FY20 Appropriations Bills: US Geological Survey

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Publication date: 
18 October 2019

Both the House and Senate are proposing modest budget increases for the U.S. Geological Survey, though they are split on the Trump administration’s requested reorganization of the agency’s science mission areas.


Through its Repeat Photography Project, the U.S. Geological Survey maintains a record of glacier images to communicate the impacts of climate change. Pictured above is the Grinnel Glacier in Montana.

Through its Repeat Photography Project, the U.S. Geological Survey maintains a record of glacier images to communicate the impacts of climate change. Pictured above is the Grinnel Glacier in Montana.

(Image credit – USGS)

The U.S. Geological Survey’s current $1.2 billion budget would increase 7% under the House’s spending proposal for fiscal year 2020, while the Senate proposes a 4% increase.

Although both chambers generally reject the Trump administration’s requested cuts, Senate appropriators endorse its proposed reorganization of five of the agency’s seven science mission areas. However, House appropriators reject the move, rendering some of their program-level funding proposals not directly comparable to the Senate's. Both chambers do agree, though, on withholding support for the administration’s proposed relocation of some USGS headquarters staff from Virginia to Colorado.

Selected provisions from the House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports are summarized below, and program-level figures are collected in the FYI Federal Science Budget Tracker.

Agency reorganization

Under the administration’s restructuring proposal, the Land Resources and Environmental Health mission areas would be subsumed within other mission areas, and the Ecosystems, Water Resources, and Core Science Systems mission areas would be realigned. The Natural Hazards and the Energy and Mineral Resources mission areas would be unaffected. USGS' budget justification states the restructuring would “ensure that programs of related focus and practice are managed within the same mission area,” and that the reduced number of mission areas “aligns with government-wide goals to improve efficiency and utilize resources and expertise that is readily available.”

House appropriators state they do not support the reorganization because it “reduces program and funding transparency,” adding that no requested program changes are accepted unless specifically mentioned in the committee report. In accepting the reorganization, the Senate stipulates that “all programs are maintained at the 2019 enacted levels” under its proposal unless other direction in the committee report changes the amounts.

Neither committee provides the $6 million requested through the Science Support account that would go toward broader agency reorganization efforts, including the relocation of some staff to a new facility in Lakewood, Colorado. The Senate does not explain why it does not provide the funds, but the House criticizes the agency’s approach to the move:

The committee believes the survey has not presented strong foundational analysis or a compelling argument to support establishing a headquarters presence in the West. A relocation of the magnitude proposed in the budget request would dramatically change the organization, have significant financial costs, and impact the survey’s effectiveness and strategic national-level partnerships with federal agencies, states, scientific organizations, and stakeholders. The survey should not commit federal funds or personnel time to this relocation but instead focus its efforts on ensuring survey operations are open and transparent, the quality and objectivity of [USGS] science is maintained, and investments are leveraged.

Natural hazards programs

Through its Natural Hazards mission area, USGS funds research, monitoring, and preparedness activities for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and solar storms, among other phenomena. Its current budget of $166 million would increase 3% under both the House and Senate bills.

Earthquake hazards. The House proposes to increase funding for the Earthquake Hazards program from $83 million to $85 million, while the Senate proposes $88 million. Within the program, Congress specified $16 million in fiscal year 2019 for the development of an earthquake early warning system for the West Coast, as well as $5 million for capital costs associated with the system’s buildout. This year, the administration had proposed to impose sharp cuts on the program, but the House specifies $19 million for development costs and $6.7 million for capital costs. The Senate directs that all “regional networks,” including the early warning system, should receive level funding for base operations and allocates $17.5 million for infrastructure costs, while also conveying concerns about the current budget structure for the networks.

The House and Senate respectively propose $1.4 million and $3 million for the EarthScope USArray seismic monitoring stations USGS recently acquired from the National Science Foundation. Senate appropriators also lament that national seismic hazard maps “do not consistently include all 50 states,” and direct USGS to update maps for all states, “not just the lower 48,” providing $2 million for the work. The House and Senate also express concern about the “lack of knowledge” on the Cascadia subduction zone in the Pacific Northwest and urge the development of an earthquake warning system there.

Volcano hazards. The Volcano Hazards program budget would remain level at $30 million under the House bill, while the Senate proposes a $1.4 million cut. Despite the decrease, the Senate states it is “encouraged” by the recent enactment of the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act and directs USGS to focus its implementation planning on “high-threat volcanoes in areas of sparse instrumentation.” Expressing a general concern that current monitoring and warning systems are “outdated and inadequate,” it also specifies $1.6 million for continuing instrument repairs and upgrades to better address risks posed by high-threat volcanoes, such as lahars, which are similar to landslides. The House does not specify an amount for such upgrades but emphasizes the importance of lahar monitoring.

Geomagnetic hazards. The Senate proposes increasing the $1.9 million Geomagnetism program budget to $3.4 million, while the House proposes an increase to $4.1 million. In both cases, the increase accommodates USGS’s request for funding to complete a magnetotelluric survey of the Earth’s electric and magnetic fields across the U.S in support of the National Space Weather Strategy and mineral resource characterization efforts. The administration had requested funding for the project through the Mineral Resources mission area.

Other highlights

Critical minerals. The House and Senate both provide the $11 million requested for the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), formerly known as 3DEEP, which aims to produce a topographic, geological, and geophysical map of critical minerals in the U.S. The effort follows from a 2017 executive order that established a “Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.”

Geologic and geospatial mapping. The House proposes increasing the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping program’s budget by $10 million to $34 million. Its report explains the funds are to “support the launch of Phase Three of the National Geologic Map Database that will bring together detailed national and continental-resolution 2D and 3D information produced throughout [USGS] and by federal and state partners.” It notes the information provides an “essential underpinning” to USGS Earth Map and Earth MRI and would enhance a number of other programs as well. The Senate proposes to keep the program’s budget level.

For the National Geospatial Program, the House proposes a $15 million budget increase to $85 million to support work on several of its products, including an additional $5 million for the 3D Elevation Program, which is collecting lidar-generated high-resolution elevation data across the U.S.

Climate science. The House proposes to increase funding for the Climate Adaptation Science Centers from $25 million to $38 million. Its report states that appropriators believe the administration’s proposed cuts to these centers is “shortsighted and counterproductive at a time when our natural and cultural resources, our communities, and our health are being assaulted by climate change.” It states the funding should bring the eight existing centers closer to their authorized funding level and specifies $4 million should go to creating a new center in the Midwest. The Senate proposes level funding of $44 million for a new account that combines the budget for the centers with that for climate R&D currently housed in the Land Change Science Program, which the House would also keep steady.

Facilities maintenance. The Senate proposes increasing the account for deferred facilities maintenance and capital improvement from $15 million to $71 million. Its report specifies the funding covers the construction of a new facility to replace one at Stennis Space Center that is scheduled for demolition. It also includes funds for replacing facilities destroyed in the 2018 eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. The House proposes a smaller increase to $20 million, noting the additional funding is for renovating laboratories that handle dangerous pathogens at the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin. Both reports state they include full funding for relocation of the USGS Menlo Park facility in California to nearby Moffett Field.

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