The Senate spending bill for the U.S. Geological Survey would maintain overall funding at current levels, while the House bill would decrease it by 4 percent. The chambers diverge on whether to adopt the administration’s proposed restructuring of the Climate and Land Use Change mission area, but they both generally support maintaining funding for geophysical research and monitoring near current levels.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committee’s fiscal year 2018 spending bills for the U.S. Geological Survey both reject the administration’s request for a 15 percent funding cut to the agency’s current budget of $1.1 billion. Instead, the House bill proposes a more modest 4 percent cut, while the Senate bill would maintain topline funding at the current level.
The House passed its version of the spending bill on Sept. 14 as part of a broader appropriations package. The Senate version was not released until Nov. 20, and has not gone through standard subcommittee or committee consideration. Instead, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) released a chairman’s mark for the bill.
Before the two bills are reconciled as part of a final spending package, Congress will need to agree on overall federal discretionary spending levels. Reports indicate that congressional leaders are considering significant increases in discretionary spending above the current caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, in which case agencies such as USGS could receive amounts higher than the levels currently proposed in the House and Senate bills.
The chart below shows the topline funding changes sought for USGS’s mission areas in the current House and Senate proposals. Tables containing funding figures are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Appropriators diverge on climate change research
The House bill would cut the $149 million Climate and Land Use Change mission area by 19 percent, while the Senate bill would only cut it by 1 percent.
The committees also diverge on the administration’s proposed restructuring of the mission area to a new one named “Land Resources.” The administration would eliminate the Climate Variability sub-activity and consolidate most of its programs into a program named “Land Change Science.” While the House report accepts the realignment, the Senate report rejects the change.
The House report expresses support for the agency’s Climate Science Centers, saying that it “expects the eight regional science centers to remain open and operating from within funds provided.” However, it also accepts the administration’s proposed funding cut to the centers.
Appropriators strongly support geophysical observations and monitoring
The committees did converge on the importance of the agency’s geophysical observations and monitoring programs.
Both would focus resources on the USGS-NASA Landsat 9 development program, which will culminate in the launch of a new Landsat land use observation satellite in 2020. NASA is responsible for developing the spacecraft, instruments, and launch segments, while USGS is developing the ground system and will manage satellite operations after its launch.
The House report would provide an additional $8.3 million for “the continued development of a ground system for Landsat-9.” The Senate report acknowledges USGS’s “obligations to deliver the ground system for Landsat 9 on time while maintaining support functions for other program areas,” and specifies a $9 million reduction to other satellite operations as a way to “to fully fund the Landsat system to stay on track with the NASA Landsat operation and plan.”
The House and Senate committees flatly reject the steep cuts proposed by the administration for the $145 million Natural Hazards mission area, instead proposing small cuts. Both bill reports would also maintain funding for earthquake and volcano hazards at near current levels.
Within the Earthquake Hazards Program, both specify $10.2 million to continue development of an earthquake early warning system and reject the administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning prototype. Both also express concern over the lack of knowledge and instrumentation on the Cascadia subduction zone and state that developing a new warning system for the Northwest will assist in the preparation and mitigation of impacts from major earthquakes.
The House report also specifies $6.3 million for regional earthquake monitoring, assessments, and research. The Senate report explicitly rejects the proposed $1 million cut to regional seismic networks that are incorporating data from EarthScope, earthquake monitoring instruments funded by the National Science Foundation.
For volcano hazards, the Senate report notes that the committee “remains concerned” that the networks monitoring volcanic and seismic hazards “are outdated and inadequate to address the substantial risks posed by those natural hazards.” While the House report specifies $1 million to continue work on next-generation lahar detection systems, which the administration proposed suspending, it also includes a proposed $1.6 million, or 6 percent cut to the Volcano Hazards Program.
Both reports also rebuff the administration’s proposal to eliminate the $1.9 million geomagnetism program, which monitors and models the global geomagnetic field and is a component of the U.S. National Space Weather Program.
Committee report comparison
Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports that accompany the House and Senate appropriations bills.
Climate and Land Use Change
House: “The Committee accepts the budget restructure as proposed in the request and recommends $120,603,000 for the Land Resources mission area. The recommendation includes an additional $8,300,000 for the continued development of a ground system for Landsat-9. Within funds provided for the National Land Imaging program, $4,847,000 is included for the National Civil Applications Center. The Committee recognizes the value of partnerships with research universities, Tribes and Tribal colleges and expects the eight regional science centers to remain open and operating from within funds provided.”
