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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY 5 Future Challenges The principal function of the USGS is to bring science to the service of society in a changing world. Demands placed on the USGS for this information likely will be greater in the future than in the past, and management of the agency will become increasingly challenging. This chapter discusses some of the administrative challenges that the USGS will face: priority setting, research program, external guidance, human resources, coordination and collaboration, reimbursable programs, and budget and funding. PRIORITY SETTING The mission of the USGS is to provide “the Nation with reliable, impartial information to describe and understand the earth” (USGS, 1996a). To fulfill this mission, it is imperative that the agency's work is designed to meet the changing needs of a broad-ranging group of customers. Consequently, communicating with customers about the kinds of science information they need is essential. For such communication to be effective, a workable process of priority setting should accompany it. Indeed, the future of the USGS depends on its skill in identifying and setting rational and realistic priorities and its ability to reduce commitments of time, money, and people that do not contribute to them. Information provided to the committee indicates that there is a tension caused by a mismatch between the demands placed on the USGS and the way in which its resources are allocated, and by the conflicting requirements of solving specific problems and addressing broader national needs. Three areas of tension in the planning process warrant immediate and continuous attention. First, although a priority-setting process is essential for the efficient deployment of USGS resources in
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY fulfillment of the basic mission of the USGS, this process must be responsive to the needs of its customers. In recent years, the USGS has produced six strategic plans 1 (USGS, 1996a, 1996b, 1997a, 1998a, 1998b, 1999a) that establish broad priorities linked to the agency's mission; however, in some cases, the priorities defined in these plans appear to have been developed without adequate dialogue with USGS customers. Second, some USGS planning goals have been unrealistically optimistic and have created unreasonable expectations among its customers. As one example of this problem, the BRD's Bureau Information Needs process, which helps set priorities for serving DOI land management bureaus, seems to have led to unreasonably high expectations by promising more than could be done and, in some instances, leading to customer disappointment and disaffection. Third, although USGS priority setting must be responsive to customer needs, the scope of the response must be restricted to the agency 's basic mission. As stated in Chapter 4, the USGS should avoid becoming a job shop for local constituencies or a competitor with private sector or state and local sources of scientific information. For example, some USGS work on natural hazards appears to have arisen out of local issues. In such cases, a local jurisdiction has a problem with a hazard such as flooding and channel erosion, and the district office becomes involved on a cooperating, partially funded basis. A member of the WRD's National Research Program also may be recruited to lend expertise. In the end, the result may solve a local problem, and a USGS scientist may craft an internal report or a journal article describing a methodological advance. This is a useful transfer of technology, a case of the USGS serving clients, but it is also ad hoc and a case of the agency supporting itself financially by providing services that could be provided by other organizations. Although in this type of activity the USGS delivers high-quality technical service to society, there is nothing strategic about such a use of the agency's expertise, instead, it is a diversion of the USGS's limited human resources. Meanwhile, national issues that require large-scale and long-term application of the agency 's resources remain unstudied and unresolved. 1 The Geologic Division, Water Resources Division, National Mapping Division, and the Biological Resources Division have written strategic plans (USGS, 1996b, 1997a, 1998a, 1998b), and two USGS-wide strategic plans have been written in the past five years (USGS, 1996a, 1999a).
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY The committee concludes that USGS priority setting in the past has been too ad hoc and insular. It notes that a significant step toward an enhanced priority-setting process is the DOI “Agreement on USGS Research Support for DOI Resources Management Bureau Needs” (Sidebar 5.1), which attempts to establish a process for determining USGS science priorities in support of the management and regulatory missions of other DOI bureaus. The USGS should work to ensure that the spirit and substance of this agreement are met. Similar, formalized approaches should be pursued with other customer groups, such as state geological surveys, environmental protection agencies, and resource management agencies. Thus, the committee recommends that the USGS consider consultative mechanisms for prioritizing its activities and seeing that they are responsive to customer needs and consistent with stated mission goals. This process should be designed to identify short-term, problem-specific needs, problems, and priorities; and, more importantly, to identify and garner support for longer-term core research priorities. RESEARCH PROGRAM An important aspect of priority setting for the USGS is the development of an innovative research program. Information supplied to the committee indicates that discussions about future science directions at the USGS tend to focus on well-known issues and their incremental advancement, not on the kinds of integrative research and process elucidation in which the USGS must excel to successfully address complex science problems in the future. The committee believes that the USGS must develop objectives for a long-term core research program that is supported programmatically by the Executive Leadership Team. One important objective of such a program should be to generate new knowledge on a set of inadequately studied phenomena that are central to a deeper understanding of interactions among natural systems and between nature and society. By “long-term” research is meant a period that is long enough to significantly enhance the understanding of specific, understudied science problems. This period should be on the order of 5 to 10 years. Such a time horizon would provide the opportunity for multidisciplinary teams of researchers to collaborate, apply novel approaches, and produce significant results on critical problems (NRC, 1997d).
