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.