Future Directions and Challenges
USGS international work has a long and distinguished history. From its beginning in 1882 through the post World War II era, the USGS international work supported its domestic research priorities as well as provided support to many developing countries. During World War II, the Military geology branch played a role in supporting the Nation’s security and foreign policy. In the post 9/11 world, USGS international work has increasingly emphasized issues associated with national security and support for U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, USGS international work has also increasingly emphasized multi-disciplinary science, an emphasis that reflects organizational changes within the USGS. The transfer of USGS International Programs into the Director’s office in 2010 emphasizes the USGS commitment to have International Programs represent all of the USGS science capability and its six “mission” areas.
Although the USGS is part of a domestically oriented Department of the Interior (DOI), the scientific research it conducts is not limited by international, political boundaries. The USGS has long recognized the mutual benefits that ensue from interaction with scientific colleagues overseas. Such interactions contribute to a better understanding of earth and life science issues here in the United States. In addition, there are many scientific issues, such as invasive species and climate change, which can only be dealt with on an international scale. For example, significant lessons have been learned about the San Andreas Fault in California by studying the similar Anatolian Fault in Turkey. As described in 2000 by the Science Priorities Team for International Activities, “In a world that increasingly recognizes that the earth is a system, the USGS has a unique opportunity and responsibility to provide global scientific leadership” (USGS, 2000b).
The international activities of the USGS continue to evolve to meet other National needs. Often this work is in support of USAID’s foreign assistance efforts, work that almost invariably incorporates training, technical assistance and institution building. Increasingly, USGS international efforts have had and will continue to have an element of support for U.S. foreign policy. The most recent example is the DOS effort to promote S&T engagement with Muslim-Majority Countries. The USGS has a more than 50-year record of successful S&T engagement with the Islamic world, work that includes cooperative projects with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Most recently, the USGS has worked with DOD in a number of efforts to promote regional stability and economic growth.
The new USGS reorganization makes this an excellent time to review past USGS international engagements and contemplate what changes might be made to support and strategize future USGS international science. In making these evaluations, it will be critical to consider the role of international work in supporting the USGS core responsibilities as a domestically focused agency that is committed to multi-disciplinary science. It will also be