House Appropriations Hearing on U.S. Geological Survey

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Publication date: 
9 April 2010

“This budget reflects our ability to address a broad array of natural-resource and natural-science issues facing the Nation. The challenges are great, the stakes are high, and the USGS is committed to providing science in the service of our great Nation.” - USGS Director Marcia McNutt

Last month’s hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on the U.S. Geological Survey’s FY 2011 request went well.  The testimony of Marcia McNutt, the Survey’s new Director (and a past president of the American Geophysical Union, a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics) was well-received by subcommittee chairman James Moran (D-VA) and his colleagues.  “The U.S. Geological Survey is the nation’s leading natural science agency,” said Moran, adding “the work of USGS is critical as the nation grows, and as we now confront the effects of climate change.”

Subcommittee members seemed generally supportive of the FY 2011 request.    The Survey’s total budget would increase 2.0 percent.   Changes in program budgets would vary, from an increase of 23.9 percent for Global Change to a decline of 9.8 percent for Enterprise Information. Last year, Congress appropriated a 6.5 percent increase.   In his opening comments, Moran characterized the $1,133.4 million request as “a very strong request,” particularly in light of the Administration’s intent to freeze total discretionary spending.  Describing the 2 percent increase as relatively modest, Moran said it was “nevertheless significant,” demonstrating “a substantial level of support” by the Administration and the American people for the USGS.

Ranking Member Mike Simpson’s (R-ID) comments more were more varied.  He described the Survey as one of the few agencies focusing on “underlying science” instead of regulatory policy.  He spoke of the important role that science agencies have in clearly communicating research results to the American people.   Simpson questioned the proposed 1.5 percent reduction in the Water Resources Investigations budget.  While not disputing that climate change is occurring, he said he was bothered by “a rush to throw money at the problem without a clear understanding” of all needed research in the field.  He also wanted more information on the direction the Geographic Research, Investigations, and Remote Sensing program would take in the next fiscal year.

Following McNutt’s testimony, Moran’s first question was about the Survey’s role in climate change science, and how it is coordinated with other federal departments and agencies and academia.  McNutt assured the chairman that the Department of Interior has worked to avoid duplication of effort, and described the Survey’s role as preparing industry, agriculture, communities and individuals for climate change, and making them more resilient to it.

“The question is coordination,” Simpson said in his first set of questions.  He wanted to know how federal agencies coordinate their programs in areas such as climate change and the impacts of wind farms.  McNutt described how the Office of Science and Technology Policy had carefully coordinated the work of federal agencies on climate control.  Regarding wind farm impacts, she said there was “excellent coordination” with other federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management.  Simpson spoke of the importance of the stream gauge network and his concern that it might not be fully supported.  McNutt and one of her associate directors assured the subcommittee that they agreed on the importance of the network, and described coordination strategies they are using with other federal agencies, states, and water utilities.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) also voiced his support of the stream gauge network, saying it should receive additional funding.  He asked about the Survey’s programs to examine the water quality impacts of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production.  McNutt and one of her deputies responded that the Survey was looking more at the size of potential reserves, and has been doing some work on environmental impacts.  Cole also asked a question about the USGS national water census.   Other questions dealt with bioactive endocrine disruptors and other water contaminants, and a multi-hazard program involving Puget Sound.

The hearing ended with Simpson telling McNutt that “USGS does great work,” calling it one of his favorite federal agencies that enjoyed the high respect of Members of Congress.  Moran congratulated McNutt on her first congressional hearing, saying “It was superb.”