of 33 European Geological Surveys,1 the Coordinating Committee for Geoscience Programmes in East and Southeast Asia,2 and federal models such as the Chief Government Geologists’ Committee in Australia.3 Geological survey agency delegates at the 2008 International Geological Congress in Oslo also discussed ways to further develop the organization of the International Consortium of Geological Surveys (ICOGS) (IGC, 2008). New arrangements for coordination are also emerging, such as the OneGeology project,4 which has recently led to greatly improved collaboration among geological surveys around the world.
Availability of Resources
Because the USGS is the premier Earth science agency in the United States, Survey scientists and administrators receive numerous requests for assistance to other countries and for involvement in international cooperative activities. They face a tension between (1) their inclination, as scientists, to do more international work, and (2) their duty, as public servants, to discern the appropriate level of such commitments and the benefits both to U.S. taxpayers and the USGS domestic mission. A constant factor in considering international engagements is understaffing—even to handle domestic responsibilities. For example, in the Earthquake Hazards Program, staffing has been reduced from a high of over 400 full-time equivalents in the 1980s to fewer than 250 at the end of 2009, despite increased responsibilities for monitoring, data analysis, and providing real-time information products (SESAC, 2010). Foreign travel also poses a challenge because commonly it is expensive.
International activities, insofar as they are supported by external funding, provide a diversified source of financial support for some USGS science centers. However, the committee was informed that restrictions on sources of funding and means of funding (for example, in-kind contribution, repayment to a USGS account, payment directly to the traveler) have increased in recent years, making it more difficult to organize repayment of foreign travel costs for Survey scientists. Questions about how to assess overhead on refunds of travel costs have also been raised, with potential to impact the availability of funds originally intended for carrying out USGS scientific work. These issues may, in turn, affect the effectiveness of and terms upon which agreements are negotiated with potential project sponsors within the federal government (e.g., the U.S. Agency for International Development) or by institutions such as the World Bank. The committee also observed the challenges associated with making longer-term plans for multiyear international projects within a federal system currently structured toward annual funding appropriations.