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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program Executive Summary Like food, air, and water, minerals1 are a fundamental ingredient of human life. As the population has increased and our society has developed, the need for minerals has grown and diversified. As minerals have been the basis of breakthroughs in civilization, they are now essential for the present and future technological revolution. The United States is generously endowed with mineral resources. It is one of the world’s largest consumers of many mineral products and one of the world’s largest producers. The demand for metals and industrial materials in the United States will remain for the foreseeable future, and information on all aspects of production and consumption is critical for ensuring that these materials are available for the United States as well as other countries. In addition, information is needed to improve understanding of the potential impacts of development of these resources. As a heavy user of minerals from both domestic and international sources, the United States requires quality minerals science and information to make sound policy decisions. Over time, advances in minerals science and improvements in minerals information contribute to greater availability of minerals, at lower cost and with less environmental damage; help society respond to the depletion of known mineral deposits and contribute to the substitution of relatively abundant minerals for increas 1 In this report, minerals are defined as all nonfuel mineral resources, including industrial minerals such as aggregates.
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program ingly scarce ones; and help develop alternative sources of supply for minerals subject to unexpected supply disruptions. Housed within the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Mineral Resources Program (MRP) provides domestic and international science and information to other programs and disciplines within the agency, other agencies within the department, and other departments within the U.S. government. In addition, state agencies, private industry, academia, U.S. citizens, and the international community use information provided by the MRP. The USGS has carried out these functions in the past, and is respected nationally and internationally for the quality of its information. In 1996 the National Research Council (NRC) reviewed the USGS’s Mineral Resource Surveys Program (MRSP) plan. The recommendations from that study were used by the USGS in redirecting the program. Shortly after the 1996 NRC assessment was completed, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Mines was abolished and that agency’s minerals information function was transferred to the USGS. The minerals information function, now executed through the Minerals Information Team, was incorporated into the new MRP. Six years following the 1996 NRC evaluation of the USGS’s MRSP plan, the NRC was asked to examine the USGS’s actions with respect to the 1996 recommendations and incorporation of the minerals information function and to consider future aspects of the MRP. The NRC was not asked to conduct a comprehensive review of the program or the projects within the program. Specifically, the NRC was asked to (1) assess the USGS’s response to the 1996 review of the MRSP plan; (2) evaluate the contributions of the minerals information functions in meeting the goals of the USGS and its partner agencies; (3) characterize how the customer base for the program has changed since the 1996 review (who are the appropriate customers?); and (4) examine how the program’s vision and activities should evolve to meet the nation’s future needs over the next decade. THE MRP TODAY Since 1996 the MRSP has undergone substantial changes, including a change in name to the Mineral Resources Program. These changes resulted from several factors, including recommendations made in the 1996 NRC report, significant decreases in budgetary allocations, and manage-
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program rial reorganization. The program’s organization changed from subprograms to teams, and the entire USGS converted to matrix management. The MRP has developed a new five-year plan (Kathleen Johnson, USGS, personal communication, 2002). The MRP is the largest program in the geology discipline at the USGS. MRP funding has remained rather constant since 1997. The diminished buying power results in a decrease in the ability of the program to meet its vision, mission, and program objectives. One result of the matrix management style is that on an annual basis since 1997 the USGS has not been able to easily determine the exact number of people actually working within the program because staff effort is allocated across different programs. In addition, staff tend to work on more projects than in the past. The committee is concerned that the fragmentation of staff effort may create unexpected long-term consequences for staff performance, quality of MRP work, and documentation. The MRP has a strong tradition for reporting its science. Technical publications document the science performed by MRP researchers, make detailed research data and conclusions available to users, and represent the quality of work performed within the MRP. In meetings with MRP staff, the committee heard concerns about how costs for publishing USGS open file reports, professional papers, bulletins, and circulars—the USGS’s traditional modes of data dissemination—are passed down to researchers. The staff expects that in the future less research will be published in these traditional and highly respected publications and that more will be published in refereed journals, trade journals, and conference proceedings. While publication in refereed journals validates research quality and is encouraged by the committee, the committee is concerned that, since outside journals are often hesitant to publish large quantities of data, this might lead to less data being published. The committee also heard concerns that there might be a trend to publish more information as fact sheets. The committee recognizes that fact sheets serve a niche, especially for the general public. The USGS may wish to document its success using fact sheets given their inherent value to society. However, fact sheets should not replace publishing in peer-reviewed journals and traditional USGS technical publications. Because the free and open exchange of information and interpretations is critical to the traditions of science generally, the committee believes that trends that place high-quality publications at risk should be resisted if not reversed. Specifically, the committee recommends that comprehensive, mineral-
