A March 9 hearing on the USGS FY 2008 budget request before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies demonstrated considerable bipartisan support for the USGS and its scientific work, and for its director, Mark Myers. This was the first time in front of the subcommittee for Myers, who started in September 2006. On the other hand, the hearing brought out concerns that the request proposed cutting or eliminating several valued programs. Chairman Norman Dicks (D-WA) opened the hearing by calling the USGS "a very important bureau to the nation" and praising its reputation for "scientific excellence." Ranking Minority Member Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) commended it for producing "sound science" upon which public policy decisions can be made.
The FY08 request for the USGS is $975.0 million, a 0.3% reduction from final FY07 funding of $977.7 million. Subcommittee members expressed their displeasure at proposed cuts in several areas, including a program to study contaminants of fish in rivers and streams and a mineral resources assessment program. They also decried the elimination of USGS support for the State Water Resources Research Institutes, and for the development of a database to alert commercial remote sensing providers to federal government needs.
Dicks noted that Congress had restored funding for the federal-state cooperative water institutes in the past, and Rep. James Moran (D-VA) added that they had recently been authorized. Myers agreed that this was "a very good program" that brought in a lot of matching funding. He said the question was how to balance funding for baseline stream monitoring networks versus supporting the cooperative program with the states, and after conferring with the partners, it was decided to focus federal funding on collecting baseline data. "It's not a perfect world," he said. Moran also asked about cuts to research on endocrine disruptors that produce intersex fish, noting that the cut would save only $650,000, and complaining that children may drink from contaminated water. "We don't discount the severity of the issue," Myers replied, adding that the research would continue. "We are not dropping the ball," he said; "merely cutting back."
Noting that the request would eliminate USGS funding for creation of a commercial remote sensing database that would give commercial providers information on the remote sensing needs and requirements of federal agencies, Dicks asked, "Is that bad?" "Yes, it is," Myers responded, noting that such a database enabled the coordination and pooling of resources across federal agencies.
Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) called the funding cuts "very short-sighted," and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) termed them "very troubling." He added, "We are very much opposed to the way this Administration is reducing funding for domestic programs all across the board." Moran complained that the problem was "not a tight budget," but misguided priorities on the part of the Administration. "I don't want to beat up on you," he said to Myers, adding "there's no point in asking you; you can't justify it."
Much of the hearing dialogue centered around climate change research. Myers declared that there was no longer a discussion about whether climate change was occurring, and he added that "clearly there are human-produced effects." More robust monitoring - both in-situ and remote sensing - and integration of data were necessary, he said, to assess the interactions between natural geological changes and human-induced changes, and to be able to predict regional impacts and plan for adaptation. Asked by Dicks whether his agency had experienced pressure "to limit who can say what about climate change," Myers said he had, instead, experienced encouragement to be open about the survey's climate change research.
Tiahrt inquired about the status of remote sensing satellites. While Landsats 5 and 7 are both still in operation, Myers said, they are near or beyond the end of their design lives. The FY 2008 request includes funding for development of a Landsat Data Continuity Mission, with NASA receiving the bulk of the early funding for construction and launching, and USGS to take over operations after launch. Myers noted that even the expected 2011 launch would be likely to result in a 1-2 year gap in coverage, but doubted that the development and launch could be accelerated. In response to a question by Dicks, he said that two satellites in orbit concurrently provided the best coverage, but "financially, it's hard to justify more than one."
Myers pointed out that increases were requested for research on the Green River Basin in Wyoming as part of the Healthy Lands Initiative; for a national network of streamgages; for a natural hazards initiative in Southern California; and for implementing the USGS portion of the Ocean Action Plan. He also commented that one of his highest priorities for FY 2008 was the development of an integrated "National Map" of U.S. geographic data. He called it "the glue that holds the science together." Asked if sufficient funding was available for the map, he said that "for now," the funding was adequate.