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY SIDEBAR 5.1 The USGS Budget Development Process An agreement is in place to facilitate sound and effective USGS science support for the DOI's bureaus. It outlines the type and degree of support offered and gives input to the USGS for defining Government Performance Results Act metrics and outcomes. Steps in the new USGS Budget Development Process include the following: Step 1. Input from field managers: USGS regional directors hold regional science forums with DOI bureaus to review and synthesize priorities. Step 2. Individual bureau meetings: The director of the USGS meets with each DOI bureau director. Step 3. Identification of priorities, topics, and projects: The DOI Science Board, or a committee of the board, evaluates Steps 1 and 2 for information needs and overlaps. Step 4. Initial science support proposal: The USGS creates an initial proposal for applying USGS science abilities to DOI's bureau science needs. Step 5. Meeting to review science support proposal: The DOI Science Board, or a committee of the Board, reviews the initial science support proposal, assesses current research and its applicability, and evaluates pending budget proposals. Step 6. Final science support proposal: The USGS creates a final proposal outlining planned activities and funding for their enactment. The USGS submits this proposal for approval by DOI bureau directors. Step 7. Cooperation on budget support: DOI bureau directors and the USGS director take appropriate actions to support the proposal during the approval and appropriations process. Step 8. Project selection: The USGS director meets with DOI bureau directors to discuss specific projects, their schedules, budgets, and implementation procedures.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY In the past, much USGS research and development was focused reactively on short-term, narrowly defined problems and often failed to anticipate the emergence of critical long-term, problems. This approach is unsuitable for dealing with complex natural science problems. The solution to many of these problems requires a research framework based on integrative science—science committed to bridging barriers that separate traditional modes of inquiry (Gunderson et al., 1995; Houghton et al., 1996d, 1999j; Houghton et al., 1996; Johnson, et al, 1998). Nevertheless, not all complex science problems require a broad, integrative multidisciplinary research framework; therefore, the choice of research framework must fit the specific research problem. Problems that do not require a broad, integrative, multidisciplinary research framework should not be overlooked. The USGS should review the balance between problem-specific research and core research efforts that incorporate integrative science, in order to achieve an appropriate mix of core and problem-specific research efforts. In the committee's view, the USGS should give high priority to and expand considerably the core research agenda and should commit the necessary resources to undertake priority research. The research agenda should be developed through a formal and continuous strategic science planning process. Periodic review of the implemented research agenda should be undertaken to ensure a sustainable effort. To focus its efforts, the USGS should consider mechanisms to set its research agenda based on the following principles (NRC, in preparation): An agenda of both core and problem-specific research priorities should be set. The core research agenda should develop (1) greater understanding of the basic processes – physical, chemical, biological, and social – that underlie earth systems at different scales, (2) appropriate monitoring programs, and (3) research tools to identify and measure the attributes of whole systems (NRC, 1997e). The research effort should be coordinated with federal agencies such as the DOE, NSF, NASA, and NOAA to reduce needless duplication, ensure that gaps do not occur, and develop efforts that are complementary and compatible. The research effort should make extensive use of government (federal, state, and local), industry, and university partnerships and should involve foreign countries as necessary.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY The USGS should place more emphasis on multidisciplinary, integrative projects that address priorities of a national scale. The research effort should be proactive and should anticipate emerging science problems. The research effort should be accountable to the public to ensure that the research investment has been appropriately used to meet national needs. This system of setting the research agenda will require substantive communication within the USGS and, as the previous section notes, beyond its borders as well. Thus, the evolution of science priorities should be developed through continuing consultation with other parts of the DOI, federal and state agencies, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, congressional staff, research universities, relevant private sector groups, nonprofit organizations, and public interest groups. The result should be a portfolio of planned and coordinated core and problem-specific research activities appropriate to USGS expertise, with broad support inside and outside the agency. EXTERNAL GUIDANCE Organizations frequently use external advice to help guide program design and development. Many federal agencies have strengthened their programs through the use of external advisory committees. Examples of standing advisory bodies that are productive contributors to federal science planning and implementation include the NSF's National Science Board, National Institute of Standards and Technology Programs (administered by the National Research Council), the EPA's Science Advisory Board (administered by EPA), and the NASA Space Science Advisory Committee (administered by NASA). External advisory committees are stakeholder oriented and come in various sizes and shapes that fit various components and subdivision of the organization. No good public agency can afford to be without external advisory committees. The USGS has been relatively insular, which is counterproductive to its long-term scientific and political interests. The USGS could benefit from external advice at the agency level. Thus, the committee recommends that the USGS establish and make extensive use of an agency-level
