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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY 2 The Past and Present as a Prologue Established by Congress in 18791, the USGS was charged with the responsibility of classifying the public lands, and examining the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the nation. Adaptation has been a common theme throughout USGS history, even though its general mission and responsibilities have remained remarkably unchanged. Throughout its history, the agency has adapted itself to changing conditions and needs, and has demonstrated repeatedly the value to the nation of an independent federal agency whose primary purpose is to provide reliable and unbiased science data, information, and knowledge. The purpose of this chapter is to distill the historical threads that influenced the development of the USGS (Rabbitt, 1979, 1980, 1986, 1989). It traces events that led to the creation of the agency, discusses the evolution of the institution in relation to its external and internal environments, and describes what it is now. The chapter also shows that the agency has faced challenges and that lessons can be learned from the past to make the USGS stronger in the future. THE PUBLIC DOMAIN AND THE USGS A century before the establishment of the USGS, most of the nation 's people and land were on the eastern seaboard and the Piedmont. Then the frontier was the Appalachians. Beyond the 13 colonies was a vast area of public lands. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1802, the federal government 1 The USGS was formed later than 20 foreign geological surveys and many U.S. state geological surveys. For example, the British Geological Survey was created in 1835, the Geological Survey of Canada in 1842, and several state geological surveys in the 1850s (Eaton, 2000).
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY promoted the settlement of the public domain, and the nation's population center shifted steadily westward. The key to settlement expansion was transportation. Before 1830, the location and spread of American settlements was influenced by sail and wagon technology. Eastern seaports and growing centers on the inland waterways were preeminent. From the 1830s to the 1870s, the steamboat and the iron-based railroad were the principal innovations, and ports with large railroad hinterlands grew to dominance. In the 1870s, the East still had most of the nation's cities and population and most of the private and cultivated land. The West, especially west of the Mississippi, which had most of the public lands, was scantily settled. However, the Mississippi had been bridged, and in 1869 the golden spikes made the final link in the transcontinental railroad connecting the East and California. After the Civil War, pressure mounted for more knowledge about the natural resources of the West as the pace of territorial expansion, technological innovation, and burgeoning industrialization quickened. The need for an increasing and continuous flow of resources to fuel the Industrial Revolution led the federal government for the first time to spend money on scientific investigations. Four congressionally authorized and funded geographic and geologic surveys of the West were conducted from 1867 to 1879. These surveys—headed by Clarence King, George M. Wheeler, Ferdinand V. Hayden, and John Wesley Powell—often are referred to as “The Great Surveys.” Parties of scientists, surveyors, photographers, and journalists made these regional surveys. The survey reports made major contributions to our understanding of the West. King's survey, for example, explored the land along the fortieth parallel through which the first transcontinental railroad was built. Some scientists criticized the practical nature of the regional surveys. Laws such as the Homestead Act of 1862 and the General Mining Law of 1872 (NRC, 1999a) were passed by Congress to encourage settlement of the nation's interior and to facilitate the extraction of mineral, energy, and other resources to power industrialization. The Homestead Act allowed persons to obtain 160 acres of public land free by proving residency on the land for five years. The General Mining Law allowed persons to stake claims on the federal lands of the western United States without payment of royalty to the federal government and without acquiring title to the land itself. Consequently, the development of natural resources over much of the nation proceeded in an uncoordinated and at times thoughtless fashion that led eventually to calls for more
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY prudent management and stewardship. Despite the prevailing perception of inexhaustible natural riches, there was some support by individuals and groups for the conservation of resources. As early as 1872, the same year as the mining law, Congress passed legislation that led to the establishment of Yellowstone as a national park. In the 1870s, the nation went into recession. By 1878, only the King survey had completed its reports, and the inexpensive completion of the remaining surveys became a significant consideration. Congress turned to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and asked it to prepare a plan for surveying and mapping the territories of the United States with the best results at the least cost. As suggested by the NAS study, federal geology was consolidated into a single agency, the USGS, and it was placed in the DOI in 1879 (Sidebar 2.1). Clarence King, who became the first director of the USGS (Sidebar 2.2), made the agency one of applied geology, emphasizing mining. He organized the agency to demonstrate the utility of science at a time when an understanding of earth resources was of paramount importance to the development of the United States. King's scientists went to the major mining districts of Colorado, Nevada, and California. Their reports provided guidance to miners on where to look for new ore deposits and how to extract more ore from the deposits. They also