Senate: “The bill provides $147,907,000, a $1,368,000 decrease below the enacted level, for the Climate and Land Use Change program and the Committee does not accept the proposed budget restructure for this activity. A reduction of $8,996,000 has been taken for satellite operations and small program adjustments have been made to fully fund the Landsat system to stay on track with the NASA Landsat operation and plan. The Committee is aware of the Survey's obligations to deliver the ground system for Landsat 9 on time while maintaining support functions for other program areas; therefore, the Committee again directs the Survey to provide a spending plan in 60 days after enactment of this act on how to meet future year obligations under the current funding levels for the Climate and Land Use Change activity.”
Earthquake Early Warning System
House: “The Committee recommends $10,200,000 for continued development, expansion, and upgrading of the infrastructure necessary for an earthquake early warning system. The Committee is also concerned about the lack of knowledge and offshore real-time instrumentation available for the Cascadia subduction zone. Our scientific understanding of earthquakes and the ocean environment will benefit from the wealth of offshore data that should be collected. The continued development of an early earthquake warning system for the Cascadia system would help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts to the Pacific Northwest.”
Senate: “Within the Earthquake Hazards program, the Committee continues to support the early earthquake warning event characterization activity and expects the base level of $10,200,000 for an earthquake early warning prototype to continue. The Committee is concerned about the lack of knowledge and real time instrumentation available for the Cascadia subduction zone and the continued development of a system for Cascadia will help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts in the region in the event of a major seismic event.”
Regional Earthquake Monitoring
House: “The recommendation includes $800,000 for the Central and Eastern U.S. Seismic Network (CEUSN) and $6,250,000 for support for regional earthquake monitoring, assessments, and research.”
Senate: “The Committee understands the National Science Foundation [NSF] has supported temporary seismometer deployments across the United States for the EarthScope USArray project and that once the project is complete in a specific area the seismometers may then be available for regional networks, States, and other entities to adopt after the project concludes. The Committee has expressed support for the adoption of these seismic stations through the direction of implementation plans and reports and again instructs the Survey to include an implementation plan for the adoption of future seismic stations to be included in the proposed 2019 budget proposal. The Committee does not accept the proposed cut of $1,000,000 to the regional seismic networks which are working to incorporate and use EarthScope data and expects this funding to continue according to the same methodology used in fiscal year 2017.”
Volcanic Hazards Program
House: “The Committee recommends $26,521,000 for the Volcano Hazards program of which $1,000,000 is to continue necessary work on next-generation lahar detection systems at very high threat volcanoes. The Survey is directed to keep the Committee informed on progress made with the additional funding provided for volcano hazards in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 115–31).”
Senate: “The Committee is encouraged by the work to restore monitoring networks on high-threat volcanoes and the Committee includes an additional $500,000 to the base level of $6,950,000 to be continued for this activity in 2018 so that the Volcano Hazards Program [VHP] will be maintained. Funding is to be used to continue deferred network maintenance of volcano hazard monitoring stations for the highest risk volcanoes which, must include a plan for upgrading the telemetry at the networks from analog to digital and replacing analog seismometers with new, more sensitive, digital seismometers. The Committee continues to be concerned that a significant number of instruments within the VHP are not in compliance with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NTIA] radio spectrum guidelines and therefore directs the Survey to report back to the Committee within 60 days of enactment of this act with a funding plan that includes how many stations are out of compliance and the cost of bringing those stations into compliance.
The Committee remains concerned that systems and equipment used to monitor, detect, and warn the public of volcanic and seismic hazards, including lahars and earthquakes on high-threat volcanoes, are outdated and inadequate to address the substantial risks posed by those natural hazards. The Survey is directed to report back to the Committee within 1 year of enactment of this act on the agency's plan to repair, upgrade, and expand monitoring, detection, and warning systems and equipment on high-threat volcanoes.”
Energy, Minerals, and Environmental Health
House: “The Committee recommends $96,091,000 for energy, mineral resources and environmental health. The Containment Biology program is funded at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The Toxic Substances Hydrology program is funded at $11,398,000. The Committee supports the continuation of USGS research on understanding the prevalence of toxins in the nation's natural bodies of water by expanding its understanding of cyanobacteria and toxins in stream and wetland ecosystems. The recommendation includes an increase of $350,000 for the Survey to study cyanobacteria, increase our understanding of harmful algal blooms, and strengthen our ability to respond to outbreaks. USGS is encouraged to participate in interagency efforts to expedite the development and deployment of remote sensing tools to assist with early event warning delivered through mobile devices and web portals.”
