challenge that will require energetic leadership and inspired strategic planning within the agency, significant input from the scientific community and user groups, and the strong support of elected officials.
The USGS is at a critical juncture in its history. The context for federal science and technology policy is changing in the post-Cold War years (HCS, 1998). Federal investments in science and technology are being linked closely to broader national goals as the world becomes more crowded, the physical and biological environment more threatened, natural resources more depleted, the global economy more competitive, and world events more interconnected. These trends raise concerns for the health of the planet, the quality of human life, and therefore the nation's prosperity and security.
To address these challenges, science in general and federal science in particular must become more responsive to the needs of society (HCS, 1998). After World War II and the onset of the Cold War, scientific research became focused on the threat of Soviet expansionism and global war, but the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a global information economy have redefined the role of science. This involves a stronger orientation toward application to complex, integrated problems spanning local to global scales. In this new social contract with the nation, science must respond to national and global needs by providing information, explanatory theories, and decision support mechanisms to user groups.
Changes in the relationship between science and the federal government are taking place against a bureaucratic structure and talent pool that no longer apply in the post-Cold War years. Federal agencies are changing their structures to increase their sensitivity and responsiveness to demands from outside science. They are redefining their missions and reallocating resources to increase efficiency, deal with new technologies, promote integration of diverse approaches, and change their emphasis from outdated areas to newly defined ones.
The USGS is uniquely positioned to respond to the new challenges. Steeped in a long tradition of high-quality basic and applied science, the agency is evolving into an integrative organization with a clearly defined mission involving a combination of the sciences of geology, hydrology,