helped investors in the mining industry to select their prospects. King wanted the work of the agency to include the whole country, but the DOI, uncertain about Congress' mandate, confined this work to the public lands. Two years later and under the direction of John Wesley Powell, the agency's purview was extended to include the eastern states as well as the West. And in 1897, the USGS did its first foreign work, in conjunction with the planning and design of the Panama Canal. THE EVOLUTION OF THE USGS The USGS evolved in concert with changes in its external and internal environments. It developed with changes in society, changes in the relationship between science and society, and changes within the institution itself. As a result of these changes, the USGS evolved from an agency that was organized primarily to discover what is out there (surveying and data collection), to one that tries to understand what is out there (survey and data synthesis), to one that tries to understand how what
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY SIDEBAR 2.1 Major World and U.S. Events that Affected the USGS Date Event USGS Programs and Structure 1879 USGS established 1886 Drought in western U.S. Stream gauging started 1891 Geologic and Topographic Branches established 1897 Forest Management Act 1898 Planning for Panama Canal First USGS international work 1900 Mining and Minerals Resources Division established Petroleum and Coal Program established 1905 Forest service derived from USGS 1906 Bureau of Reclamation derived from USGS 1909 Henry Ford introduces Model T 1910 Bureau of Mines derived from USGS 1914 World War I started 1917 Strategic Minerals Program started 1920 Federal Water Power Act passed USGS responsible for streamflow records 1929 Depression began 1930 Federal Power Commission derived from USGS 1934 Dust Bowl drought Grazing Service derived from USGS 1941 Pearl Harbor attacked 1943 Strategic Minerals Program expanded 1945 Atomic Bomb dropped 1946 Bureau of Land Management established Atomic Energy Commission established 1950 Korean War began National Science Foundation established 1957 Sputnik launched 1961 NASA established 1962 Marine Geology Program established 1963 Astrogeology Program established 1969 Apollo Lunar landing 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Widerness Studies started
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY 1970 Environmental Protection Agency Established 1971 Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center established 1972 LANDSAT-1 launched 1973 NOAA and USGS Earthquake Programs merged 1974 Atomic Energy Commission abolished and replaced by the Energy Research and Development Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 1980 National Mapping Division established 1982 Minerals Management Service derived from USGS 1983 Exclusive Economic Zone 1986 Wetlands Act passed 1995 U.S. Bureau of Mines abolished Minerals Information Function started 1996 Biological Resources Division established NOTE: NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration SIDEBAR 2.2 Directors of the USGS Clarence King 1879-1881 John Wesley Powell 1881-1894 Charles Doolittle Walcott 1894-1907 George Otis Smith 1907-1930 Walter Curran Mendenhall 1930-1943 William Embry Wrather 1943-1956 Thomas Brennan Nolan 1956-1965 William Thomas Pecora 1965-1971 Vincent Ellis McKelvey 1971-1978 Henry William Menard 1978-1981 Dallas Lynn Peck 1981-1993 Gordon P. Eaton 1994-1997 Charles G. Groat 1998-present
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY is out there works (process understanding). Changes in Society Profound changes have taken place in American society in the years since the establishment of the USGS. 1879 to 1920 During these years, railroads replaced inland waterways as the major determinant of American settlement growth and expansion. Coal supplanted wood as the main energy source. Surfaced road development and the use of petroleum began in the late nineteenth century. Street and cable cars were introduced; steel, chemical, and electrical industries emerged; and the telephone was invented. By 1920, technological innovations had transformed the United States from a rural to an urban-industrial nation (Figure 2.1). To meet the needs of the nation, USGS scientists provided information on mineral deposits, sources of commercial energy, and land and water resources. Of crucial importance was information on mineral and energy resources for industry and national defense. By the end of World War I, the agency was the nation's main source of data and information on critical earth materials. 1920-1975 Between 1920 and 1975, the national urban and regional system received a major jolt. People moved from cities to suburbs, from rural to urban areas, from the center of the country to both coasts, and from the Frostbelt and Rustbelt states to the Sunbelt and other amenity areas. Concerns about the environment and resources were being voiced as early as the 1960s. Inspired by sources such as Rachel Carson 's (1962) Silent Spring and construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, more Americans than hitherto started to view earth as fragile, rather than subjugable. Resources became entities to be managed. Americans also were shocked when the Organization
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Figure 2.1 Urbanization of the United States between 1790 and 1980. SOURCE: Berry, 1991, p. 32. of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupled oil prices in 1973. They were reminded that the nation, a neighborhood in an increasingly integrated and unstable world, was highly dependent on foreign sources of oil and the many other essential materials that sustain a modern society. In this period, the USGS exercised leadership as the provider of critical earth science information. It produced accurate, detailed geologic and topographic maps that were needed for the appraisal and analysis of resources; for industrial development, land reclamation, utility projects, and highway construction; and for improving regional urban planning and decision making. It collected and distributed streamflow, groundwater level, water hazard (e.g., flood frequency), and water quality data to support the work of water resource managers, emergency management officials, and engineers. The agency also continued to provide basic geologic
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY information to facilitate the growth of the built environment; inventory important materials such as building stone, sand, and gravel; and obtain information, both domestic and foreign, about essential mineral and energy resources. In addition to surveying and data collection, management, and dissemination, USGS scientists advanced understanding through research. Initially, they applied their expertise to studies of energy and resource development. Later, they added to their portfolio other problems of human existence such as those related to conservation, environmental contamination, and natural hazards. For example, the agency developed a program of research in the 1960s on coastal areas, whose counties were becoming the most densely populated and developed in the nation. This research enhanced the public's awareness of chronic events such as beach erosion, the fragility of coastal lowlands, the intrusion of salt water into aquifers, and the problems of pollution and waste disposal in marine environments. Also in the 1960s, the USGS became a focus for research on the causes, mechanics, and effects of earthquakes and on the development of methods to determine where and when earthquakes will occur and predict their potential severity to reduce the loss of life and property. This research was initiated at a time when metropolitan areas of the earthquake-prone western United States were growing rapidly. 1975-Present During the last 25 years, American society confronted dramatic economic, political, and environmental changes. The United States became more dependent on imported mineral and energy raw materials, as well as many other commodities and industrial products. Satellite and electronic technologies produced a major information explosion and brought an unprecedented acceleration of global interaction. The jet age increased sharply the frequency of personal contact. The communications revolution accelerated the migration of the U.S. population to the suburbs, the South, and California. Political and economic reforms in the former Soviet Union and Central Europe ended the Cold War, and market reform and democratization in many areas resulted in generally open trade. Evidence of ozone depletion increased awareness of global environmental change, and signs of rapid changes in the world's physical environment (e.g., land and water pollution, deforestation, soil erosion) spawned
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY widespread concern about the achievement of economic and environmental sustainability (NRC, 1999b). The momentous changes of this period had a major impact on the USGS. The agency continued with traditional pursuits such as monitoring streamflow and water quality, and conducting energy, volcano hazard, and earthquake hazard assessments. However, new techniques and technologies aided this work. For example, technological change produced a revolution in the agency's capability to monitor and analyze some of earth's resources and aspects of its physical and biological condition from air-borne and orbital platforms. The remotely sensed data are stored, processed, and distributed by the USGS's Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center. Computerized cartography enabled the agency to synthesize EROS Data Center data and other data into informative, easily interpreted maps that can be used for studying a wide range of problems such as volcanic eruptions, oil spills, floods, coastal storms, and nuclear reactor accidents. Moreover, geographic information systems (GISs) provided the opportunity for the USGS to store, retrieve, display, and process spatial data in ways not previously imagined. Increasingly, USGS scientists were called upon to deal in innovative ways with difficult ecological and environmental problems at scales ranging from the local to the global on issues such as livable and safer communities and the sustainability of resources. The USGS recognized that interdisciplinary work is required to understand complex processes relating to the air-water-human-land system. It also recognized that this work requires the collaboration of scientists from many disciplines both within the agency and from other agencies. Changes in Relationships Between Society and Science The nation needs an independent agency that is separate from regulatory agencies to develop and provide data, information, and knowledge about critical issues in the geological, hydrological, geographical, and biological sciences. However, support for USGS activities has waxed and waned depending on societal needs and circumstances. Invariably, Congress has been a strong supporter of the work of the agency during geopolitical crises. Two world wars in the twentieth century convinced society of the contributions of science to the security