Senate: “The bill provides $97,530,000 for Energy, Minerals, and Environmental Health programs, an increase of $3,219,000 above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The Committee acknowledges the high quality of research that USGS performs for all relevant Interior agencies, but is concerned that some scientific activities are reaching into non-traditional program areas at a rapid pace while not devoting enough resources to program areas that would reduce our Nation's dependence on foreign minerals. The Committee encourages the Survey to continue to work on the U.S. domestic mineral base survey and includes $1,000,000 towards this effort. The Committee also includes $5,200,000 for the implementation of Secretarial Order #3352.
The Committee continues to encourage additional work for geophysical and remote sensing activities. Geologic and geophysical mapping and the understanding they provide are the basis for resource discovery and without them the mineral potential is largely unknown; therefore, the Committee directs the Survey to continue to spend $1,500,000 on airborne geophysical mapping of the Arctic mineral belts until mapping is complete at a useful scale for mineral resource assessments which should include the Yukon Tanana Uplands. The Committee also expects the Survey to work collaboratively with State geological surveys to focus resources toward completing the core task of geologic mapping where there are regions of the country that have high quality mineral and energy resources that remain unmapped at a useable scale. The Committee's expectation includes that the Survey will consult with State geological surveys to update and conduct new evaluations of oil and gas resources in low-permeability reservoirs. The Committee accepts the proposed decrease of $1,550,000 for the toxic substances hydrology program.”
House: “The Committee recommends $210,754,000 for Water Resources. The recommendation does not support reductions to the National Research Program which would reduce research at the 32 USGS Water Science Centers across the country. Regional Groundwater Evaluations in the Coastal Lowlands and California Coastal Basin Aquifers, and the Groundwater Model Development, Maintenance, and Sustainability program are funded at fiscal year 2017 levels. …
The Water Resources Research Act was designed to provide more effective coordination of the nation's water research by establishing Water Resources Research Institutes at universities in each state, territory, and the District of Columbia. These institutes provide vital support to stakeholders, States and Federal agencies for long-term water planning, policy development, and resource management. The program is funded at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level of $6,500,000.”
Senate: “The bill includes $213,189,000 for Water Resources, a decrease of $1,565,000 below the current year enacted level. Program increases include $1,148,000 for groundwater resource studies within the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain and $300,000 to begin research on shallow and fractured bedrock terrain. The Committee expects the Survey to report back with 60 days of enactment of this act on a research strategy regarding the understanding of groundwater contamination threats. The Committee also expects the base level of $1,000,000 for the U.S.-Mexico transboundary aquifer project to continue and the groundwater monitoring network to be continued at $3,600,000. …
The Water Resources Research Act remains at the enacted fiscal year level of $6,500,000.”
Core Science Systems
House: “The Committee recommends $114,737,000 for core science systems, of which $24,397,000 is for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping program. The recommendation includes $67,354,000 for the National Geospatial program, of which $22,500,000 is for 3DEP National Enhancement. Landscape level assessments—Chesapeake Bay, Geospatial Research and 3DEP Technical Support, 3DEP Program Functions, and the Federal Geographic Data Committee Functions are funded at fiscal year 2017 enacted levels.”
Senate: “The bill includes $113,618,000 for Core Science Systems, a decrease of $2,432,000 from the current year enacted level. Program increases include $1,500,000 for 3D Elevation: National Enhancement and the Committee expects the base level of $7,772,000 to be continued for the 3D Elevation: Alaska Mapping and Map Modernization. Reductions to the Federal Geographic Data Committee functions in the amount of $2,700,000 have been taken.”
Menlo Park Facility Transition
House: “The recommendation includes $94,604,000 for rental payments and operations and maintenance. The Committee needs more information about the additional $10,500,000 requested for the rent increase at the GSA-owned Menlo Park campus. The Committee understands that the Survey is working with GSA on a rent deviation plan, and is preparing to relocate to the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field to save costs. The Survey is directed to work with GSA to develop a multi-year cost plan for Menlo Park and to brief the Committee once it is completed.”
Senate: “The bill includes $112,193,000 for facilities, deferred maintenance and capital improvement, an increase of $11,772,000 above the current year enacted level. The Committee has provided the proposed increase for the Menlo Park facility transition, but remains concerned about the cost of this transition as well as the deteriorating conditions at other facilities. The Committee directs the Survey to complete a facility assessment and report back to the Committee on the facilities in need of repair along with cost estimates and innovative proposals for resolving potential issues.”