources Investigations would be reduced the most, as a result of a program transfer to the National Science Foundation and changes in reimbursement policies.

A year ago, the survey was slated for a 7.9% cut. The water resources program was again targeted. The Congress rejected the Administration's proposals, with the final appropriations bill granting the survey an increase of 3.5%. The water resources program, which would have received $159.5 million under the request, received $205.8 million.

USGS Director Charles Groat was the only witness who testified at yesterday's hearing, and he did his best to defend the Administration's request. He described the proposed reductions as a question of "budget priorities," saying "we will do the best that we can."

Subcommittee chairman Joe Skeen (R-NM) began the hearing by diplomatically expressing his and the subcommittee's concerns about the impacts which the proposed cuts in the survey's budgets would have on science programs. Ranking Minority Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) was less diplomatic, saying he was "extremely disappointed" about the request, adding that the subcommittee had "wisely rejected" the same kind of proposals a year ago. Dicks said he was "deeply concerned about the [Administration's] disconnect" when describing the key role that the survey performs in the scientific management of other Department of the Interior programs.

During the question-and-answer part of the hearing, Skeen stated that Congress had worked hard last year to find the money to restore the Administration's "unjustified cuts" in the survey's budget. Dicks explained that "we realize some of these things happen downtown at OMB [Office of Management and Budget]." None of the other appropriators expressed support for the budget reductions. Members expressed concern about potential impacts on programs involving water quality, flood monitoring, fire suppression, earthquake monitoring, indicator species, energy exploration, and volcanic monitoring. One member asked about the effects the proposed reductions would have on USGS employees. Groat replied that 249 positions could be affected, with the survey hoping to use attrition and early retirement, instead of a reduction-in-force, to downsize if that need arose.

It will not be until May, or beyond, that this subcommittee releases its draft FY 2003 bill. From this week's hearing, it appears highly unlikely that Congress will support the cuts the administration has requested in the FY 2003 U.S. Geological Survey budget.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics (301) 209-3095

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