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY external advisory committee. This advisory committee should not parallel the divisional structure of the USGS. Instead, it should be organized to reflect the breadth of the agency's mission-related themes. The advisory committee should consist of non-USGS members who have broad expertise and should include representation from federal and state agencies, industry, universities, nongovernmental organizations, consultants, and other users of USGS information, products, and services. Members should comprise “experts who not only display an informed sensitivity to the agency's mission but also enjoy unquestioned standing among their peers” (Jasanoff, 1990). The establishment of an advisory committee should ensure that customers and partners are adequately consulted in program planning and development. An advisory committee could identify issues that might impede the agency from accomplishing its scientific goals. External input could help significantly to strengthen interactions with government organizations. The advisory committee could make recommendations for organizational changes where program leadership is ineffective. In addition, the advisory committee could provide guidance if the agency's current move toward regionalization is considered to have adverse effects on the USGS. The establishment of an agency-level advisory committee would create new administrative burdens for USGS management. However, closer cooperation with customers and partners, less insularity, and a disinterested advice and assessment process could result in greater efficiency and effectiveness at every level of the agency. This advisory committee would also build strong customer support for the agency's programs. The committee also recommends that the USGS consider mechanisms to improve external guidance at divisional and program levels. The committee suggests advisory committees and specially constituted review panels. Charges for these advisory committees, as suggested by the NRC Committee to Review the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program (NRC, 1999k), include the following: maintaining focus and direction through oversight of strategic plan implementation; providing advice to divisional and program directors on budget and staff allocations;
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY evaluating products and providing feedback to the strategic planning process; and ensuring good peer review (quality assurance). A major advantage of standing advisory committees is that they have organizational memory, but because they need to have broad expertise, they may not be as well suited to reviewing specific aspects of a program as specially constituted review panels. Therefore, the USGS should continue to request specially constituted review panels to conduct independent reviews and provide answers to specific questions. HUMAN RESOURCES The underpinning of the scientific credibility and respect of the USGS has been its talented staff. Maintaining a talented staff is a major challenge for the USGS. Currently, the USGS has a large number of experienced and highly skilled scientists and technicians. However, the inability of the USGS to make more than a few new appointments in recent years is a matter of concern. The deep reservoir of accumulated knowledge that has been developed through decades of research is in danger of being lost through attrition because of forthcoming retirements unless existing staff and new staff overlap. Without new full-time hires to replace departing staff, the ability of the USGS to fulfill its mission in the future will be compromised and the morale of the remaining staff will deteriorate. High-quality personnel are essential for developing high-quality science information; therefore, the committee urges the USGS to devote substantial efforts to recruiting and retaining excellent staff. This initiative should be undertaken as part of the agency's strategic science planning and should take into account the new areas of expertise that will be necessary in the future. In identifying new hiring priorities, the USGS needs to pay special attention to its long-term core research agenda. Thus, opportunities should be made available to recruit scientists who can work effectively across program boundaries and who can be expected to provide leadership on the integration of science information. For example, it would be desirable for the USGS to recruit first-class scientists who could develop a broad and comprehensive understanding of aquatic habitats, conduct integrated hazards and environmental studies,