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program related data and research continue to be published in the USGS’s traditional modes of data dissemination. Projects are a reflection of program goals and objectives. One of the MRP’s largest projects is the global mineral resource assessment, which is a cooperative international effort to assess the world’s potential for undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources. The committee learned from discussions with stakeholders and MRP scientists that, although the global resources assessment may be important, there is a question as to whether it is scientifically valid, accurate, and precise. The committee concludes that the global mineral resource assessment would benefit from additional collaboration with potential users as well as from an outside review panel, which could provide objective guidance and balance. The committee recommends that an external review panel be inaugurated to gauge methods and results of the global mineral resource assessment and other similar types of assessments. The committee proposes that the MRP follow the model used by the USGS’s Energy Resources Program. In 1996 the clients and users of MRSP products included federal land management agencies, the mining and quarrying industries, environmental organizations, state geological surveys, state regulatory agencies, local governments, universities, other federal agencies (particularly the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corp of Engineers), and other groups within the USGS, particularly the Water Resources Division and others in geological mapping, energy, and marine and coastal programs. Currently, the MRP divides its user base into five categories (cooperators, collaborators, clients, grantees, and customers), which define both the nature of the relationship and the products delivered. For purposes of this report all of the above categories will be referred to collectively as “users.” The top three users since 1997 include the federal government, trade associations, and the news media, followed closely by state and local agencies. The most significant increase since 1997 is a 5 percent growth in the number of mining companies listed as MRP users. The committee concludes that the types of users have not changed significantly since 1996, but the number of users has increased by approximately one-third. The committee concludes that the current MRP customer base is appropriate, but could be expanded.
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program RESPONSE TO 1996 RECOMMENDATIONS In 1995 in response to congressional direction, the USGS developed a plan for its mineral resource activities, The National Mineral Resource Surveys Program: A Plan for Mineral-Resource and Mineral-Environmental Research for National Land-Use, Environmental, and Mineral-Supply Decision Making (USGS, 1995), and requested an evaluation of this plan from the NRC. The 1996 NRC committee determined that the plan was a logical and necessary continuation of the mineral resources objectives and programs at the USGS and praised the program for moving beyond its traditional role of activities, for advancing the understanding of mineral deposits, for providing the basic geological information for new areas with mineral potential, and for facilitating land-use planning by federal and state agencies. The 1995 program plan proposed strengthening activities for understanding the environmental consequences of minerals development and including these activities within the broader scope of mineral deposits research. Although the context that the program is functioning in today has changed considerably since 1996, this committee believes that the general recommendations of the 1996 NRC report remain directly relevant to the MRP. These recommendations were in four areas: program vision, mission, and objectives; increased collaboration with users, balanced with independent research; maintaining and increasing core competence; and planning, prioritization, and performance. The current committee examined the 1996 recommendations and corresponding responses prepared by the MRP coordinator and staff. While overall the program has been guided by the 1996 report, the MRP five-year plan, and the goals established by the USGS Geologic Division Science Strategy (USGS, 1998a), there are some areas where the current committee believes the MRP would benefit from additional consideration of the 1996 recommendations. Vision, Mission, and Objectives The first general recommendation states: “The plan should be modified to include new, clearly articulated statements of vision, mission, and objectives” (NRC, 1996). The 1996 committee believed that the formal statement of the program’s vision, mission, and objectives is necessary
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program for the program’s planning, prioritization, and assessment of performance. The committee could not find any official public statement of the vision and mission, although the concepts are implied in the MRP planning documents. The committee had to rely on MRP personnel to provide the following vision and mission statements: MRP Vision Statement MRP is the sole federal provider of high-quality scientific information, objective resource assessments, and unbiased research results on mineral potential, production, consumption, and environmental behavior. MRP Mission Statement Provide information on regional, national, and global context for mineral resources Develop and enhance understanding of relations between minerals, mineralizing processes, and their contributions to our quality of life Transfer technologies beyond minerals sciences Support land management and the nation The vision statement does not read like a vision statement but rather like a statement of what’s true. The committee believes that a vision statement should be a more lofty, something to reach for, even if it has essentially the same phrases. The committee also found the MRP’s mission statements vague and unclear. The objectives and goals of the program are listed in MRP planning documents and on the program’s Website (Kathleen Johnson, USGS, personal communication, 2002). The committee notes that the goals and objectives are written as vague, open-ended, deterministic statements rather than definitive goals and objectives against which progress can be measured. The committee is concerned that there is no mention of research in the operational objectives. It is not clear to the committee what the core functions are or how they are prioritized. The committee believes that the lack of clarity in the goals adversely affects the MRP’s ability to plan and communicate the value of its work to others.
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program In summary, the vision, mission, operational objectives, and goals themselves are confusing and do not provide the guiding light that they should for the program. Planning activities for each year should clearly show that topics respond to the vision and mission (and objectives), thereby reinforcing their importance throughout the organization. The committee concludes that the MRP has not adequately responded to the first general recommendation of the 1996 review. The committee recommends that the MRP develop simple, clear mission and vision statements, goals, and objectives that will serve as the guiding principles for the program. In addition, the mission and vision should be clearly articulated in MRP planning documents, Website and other materials, in statements by leadership and in communications with other parties inside and outside the Department of the Interior with whom the MRP must work, so that they all present a clear vision of future directions for the MRP. Research Balanced With Increased Collaboration With Users The second general recommendation states: “To fulfill its mission, the MRSP and its plan should move away from an organizational culture dominated by self-direction and independent research toward one that also embraces projects developed through collaboration with users” (NRC, 1996). Currently, MRP projects are developed in collaboration with internal and/or external users, and most projects involve interdisciplinary teams (Kathleen Johnson, USGS, personal communication, 2002). The committee heard presentations from several agencies relating to collaborative efforts with the MRP. Interactions with some agencies are active and result in extensive collaboration. The committee also heard that some opportunities to develop collaborative arrangements have been missed. The committee concludes that there is more collaborative project work being done now by the MRP than in 1996. However, there is still some need for improvement in communication and collaboration with some users. Maintaining and Increasing Core Competence The third general recommendation states: “The MRSP should place more emphasis on maintaining and continuing to develop its core compe-
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program tence in mineral deposits research and minerals-related environmental research in order to anticipate and respond to national needs for mineral resources information” (NRC, 1996). The 1996 committee defined the program’s core competence as (1) excellence in mineral deposits research, (2) scientific integrity, and (3) expert professional staff. The committee recommended that research on geology, geochemistry, and genesis of ore deposits be continued. The committee also noted that this research should include both applied and basic research. Core competence is a popular and much utilized concept for developing a business strategy. It has many definitions, and although the 1996 committee did not specifically define the term, this committee understands it to mean the following: core competency is fundamental knowledge, expertise or skill in a specific area. The committee notes that the term “core competence” is used in the MRP’s five-year plan (Kathleen Johnson, USGS, personal communication, 2002). However, it does not appear that the MRP has established the elements that make up its core competence. It is difficult to assess whether or not the MRP has maintained its core competency in mineral deposits research and minerals-related environmental research using easily tracked, strictly quantitative criteria. The committee was not able to obtain from MRP staff the necessary and appropriate information to make direct comparisons between 1996 and 2002. The committee therefore attempted to qualitatively evaluate whether the MRP has maintained its core competence. The MRP has continued research on the geology, geochemistry, and genesis and environmental characteristics of mineral deposits and has taken steps to ensure data integrity. However, the committee was unable to determine if the MRP continues to maintain its core competence in mineral deposits research and minerals-related environmental research because the MRP has not documented its continued core competence in these areas. The committee recommends that the MRP perform and publish a self-assessment to identify and define its core competence, to evaluate actions needed to maintain such competence into the future, and to relate those findings to its staffing and staff development plans. As the MRP evolves (see Chapter 5), it must build new core competence in selected new disciplines that address important issues that the organization and its stakeholders think should be addressed.
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program Planning, Prioritization, and Performance The fourth and final general recommendation states: “The MRSP and its plan should place greater emphasis on improving mechanisms and procedures for comprehensive planning, setting priorities, and evaluating and enhancing performance, particularly through external reviews or advisory panels. The level of funding for MRSP and the balance of funding among its subprograms deserve thorough review by the MRSP staff, users, and collaborative agencies and organizations” (NRC, 1996). The USGS has developed a program and project planning process that takes place across organizational structures and disciplines and reflects matrix management, enhanced regional leadership, and an enterprise approach to science. The committee has several concerns relative to program and project development and selection. The committee heard from collaborators, stakeholders, and USGS personnel that program planning is complex and inconsistent. The MRP uses external reviews to provide input; however, these reviews are not as comprehensive as suggested by the USGS program review plan. The committee concludes that the MRP would benefit significantly by having a highly focused central organization, which is objective driven and possesses clear lines of responsibility for each project. The committee further concludes that the current process of program planning and prioritization is unnecessarily complex and confusing in the context of the MRP’s priorities, operational objectives, and goals. The committee found it difficult to determine how MRP performance is actually measured. The committee was concerned about the lack of external review of projects. The committee recommends that the MRP establish an external documented review procedure in accordance with the USGS guidelines that will evaluate program outcomes relative to those that were planned. The committee believes that the absence within the MRP of a well-defined and implementable programmatic vision is the cause of many of the deficiencies in the planning process and performance criteria. Without established direction, program selection can easily shift in response to external review and user requests. The committee recommends that the MRP implement a management review of proposals to align the work with strategic objectives, a rigorous external review process, and an internal review process that cuts across organizational units.
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program Recommendations for MRSP Subprograms Because of programmatic changes, it was difficult to assess the MRP’s response to the specific recommendations related to its subprograms. The present committee believes that the MRP has responded to the spirit of many of the specific recommendations, but that there are areas where the specific recommendations are still relevant and further improvement is warranted. Specifically, the 1996 NRC committee recommended that the MRSP rigorously document the specific contributions and impacts of past resource assessments related to land management decisions. That committee strongly recommended that the MRSP publish a single document, written for the lay audience, which documents, explains, and discusses the usefulness of mineral resource assessments and their applications in land management. The MRP responded to this recommendation by stating that efforts to implement it were stymied by difficulty in obtaining information from land management agencies (Kathleen Johnson, USGS, personal communication, 2002). The present committee recommends that the MRP document the contributions and past impacts of resource assessments and other MRP work products. The committee believes that such documentation would help communicate the usefulness and current and past value of assessments to a broader audience (e.g., the Office of Management and Budget) and as part of a broader evaluation of the extent to which mineral assessments and other MRP work products are worth the time and effort devoted to them. Other examples from the 1996 report where the specific recommendations are still relevant and where further improvement is warranted include (1) external input to and review of resource assessments; (2) more research on the differences between natural and man-made geochemical anomalies; (3) increased leveraging of funds from outside sources, including foreign sources; and (4) enhancing the mentoring program to encourage the hiring of young scientists of excellence. MINERALS INFORMATION TEAM The Minerals Information Team (MIT) collects, analyzes, and disseminates information on domestic and international supplies and demands for minerals and materials essential to the U.S. economy and na-
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program tional security. MIT activities are guided in part by statutory requirements in laws and executive orders, which assign the Department of the Interior responsibilities linked to national security and emergency preparedness. A variety of speakers from government agencies, many of them partner agencies of the USGS, spoke to this committee about the continuing value of the MIT’s traditional functions and products. There was wide praise for the availability and usefulness of the statistical data generated by the MIT. These representatives indicated that the data are used in many arenas, ranging from foreign policy to international and domestic commerce. Several of the agency representatives stated that the advice and information provided informally by the mineral commodity and country specialists were just as valuable as the published data. The committee concludes that the MIT has done a good job of making the transition from the Bureau of Mines to the USGS and, moreover, has performed very well in helping the USGS and its partner agencies meet their goals. This committee has recommendations in three areas aimed at enhancing the already important work of the MIT. Many, if not most, of the data series collected by the MIT have been collected for many years by the USGS and previously the Bureau of Mines without an ongoing and systematic review of the nature and overall scope of the data collected. In an era of declining real (inflation-adjusted) budgets, the MIT needs to consider carefully which data it collects and needs to assess whether there continues to be a national need for these data. Furthermore, the team’s core competencies of producing data and information products should be examined in light of the many data collection and survey needs in other parts of the USGS. The committee recommends that the MIT establish a permanent advisory committee consisting of a wide range of users of MIT data and analysis to ensure that its activities are fully updated and of relevance to its users. The advisory committee would review the nature and overall scope of MIT activities, including what data should and should not be collected. The membership of the advisory committee should be rotated so that it has an appropriate balance between new blood and historical memory at each meeting. The MIT is so active in collecting data that qualified mineral commodity specialists, country experts, and researchers in the minerals and materials analysis section are hindered in contributing to basic research and to advising other federal entities on public policy matters. The more
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program purely statistical functions such as survey response rates, format of data delivery, and timeliness of data release need to be carried out optimally to increase time for research and advisory activities. One of the important areas in which the MIT should have analytical activities is mineral availability—not just the purely physical (or geological) availability of mineral resources but also the economic and environmental dimensions of availability. The important availability concerns center on the location-specific issues of costs of production, potential environmental issues associated with mining and mineral processing, and the potential social disruptions sometimes caused by mining. Material flows analyses, which attempt to quantify some of these availability issues, represent one important area for MIT analytical activity. Material flows studies require significant data on production, consumption, waste, recycling, and appropriate substitutes in order to provide an accurate balance calculation and to provide public policy guidance. Detailed interaction between team members and research scientists could improve data collection and data products for the material flows studies. Information provided by these studies could be incorporated into the global mineral resource assessments and could significantly enhance their value. The committee concludes that the expertise and experience of the MIT mineral commodity specialists, country specialists, and researchers in the minerals and materials analysis section are important resources. The committee recommends that the MIT’s analytical activities and capabilities be strengthened so that mineral commodity specialists, country specialists, and other MIT researchers can conduct more material flows studies and work more directly with the mineral assessment and environmental scientists in their basic research. The relocation of the MIT within the MRP of the USGS provides an opportunity for collaboration with other parts of the MRP, which in turn could enable a beneficial broadening of the role of the MIT to satisfy national needs. For example, communication and interaction between mineral deposits geologists within the MRP and the appropriate mineral commodity specialists within the MIT would broaden the horizons of both groups and create an understanding of strategic resources throughout the world that would provide the federal government with additional information necessary for sound public policy decisions. The MIT needs to take better advantage of the geoscience expertise of the MRP in designing and carrying out MIT projects and should increase its contribution to the MRP’s geoscience activities.
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program The committee concludes that the MRP produces and maintains a large volume and variety of minerals information, which is not easily used in the estimation of resource potential. Having increased interaction and partnerships with MRP staff would be one way to leverage the expertise from each group and provide more easily analyzable data. The committee recommends that the MIT work with the MRP resource assessment team to improve the classification and usefulness of its data. This would be a particularly important contribution to the MRP’s global mineral resource assessment project. ENVISIONING THE FUTURE In developing a vision and mission for the future, the committee suggests that the MRP consider five questions, the answers to which will frame (or define the scope of) the MRP of the future. How should “mineral resources” be defined? How should “information” be defined? What is the appropriate balance between research and service? How “international” should the MRP be? Who are the appropriate users and partners? The committee recommends that the MRP develop an expanded vision that embraces a broad definition of mineral resources, including a focus on life cycle and sustainable development; a strong international role, which will expand the current users; and a balance between basic and applied research, recognizing that many of the program priorities are oriented toward more applied research. An expanded vision will most likely require the USGS to reevaluate its core competence—building new core competence in selected new disciplines. As the nation’s need for minerals science and information evolves, the MRP must evolve to meet these needs. The committee strongly encourages the MRP to consider broader programmatic elements, namely (1) environmental stewardship with special emphasis on developing postmine land-use alternatives integrating GIS-based information from mines and urban planners and addressing unique environmental issues associated with mine closures, (2) data integration/data mining accentu-
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program ating the capture and storage of irreplaceable mining district data and the use of such archived data for creating the first national three-dimensional database to support minerals evaluations and contribute to broader crustal interpretation, (3) an expanded regional and global perspective focusing on life-cycle studies of mining districts for developing and applying sustainable mining models for global application, (4) methods and technology development in minerals technology to support the U.S. minerals industry in a global economy, and (5) sustainable land use planning centering on scientific and technical leadership for evaluating national mineral resources for improved land management decisions. The MRP is a logical organization to conduct these five, broad programmatic areas, and is involved in projects in some of these areas, because it already focuses on three central mineral issues: the economy and public policy; the environment and public lands; and sustainability and societal need. The MRP also provides information on land stewardship, material flows and other vital information to government policy makers for responsible management of public lands. The MRP also possesses a vast array of tools and technology (for example, modeling, data integration, sophisticated analytical capabilities, mineral exploration techniques, and partnering experience with other agencies and organizations) that can support initiatives in these five programmatic areas. The committee recommends that the MRP develop and expand its vision and program objectives to incorporate components of the existing program and elements of the new programmatic areas. Other government agencies may already be doing some work in these areas. The MRP should determine what ongoing activities exist in these areas and initiate its work in a collaborative manner. IMPLEMENTATION The committee examined several aspects of potential program evolution, including changes in the mission and vision statements, changes in the breadth of the program, and new programmatic areas that the MRP could undertake. As noted earlier, the committee believes that planning, goal setting and outcomes measurement are important and have not been adequately addressed by the MRP. The committee concludes that, to implement new programmatic areas within the existing MRP, mechanisms for prioritization and planning, project selection, review, performance
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Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program assessment, and determining value to the nation need to be established. A simple and transparent planning process that results in fully documented program and project plans is essential. These plans should be easily understood by other federal agencies, Congress, and MRP staff. The committee urges the MRP to devote substantial efforts to recruiting and retaining staff for new program areas and to also look to interagency/university employee exchanges and an external grants program to gain the necessary expertise. As the MRP’s responsibilities increase, the budget should be commensurate with the assumed tasks.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: