In two separate hearings, members of the U.S. House of Representatives questioned whether the Obama Administration’s FY 2012 budget request for the United States Geological Survey properly prioritizes the missions entrusted to USGS. The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on March 9, and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies held its hearing on March 17. Members of both parties and both committees expressed concern that proposed cuts to various USGS programs would undermine Survey functions of national importance, though the two committees differed in which programs drew the most focus.
Republicans on the Energy and Mineral Resources Committee zeroed in on whether USGS was too focused on climate change monitoring and ecosystem restoration at the expense of its natural hazards and mineral resources programs, which they said can save lives and create jobs. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said “I’m wondering where the ‘geology’ is at the United States Geological Survey. It’s been completely swallowed up by all the ‘new missions and reorganizations’ at USGS. If I was to guess the name of your agency by looking at your budget it would be called the United States Ecosystem Restoration and Climate Monitoring Service not the United States Geological Survey.”
Lamborn opened his questioning of USGS Director Marcia McNutt by quoting the day’s oil and gas prices and their impact on the U.S. economy. “How can the Geological Survey in its budget continue to support cuts in the energy and minerals programs while at the same time increasing significantly the budgets for ecosystem restoration and climate change?”
McNutt answered by saying that tough choices had to be made in order to keep the budget to an appropriate level, but that there is not necessarily the bright-line distinction between the various missions that the Chairman’s question implied. By way of example, she cited the Survey’s ability to use ecosystem restoration funds to determine appropriate siting of wind and solar energy production facilities.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) echoed a theme raised by Lamborn, asking why USGS would cut its natural hazards program, which he said could save lives in the near future, while maintaining its climate change program. McNutt answered that in fact the climate change program will take a substantially larger cut than the natural hazards program under the proposed budget.
In his opening statement, Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-NJ) expressed concern about potential cuts to the national streamgage network and National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program and the proposed elimination of the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program, citing the import of these programs to state geologists and local communities who rely on the data provided.
During his question time, Holt gave McNutt the opportunity to refute Lamborn’s accusations of wasteful practices at USGS. He led her with a question about the Survey’s use of funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, asking “can you say that those [funds] were spent wisely, without duplication or redundancy?” McNutt eagerly replied that she believes the USGS used its ARRA funding wisely and was able to advance a number of critical priorities.
The Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, though cut short by votes on the floor of the House, had a very different tenor. Both Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) expressed great appreciation for the important work carried out by USGS. Their main concern was that proposed funding cuts would adversely impact this work. Simpson, in his opening statement, said that “by cutting $89 million and 230 FTEs from core science programs, this budget runs counter to the President’s commitment to restore science to its rightful place.”
Signaling the direction the hearing would take, Moran opened his remarks by saying “I’d just want to associate myself with the remarks of the distinguished Chairman. I didn’t find anything that you have said that I would disagree with. In fact, I agree strongly with the points that you have made Mr. Chairman with regard to this budget.”
McNutt acknowledged that proposed cuts could impact quality programs, but again stressed that in the current budget environment, sacrifices had to be made across the board. She spoke of the work USGS did to help control the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and USGS’s commitment to maintaining its core functions, and thanked the subcommittee for its history of strong support of the Survey.
The hearing closed with Simpson’s comment to McNutt that “I think among both Republicans and Democrats, you’ve got some fans in Congress on what USGS does and the way they do it.”
Selections are from a transcript prepared by and used with the permission of CQ Roll Call.