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY or contribute to such burgeoning multidisciplinary areas as industrial ecology and place-based science. The retention of skilled employees is critical to maintaining scientific excellence. A recent NRC review of the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program (CMGP) (NRC, 1999k) suggested that the agency has to identify ways to reward creative and resourceful staff. The report indicated that a number of “CMGP staff voiced concerns that the current reward system does not adequately recognize efforts that enhance overall CMGP stature but do not result in classic peer-reviewed publications ” (NRC, 1999k). The evaluation tool used to evaluate research staff at the USGS (as well as other federal agencies) is the Research Grade Evaluation Guide (RGEG). As recommended by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the USGS “applies the RGEG using a peer panel to assess the research assignment and the researcher's scientific contribution and stature” (NRC, 1999k). The Committee to Review the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program encouraged senior management of the USGS to explore the impacts of the current RGEG on programs and staff and to voice adverse impacts to OPM. In an environment of short-term justification and fiscal pressures, the USGS may be unable to expand its permanent work force even though the agency is increasingly being called on to play critical roles in complex science problems. If the size of workforce remains the same as today or continues to decrease, the modes by which the USGS employs people in the future will have to be increasingly flexible. To respond quickly to new business opportunities, emerging science issues, changing congressional mandates, or important new initiatives, the USGS will need a flexible workforce whose members have broad perspectives, adapt quickly to changes in program directions, and have the skills and knowledge to work in multidisciplinary, integrated teams. Consequently, the committee recommends that the USGS develop an organizational culture that encourages, values, and rewards flexibility and teamwork because these skills are critical if the agency is to become a natural science and information agency. As noted in the USGS strategic plan (USGS, 1996a), the agency must recruit and retain an agile, diverse workforce to achieve its mission in the twenty-first century. Improving workforce diversity is one of the specific objectives of the agency. As enunciated in the USGS strategic plan, by 2002 the agency will “achieve levels of diversity that are reflective of the Nation's citizenry” (USGS, 1996a). Moreover, as the
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY “clientele served by the Survey continues to grow more diverse culturally, economically and socially, the USGS must be sensitive to that diversity. In addition to traditional customers and constituents, the USGS must reach out to these new customers and stakeholders through targeted recruitment and other techniques which inspire mutual trust and confidence ” (USGS, 1996a). To facilitate integrated science, the issue of personnel location should be addressed. In the future, USGS professional staff members will be expected to increase the effectiveness of their multidisciplinary investigations, which can be facilitated by concentrating scientists from different disciplines in centralized facilities. The GD and NMD are centralized in the same three regional centers, but the BRD is housed in different regional centers and the WRD is state based. Although it is likely that the USGS will continue to have large regional centers with a few smaller offices, the committee believes that consideration should be given to the colocation of scientists from different disciplines in order for them to conduct integrative science projects more efficiently. COORDINATION AND COLLABORATION Even if the professional staff of the USGS were to increase substantially in the future, the increase would probably be insufficient for the agency to accomplish its goals solely through in-house activities. As the problems that the USGS has to address become more complex and multidisciplinary, it is unlikely that the existing professional staff, even with major retraining, would be able keep up with all of the new techniques and new knowledge, let alone cover all of the areas of expertise necessary to carry out an ambitious program of integrative science. To achieve its goals, the USGS will have to strengthen coordination and collaboration with other federal agencies and with academia and industry as well. Coordination and collaboration increase institutional flexibility in meeting mission goals. They permit the sharing of resources (personnel, equipment, and ideas), enhance the prospects for new project funding, and can lead to high-quality science. The committee views a commitment by the USGS to partnerships as well as to external grant programs and employee exchanges as critical to the ability of the agency to exercise national leadership in its areas of primary responsibility.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY A Biological Survey for the Nation (NRC, 1993b) outlines five specific mechanisms that the National Partnership for Biological Survey should establish for national coordination: (1) provide for high-level, balanced input from diverse participants and users into the development and implementation of the partnership; (2) take full advantage of the federated structure of U.S government, in particular the states; (3) have a clear lead organization with primary responsibility and authority for fostering coordination; (4) provide continuity of involvement by participants and users; and (5) be designed to encourage active, voluntary participation. Federal Partnerships The USGS should make extensive use of federal partnerships. Although the USGS works with virtually every federal government department, including Agriculture, State, Commerce, DOD, NSF, EPA, FEMA, DOE, NOAA, and NASA, communication