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY and prosperity of the nation. USGS topographic maps yielded indispensable information. The agency's investigations and assessments of critical earth materials to meet national needs were deemed essential. During the early Cold War years, when the United States felt threatened by Soviet expansionism, there was considerable support for the agency 's uranium program. When national economic security or defense was not a critical issue, Congress has been more likely to question the relevance of the agency's work. The debate on the relevance of USGS activities has often come down to the nettlesome issue of basic versus applied research. In the early years of the USGS, Congress appreciated King's emphasis on the applied approach but disliked Powell's emphasis on basic inquiry. Consequently, the USGS's operating budget was greater under King than it was under Powell. The third director of the USGS, Charles Walcott, argued for a reasonable balance between basic and applied research. Although he agreed that the USGS existed to bring earth science to the service of society, Walcott argued that fundamental research is one of the most important tools that makes this possible. During the term of the fourth director, George Smith, the pendulum swung in favor of applied research. Smith transferred scientists from positions of basic science to the well-funded land classification program. Smith's action prompted some scientists to leave the organization. The alternating emphases on basic science and applied research in the first half-century of the agency's existence continued after World War II. From the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, federal funds were generously available to support science. The USGS responded by setting its own research agenda with relatively little intervention from government. A culture of entitlement arose among some USGS scientists, who adopted the academic philosophy that what matters is the quality of scientific achievements and not the choice of scientific problems to be solved. Although the USGS remained broadly focused on shifting national needs, this postwar period was, in general, a time of passive introspection at the USGS. Until the National Science Foundation (NSF) was established in 1950, federal funds to support earth science research went to the USGS almost exclusively. With the addition of NSF funding, university scientists became even more active in basic earth science research. The rise of the NSF diluted the preeminence of the USGS in earth science research.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Subsequently, other federal agencies added earth science to their portfolios. In the early 1960s, NASA became engaged in earth science research and technology. The Department of Energy (DOE) developed earth science expertise in the 1970s to address geothermal power, nuclear weapons testing (containment), and the need to dispose of nuclear waste. The USGS became challenged to define and articulate its role and capabilities with respect to other federal agencies. With the end of the Cold War, American society became increasingly skeptical about the value of science unless it demonstrably led to improvements in the human condition. Thus, science was being held accountable for its payoffs during a period of scarce public funds for scientific work. In the early 1990s, Congress began to exert its influence on the USGS “through limited funding growth and directed funding” (Eaton, 2000). Societal forces nearly succeeded in abolishing the USGS in 1995, when lawmakers wanted to reduce the size and scope of government. According to Gordon Eaton (2000): As a long-standing institution that had grown to look inward as it planned its future, the USGS occupied a conspicuous place on a hit list of allegedly unresponsive or irrelevant agencies that some in Congress wanted to eliminate. Absent concern for or understanding of the potential effect of such a move, these policymakers argued that work of the USGS was basically finished and that elimination of the agency would free federal funds, help lower the federal deficit, and facilitate tax cuts. Instead of being eliminated, the USGS was given added responsibilities; it absorbed the National Biological Service and part of the Bureau of Mines. The agency survived because its customers recognized “ the practical and meaningful value of its work. These constituents asked Congress to allow the USGS to continue its work to provide the knowledge, services, and products that they and the general public required” (Eaton, 2000). The challenges that the USGS faced in the recent past ought to make it a more outward-looking and dynamic agency in the future. It has learned at least two sobering lessons from its close encounter with extinction. First, the federal government controls the role of federal science; it assigns the funds. Second, USGS scientists must define and explain science's societal payoffs if they are to continue to be funded.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Fortunately, the agency has a long history of close links between research and social issues. This experience can serve the agency well under the new conditions for the federal support of science. Changes Within the USGS The USGS has experienced a number of organizational changes in its history. These changes reflect the needs of the times, politics, and the interests of the directors themselves. For example, under King's watch, the USGS had two divisions: Mining Geology and General Geology. To meet the needs of a rapidly industrializing nation, his emphasis was on mineral exploration. Other subjects, including topographic mapping, provided support for his primary mission. Powell emphasized General Geology and organized it into 10 subdivisions. He devoted attention to topographic surveys, land classification, and irrigation studies. The irrigation studies were prompted by the settlement of the Great Plains following the spread of the railroad network. The next director, Walcott, was also interested in water problems, and he established a Hydrologic Division in 1902. When the United States entered World War I, Smith established a division of Military Surveys. By World War II, a new round of reorganization resulted in an agency consisting of four branches: Geologic, Water Resources, Topographic, and Conservation. In the early 1980s, the name of the Topographic Division was changed to the National Mapping Division, reflecting the expanded responsibilities in geography and GIS, and the Conservation Division became a separate agency, the Minerals Management Agency. In 1996, Congress mandated that the National Biological Service be merged into the USGS as the BRD. The BRD is composed of scientists and staff who were originally part of other bureaus within DOI, namely the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Addition of the BRD may have been a more radical change for the USGS than any change in its 120-year history. There are growing threats to the integrity of ecosystems from habitat loss and fragmentation, land use change, environmental contaminants, and the invasion of nonindigenous species. To minimize threats to the nation's biological resources, the BRD provides accurate, comprehensive, and timely information on populations, communities, and ecosystems.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY The current director, Charles G. Groat, also is reorganizing the agency. This round of structural change involves bringing the institution in closer contact with its customers and partners. It also focuses on fostering interaction across administrative units of the agency. In the past, there was a lack of communication across divisions of the agency. “Over time, the scientific and technical programs of the USGS evolved so that they were not integrated across divisions and were conducted solely within divisional units” (Eaton, 2000). Moreover, scientists “in different fields of specialization examined problems from within the restrictive domains of their disciplines ... In this milieu, large investigative problems and contexts were necessarily reduced to isolated parts, the remaining elements of the whole left to others” (Eaton, 2000). THE USGS TODAY Currently, the USGS is organized into four areas of responsibility: geology, water resources, mapping, and biology. Until 1999, these areas were organized as the Geologic Division (GD), Water Resources Division (WRD), National Mapping Division (NMD), and Biological Resources Division. Together, these four units form an organization of some 10,000 employees housed in about 200 offices throughout the nation (Figure 2.2), and in a few foreign countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Guatemala). Over the past 15 years, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) personnel remained more or less unchanged (Figure 2.3a). However, the number of employees in the GD and NMD dropped by 32 percent (Figure 2.3b) but was compensated by a modest increase in the size of the WRD and by the 1996 addition of the BRD's 1,600 employees. The USGS operated in 1999 with appropriated funding of about $800 million (Figure 2.4), which was supplemented with about $300 million under reimbursable contracts with other federal, state, and local agencies. During the years 1974-1999, the agency's budget remained roughly constant (Figure 2.5a and Figure 2.5b) but declined slowly as a percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Figure 2.6); even though the required tasks of the agency increased. After the agency's close encounter with elimination, the USGS (1996a) prepared its first comprehensive strategic plan to guide the organization into the twenty-first century. It was viewed as an umbrella
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Figure 2.2 USGS office locations. SOURCE: USGS, 1998.http://www.usgs.gov/images/usgs_regions.gif
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Figure 2.3 (a) Number of full-time equivalent personnel for the period 1984 to 1999. SOURCE: Data supplied by the USGS. Figure 2.3 (b) Number of full-time equivalent personnel in the Geologic and National Mapping Divisions for the period 1984 to 1999. SOURCE: Data supplied by the USGS.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Figure 2.4 USGS funding in institutional context, FY 1999 appropriations. SOURCE: Data supplied by the USGS. Figure 2.5 (a) USGS budget in real-year dollars, 1975-1999. Source: Data supplied by the USGS.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Figure 2.5 (b) USGS budget in constant-year dollars, 1975-1999 SOURCE: Data supplied by the USGS. Figure 2.6 USGS budget as a percent of gross national product, 1975-1999. SOURCE: Data supplied by the USGS.
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FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY under which all organizational units of the USGS would create their own strategic plans (USGS, 1996a). The plan outlines a road map by which the agency is to address key societal issues. It recognizes that in a global economy and environment the USGS must extend its activities beyond the borders of the United States. It emphasizes that the USGS must develop more extensive partnerships with other federal agencies, academia, state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry to supplement the agency's skills and resources. Finally, it underscores the importance of scientists, from different units and disciplines working together to address public needs. Three years later, the USGS (1999a) revised its plan to clarify its strategic direction, and the agency anticipates the release of updated plans on a regular basis. What work will the USGS be doing in the future? According to the 1997 plan, the agency will be engaged in a well-defined group of activities: (1) water availability and quality, (2) natural hazards, (3) geographic and cartographic information, (4) contaminated environments, (5) land and water use, (6) nonrenewable resources, (7) environmental effects on health, and (8) biological resources. In the revised 1999 plan, the eight activities were collapsed into two mission goals: (1) hazards and (2) environment and natural resources. By 2005, the level of effort applied to these goals will be different from the 1997 level. To achieve its scientific mission in the new millennium, the USGS will have to anticipate and respond in a timely manner to a broad array of complex and intellectually demanding national, international, and global science problems, many of which involve whole systems. Success will depend on several factors including the outcome of the strategic change process presently under way and the ability of the USGS to attract and support an agile and diverse world-class staff. History will determine how well the USGS meets its mission in the early years of the twenty-first century.
Representative terms from entire chapter: