The U.S. Geological Survey’s budget would drop 15 percent to $984 million under the Trump administration’s request for fiscal year 2020. The administration proposes to significantly restructure several science programs and relocate part of the agency’s headquarters staff from Virginia to Colorado.
President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey seeks a 15 percent cut to its current enacted level of $1.16 billion. Although the proposed $984 million topline is the highest sought by the administration to date, the budget's priorities resemble those advanced in the previous requests.
The steepest cuts are once again aimed at science programs related to ecosystems and climate science, while those focused on natural resources and natural hazards preparedness would see smaller decreases. Figures for each mission area and selected programs are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Budget would restructure headquarters and science mission areas
The administration proposes to relocate about 60 employees from the USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia, to a new facility in Lakewood, Colorado, while about 900 employees engaged in “operations and science activities” would stay in Reston. The agency’s budget justification states the move would improve collaboration with other parts of the Interior Department and stakeholders whose activities are concentrated in the West. The proposed move is part of a department-wide reorganization of regional activities.
The administration also proposes to restructure five of the seven USGS mission areas. 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.
The 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.”
It is not yet clear if Congress will approve the proposed changes. The chair of the House appropriations subcommittee for USGS, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), expressed skepticism about the department’s reorganization plans at a recent hearing on the budget request. McCollum also criticized the proposed cuts to USGS’s environmental health and climate research programs.
“We cannot escape climate change’s calling card when we witness extreme weather events, devastating floods, storms, and wildfires. Despite the clarity of that message and the need to act now, the [Interior] Department’s budget instead chooses to invest $25.3 million in an ill-advised reorganization proposal,” she said.
Selected program-level proposals
(Image credit – USGS)
Land imaging. As part of the restructure, the National Land Imaging Program would be merged into the Core Systems Science mission area, which houses other geospatial and geological mapping programs. Under the current budget structure, the request includes $81 million for the land imaging program, which is currently funded at $99 million. Of the requested amount, $32 million would go toward development of a ground control system for Landsat 9, a flagship land imaging satellite scheduled for launch in December 2020.
Climate science centers. The administration proposes to move the Climate Adaptation Science Centers program into the Ecosystems mission area. Under the current structure, funding for the centers would be halved to $13 million. The budget justification states this amount would support a “Climate Adaptation Science Center with 3 regional hubs at host universities, refocusing work on the highest priority needs of Interior bureaus and States, supporting their development and adaptation of fish and wildlife management plans, and natural resource adaptation science needs.”
Critical minerals initiative. Funding for the Mineral Resources program would remain steady at $60 million, half of which would go toward studies and data collection related to critical minerals, an administration priority. Of this amount, the administration requests $10.6 million for an Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), formerly known as 3DEEP, which would support airborne surveys of U.S. regions thought to have significant mineral resources. Congress provided $9.6 million to the program for the current fiscal year.
Earthquake hazards. The overall budget for USGS earthquake monitoring and early warning programs would drop from $83 million to $64 million, equal to their fiscal year 2017 level. Work to develop an earthquake early warning system for the West Coast would bear the brunt of the cut, falling from $23 million to $8 million. USGS nevertheless commits to operating the recently launched ShakeAlert system and “working with Congress to determine the appropriate Federal, State, and local cost share associated with any future ShakeAlert developments.” The administration also requests a $2.6 million increase for improvements to the National Seismic Hazards Model, which informs seismic provisions in U.S. building codes.
Volcano hazards. Funding for the Volcano Hazards program, which supports five volcano observatories across the U.S., would drop from $30 million to $28 million. The decrease is mostly attributable to USGS not requesting additional money for acquiring next-generation lahar detection systems. USGS also indicates it plans to repair equipment damaged by the 2018 eruption of Mount Kilauea in Hawaii, though it does not provide details on its plans to relocate the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Geomagnetic hazards. In contrast to previous budget requests, the administration does not propose to terminate the $1.9 million geomagnetism program, which maps the Earth’s magnetic field. It also requests an additional $1.7 million in the Mineral Resources program to help complete a magnetotelluric survey of the U.S. The budget justification notes collecting such data is important for understanding the potential impacts of space weather, which can induce damaging electromagnetic currents at the Earth’s surface, and references the administration’s recently released strategy for space weather preparedness.