tends to be more ad hoc than systematic, and there appears to be little coordination between the USGS and other federal agencies. In the 1970s, there was a successful coordinating committee between the USGS and NOAA, but for reasons rooted in history, there is now an absence of strong coordinating committees between the USGS and other agencies with conspicuous natural science components in their missions. The committee notes that the USGS is insufficiently engaged with related federal agencies whose work can enhance its ability to achieve mission objectives. In addition, the USGS can contribute to the work of these other agencies. Improved coordinating mechanisms could facilitate collaborative activities between the USGS and other agencies. The USGS and EPA could work more closely to assess the quality of the nation's water resources. The USGS and the USFS could cooperate on studies of biotic and water resources or on the cumulative effects of watershed management in the forested and mountainous regions of the country. The USGS and NASA could coordinate and design studies on geologic hazards and the hydrologic cycle. The USGS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could work more closely in studying the major rivers and floodplains of the nation. For the study of climate changes and their relation to water and biological resources, the USGS could potentially
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY benefit from cooperative programs with NOAA and NASA, including the near-surface atmospheric lands and water interface. In the areas of groundwater hydrology, geochemistry, shallow subsurface geophysics, and health risk analysis, collaborations with DOE's national laboratories may be beneficial. Several NRC reports have urged the USGS to seek partnerships and improve coordination with federal agencies. For example, its Review of the USGS Volcano Hazard Program (NRC, 2000b), the committee observed that there is insufficient integration and communication between the Volcano Hazards Program (VHP) and other federal agencies engaged in volcano hazards research. “This ‘balkanization' of U.S. volcanology results in inefficiencies and duplication of effort in the federal establishment” (NRC, 2000b). The report urges the VHP to improve coordinating mechanisms and, at the very least, to convene “regular meetings of volcano-related policy makers within the Washington, D.C. area, including the VHP, NASA, NSF, NOAA, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), FEMA, the Smithsonian Institution, and relevant offices of the Departments of Interior, Energy, State, and Defense” (NRC, 2000b). It emphasizes that the overall goals of the VHP would be improved considerably by strengthening coordination. For federal coordination, the Committee on the Formation of the National Biological Survey recommended an interdepartmental committee, which would include the heads of the essential federal agencies and departments (NRC, 1993b). The mechanism should provide coordination of federal policies and identify federal agency priorities for the conduct of research and assessments. The interagency committee would serve as a forum for policy discussion and coordination and as a framework for increased day-to-day interactions. Collaborations are a two-way street, and the responsibility for the current lack of coordination does not fall entirely on the USGS. It is possible to find local and recent successful attempts to increase communication among agencies, but these are typically arrangements among individuals or small groups. Commitments among agency leaders and incentives are needed to bring about integration. The USGS should consider the cofunding and comanagement of research projects as an option for better coordination with federal agencies. The committee believes that many future research opportunities for the USGS may be missed in the absence of a strong commitment to coordination and collaboration with other federal agencies. Therefore,
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY the USGS should place greater emphasis in the future than it has in the past on strengthening coordination and liaison with federal agencies. Industry and University Partnerships The USGS can also cooperate with academic and industrial sectors in addressing common objectives. Each sector has its strengths and weaknesses. Because of market forces, the private sector tends to focus on near-term research. By contrast, universities lean toward long-term research. It would be to the benefit of the overall USGS research program to increase interactions with both academe and industry. For example, the USGS could seek collaborative projects with industry (e.g., on issues related to natural resources, industrial ecology, and digital data information systems) where such projects are consistent with the goals and objectives of the agency. The USGS could also better accomplish its goals by enhancing collaboration with researchers at academic institutions. A good example of collaboration is between the scientists of the agency's Menlo Park office and scientists and students of Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. An additional example of the relationships between the USGS and academic institutions involves the water resources research institutions in all 50 states, territories, and the District of Columbia. Another appealing option is the colocation of staff and facilities at universities. Colocation has been successful at several universities such as the University of Arizona. External Grants Program In an era when the USGS can no longer be expected to conduct its basic research function in-house, the agency will benefit more than ever from the extramural grants program. Such grants buy the talents of university, government, and industry researchers. They would help programs to continue to produce high-quality research, allow flexibility for redirection of programs as needed, and provide opportunities to collaborate with research scientists at other institutions.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Employee Exchanges Another way to promote collaborations with other institutions is the exchange of employees with other government agencies and universities (on personal details through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act). In exchange, visiting scientists would bring fresh perspectives and keep staff aware of emerging research opportunities. Similar exchanges should occur within the USGS more frequently in the future. Intra-agency transfers foster cooperation, lessen the “stovepiping” of programs, and could accelerate the development of new integrated entities. REIMBURSABLE PROGRAMS The USGS commonly enters into cooperative programs with regional, state, and local agencies, Native American tribes, and other organizations. Usually, cooperative programs are stimulated by requests from other entities for scientific knowledge and data. Roughly $300 million, or approximately 25 percent of the USGS budget, is derived from reimbursable contracts, which is not exceptional by historical standards. During the years of the Great Depression, reimbursable work represented as much as 80 percent of the USGS budget. Reimbursable programs can have considerable value: they allow the USGS to exchange employees between programs, they allow the agency to leverage its funds and thereby expand its range of operations, and they provide a measure of the worth of certain agency products. The policy of the USGS is not to duplicate programs or projects carried on by others. Efforts are applied to investigations or activities that augment or complement those of other agencies or are needed to meet federal requirements, including those of other federal agencies (USGS, 2000e). The USGS also does work for nonfederal agencies. When it engages in such work, the USGS is required by policy to determine that the service is not available elsewhere, there is no conflict of interest or apparent conflict of interest, the service promotes the objectives of the USGS, and there is a benefit to the USGS in providing the service. (USGS, 2000e). The efficacy of engaging in reimbursable work has been a source of debate both within and outside the USGS for many years. Proponents emphasize that reimbursable work enhances USGS programs, expands
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY the workforce, and keeps the agency in close contact with customers. Opponents argue that reimbursable programs distort the priorities of the USGS and inevitably lead to problems of conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest that act against the best long-term interests of the agency. Since the bulk of reimbursable funds to the USGS come through the WRD, the debate applies mainly to the WRD at this time. The USGS has a long-standing partnership with state geological surveys and water resources agencies. The committee learned that this partnership is strained because of concerns by state surveys that the USGS inappropriately competes with them for local project funds. The concerns, real or perceived, about competition between the USGS and state surveys need to be addressed. The committee believes that USGS leadership and the directors of state surveys should establish a process of collaboration, where technical staff and financial resources are contributed by both to specific, integrated programs. This type of collaboration has worked well between the USGS and state environmental quality programs. Although this collaboration may not provide external funding for the USGS, it does provide an opportunity for it to acquire additional water quality data beyond what its staff alone could collect, thus supplementing a key component of the agency's strategic plan without expending additional resources. From the state perspective, USGS databases and staff expertise are key components of partnerships. Many environmental problems addressed at the state level require an understanding of geologic systems. Clearly, the reimbursable work of the USGS benefits many agencies. However, some of the reimbursable programs cause friction between the USGS and state and private entities, are viewed as conflicts of interest, and may divert the agency from its mission. Existing guidelines for reimbursable programs appear to be insufficiently clear or inconsistently applied (USGS, 2000e). The USGS, specifically the WRD, is aware of the issue and has taken steps to avoid unfair competition with the private sector. However, the issue of USGS funding through reimbursable work deserves review with regard to its effects on customer relations and with regard to the USGS mission and strategic plan. The committee believes that the USGS should place more emphasis on whether potential cooperative projects meet mission and strategic plan objectives. Careful selection of outside funding opportunities can nurture research priorities. This effort requires focused and coordinated leadership and program management. In the committee' s view, appropriate
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY reimbursable programs are partnerships in which the USGS performs a function that is consistent with its basic mission and that contributes to its strategic objectives without competing unfairly with organizations that can provide a similar service. BUDGET AND FUNDING The agency's budget remained roughly constant between 1974 and 1999 even though the tasks of the agency increased. The diminished buying power is a matter of concern. It increases the burden on an already overworked professional staff and decreases the ability of the agency to accomplish its program goals. To be sure, the agency should seek opportunities for cost-sharing collaborative efforts that are relevant to program goals. Yet even with a strong commitment to coordinated research efforts with government, industry, and academia, it will be difficult for the agency to attain its goals in the future, especially those associated with a long-term core research program. Increasingly, the USGS is being called upon to solve complex science problems that are critical to human and ecosystem survival. Long-term problems such as those associated with natural hazards that pose increased risks to the nation cannot be solved with the current level of program funding. As the agency's responsibilities continue to increase, its budget should be increased to a level commensurate with the tasks. With an appropriate level of funding for practical research related to national needs, the USGS will be better able to fulfill its mission. Although the committee has no basis on which to recommend a specific funding level, it urges the USGS Executive Leadership Team to estimate the amount of funding required to develop long-term, innovative, high-priority projects. These estimates, which could be validated by an agency-level external advisory committee, could be used to justify future budget requests. The Executive Leadership Team and advisory committee(s) could identify places where cuts in funding might be made to help balance necessary funding increases. The committee also believes that future budgets should contain sufficient flexibility to permit the USGS to respond rapidly to new challenges and emerging opportunities. Owing to the complex congressional appropriations process, the linkage between the USGS budget and its strategic plan may be imperfect. Thus, it is imperative for
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY the leadership of the USGS to have open and effective communication with Congress, to articulate broad goals for the organization that are aligned with national interests, and to ensure that the USGS director is an effective spokesperson and visionary leader. Some budget flexibility is essential for the agency to respond adaptively to new opportunities. The committee suggests that a fraction of the agency's operating costs be set aside for new initiatives analogous to a venture capital fund in the private sector. The committee recommends that discretionary funds be made available to the director for the mobilization of new integrated science initiatives as needs and opportunities arise. SUMMARY Demands placed on the USGS will be greater in the future, and management of the agency will become increasingly challenging. To accomplish its mission, the USGS will have to address a number of administrative issues. An important task for the USGS is to put in place a formal mechanism for assessing customer needs and prioritizing activities that are consistent with program goals. The development of a research program involving problem-oriented and core research is an important aspect of the priority-setting process. The core research program should emphasize long-term research on problems of importance to the nation. External guidance would assist the USGS in program design and development. Therefore, the USGS should give high priority to the establishment of an agency-level external advisory committee and, where there are none now, external advisory committees at divisional and program levels as well. The USGS is fortunate to have a highly talented and experienced work force to develop and provide science information. In view of many upcoming retirements, the USGS should devote substantial efforts to recruiting and maintaining excellent staff. Rejuvenation of the work force should take into account the new areas of expertise that will be needed in the future. In an environment of fiscal pressures, the agency may not be able to make as many new appointments as it might wish. As a result, a premium will be placed on a flexible workforce. Even with a flexible work force the USGS will be unable to accomplish all of its goals in-house. Therefore, the agency should make a
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY strong commitment to increasing its coordination and collaboration with federal agencies and with academia and industry as well. Cooperative programs with regional, state, and local governments and with other entities can be helpful too. However, great care should be taken to ensure that reimbursable contracts meet mission and strategic plan objectives and that they do not compete unfairly with state or other organizations. An overarching management issue is the agency's budget. Since 1974, the agency's budget has remained roughly constant even though the tasks of the agency have increased. At a time when the agency is being ask to provide effective solutions to complex problems, the USGS must be effective in requesting increased funding, especially for a long-term core research program. Without adequate funding to support the research emphases outlined in this report, problems associated with such issues as natural hazards and water scarcity will remain understudied, with profound affects on the welfare of the citizens of the United States. The committee also recommends that discretionary funds be available to the director of the USGS as a way to mobilize new integrative science initiatives as needed.
Representative terms from entire chapter: