Lack of an Overall Plan for USGS International Science

The diverse international activities carried out by USGS scientists described in Chapter 3 are not presently part of an agency-wide plan or vision for international science. Although the current strategic plans of the USGS and the DOI do acknowledge fundamental trends such as globalization, climate change, and the importance of understanding the Earth as a system (DOI, 2011a; USGS, 2007), the plans do not explicitly address USGS participation in international science activities. High-level endorsement in these planning documents of the importance of USGS involvement in international science activities—especially those activities serving national interests and benefitting both the USGS and DOI domestic missions—would be consistent with the level of international work already being conducted by the Survey and, in the opinion of the committee, could mitigate some of the other challenges and roadblocks described below (see also Box 3.1).

DOI and USGS Domestic Mission Pressures

Under the Organic Act of 1879, the USGS was charged with “the classification of the public lands and examination of the geologic structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.” The Congress in 1962 expanded authorization for the USGS to pursue similar activities outside the national domain, although this authority was not given directly to the Survey but rather to the Secretary of the Interior, who may exercise that authority through the USGS (see Box 2.1).

The mission of the DOI significantly influences the USGS to maintain focused attention on its domestic role. For example, domestic agendas and performance measures are outlined in the DOI’s new five-year strategic plan (DOI, 2011a). The key roles to be played by the Survey in this framework are emphasized in a press release accompanying the unveiling of the strategic plan (USGS, 2011a).

Although USGS international activities are allowed under the Organic Act, the guiding authority of the Secretary of the Interior suggests the need for compelling arguments to undertake such activities—whether these activities are advanced within other parts of the Executive Branch or from within the USGS. One starting point for the USGS is to demonstrate reciprocal benefits to the United States of its international science work in support of the Survey and DOI domestic missions. These benefits can be readily documented (see Chapter 3) but in general, in the committee’s observations, they do not appear to have been adequately or consistently communicated over the years in the USGS or the DOI, or to the public. Some systematic and consistent basis for an evaluation of the benefits of these international projects could play a useful role as part of the Survey’s documentation of these activities. To the committee’s knowledge, no consistent internal or external evaluation mechanisms are currently in place at the USGS for their international work. Lacking



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