Coming into the FY 2018 appropriations cycle, the President had proposed a large 15 percent cut to U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific arm of the Interior Department. Subsequent funding levels recommended by Congress were better, though the House would have still reduced funding overall while the Senate recommended a flat budget. Thus, it was welcome news when Congress passed its recent budget deal lifting current sequestration caps, which ultimately enabled a modest increase for USGS in FY 2018.
Notably, the omnibus includes language that would prevent the Interior Department from implementing reorganizations – including workforce restructures and closures, consolidations, and relocations of offices, facilities and laboratories – without notifying Congress in advance. This is a direct response to a department-wide reorganization plan unveiled by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in January 2018 that has raised concerns within the scientific community.
Bottom Line: The total USGS budget would increase by $63 million or 5.8 percent above FY 2017 enacted. Most mission areas, except Ecosystems, would see funding gains, with the largest increase reserved for Natural Hazards (see Funding Table link above).
- The Volcano Hazards Program was granted a large $14.5 million or 51.6 percent funding boost above FY 2017 for the repair and upgrade of analog monitoring systems on high threat volcanoes, and to continue implementation of the National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS).
- The Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) System on the West Coast received $12.9 million for its continued buildout, an increase of $2.7 million above FY 2017 enacted, whereas EEW was slated for elimination by the Administration.
- Within the growing Mineral Resources program, the omnibus provides $4.7 million to carry out Secretarial Order 3352 relating to the development of energy resources in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.
- Research on cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms would receive a $1.4 million plus-up.
- The omnibus preserves funding for the agency’s eight climate science centers; the White House had proposed cutting their number in half to four.
- Funding was also maintained for the National Civil Applications Center, which uses satellite imagery to investigate climate change and other Earth dynamics.
- While the overall Ecosystems budget decreases slightly, the omnibus specifically rejects program terminations in the request for Status and Trends and the Wildlife Program.
- Landsat-9 development is fully funded in the omnibus.
- Core Science Systems, which includes the agency’s 3D Elevation Program, would hover around FY 2017 levels.
Other Notes: Congress expects geologic and biologic carbon sequestration research to continue, despite proposed cuts in these areas, according to language included in the omnibus.
Historical Context: USGS funding has largely stagnated over the past decade, and is beginning to fall below the overall discretionary curve (see graph above). This comes amid intensifying debates over wildlife policies and climate and environmental research. Certain program areas, particularly natural hazards science, have been prioritized over others including ecosystems and water-related research. Overall, the agency’s total discretionary budget for FY 2018 is is 2.3 percent below FY 2008 levels, after adjusting for inflation.
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Photo Credit: USGS