May 15, 2009
Julie Palakovich Carr, Public Policy Associate
Robert Gropp, Ph.D., Director of Public Policy
American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I (Eye) Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
United States Senate
The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony in support of increased appropriations for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for fiscal year (FY) 2010. AIBS requests that Congress provide the USGS with $1.3 billion in FY 2010, with at least $240 million for the Biological Resources Discipline.
AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950's. AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of some 5,000 biologists and nearly 200 professional societies and scientific organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 250,000.
The USGS has been chronically underfunded and the long-term vitality of the agency may be at risk without increased funding. The funding we request would restore past cuts to important science programs, provide a needed inflation adjustment, and implement important science and information dissemination initiatives. While the President's budget request of $1.1 billion is encouraging, we believe that this level of funding is insufficient to fully meet the needs of the agency.
The USGS provides independent research, data, and assessments needed by public and private sector decision-makers. A unique combination of biological, geographical, geological, and hydrological research programs enables USGS scientists to utilize innovative interdisciplinary research techniques to answer important questions. Moreover, the USGS collects data that other federal agencies and nongovernmental scientists do not collect. We cannot afford to sacrifice this information; rather, we should increase our investments in this work.
USGS scientists do not work in isolation. Through offices located in every state and partnerships with more than 2,000 federal, state, local, tribal, and private organizations, the USGS has built the capacity to leverage additional research expertise, such as through the Cooperative Research Units. Together, the USGS and their partners are addressing the pressing issues facing natural resource managers, such as invasive species, wildlife diseases, and endangered species.
A legacy of funding shortfalls and shrinking workforce has put undue burdens on the bureau, its employees, and the science it conducts in service to the Department of the Interior and the nation. AIBS urges Congress to provide $1.3 billion to the USGS in FY 2010.
Past Funding Shortfalls
Over the past decade, the USGS budget has not kept pace with inflation. In constant 2009 dollars, the USGS received less funding in FY 2009 than it did in FY 2002. The decline in real terms of the agency's budget has corresponded with a 15% decrease in the number of full-time employees at the USGS since FY 2000, according to the agency's annual budget requests.
The loss of over 975 government employees in less than a decade comes at a time when demand for the agency's services has increased. Each year, natural disasters such as flooding, wildfires, earthquakes, and landslides cost billions of dollars and cause hundreds of deaths. Demand for high resolution elevation maps has increased with concerns of sea level rise due to climate change. Mercury contaminated fish highlight the need for water quality monitoring and further biological research into the function of our environmental systems. Additionally, over 1,100 species are currently being managed as endangered or threatened species under recovery plans informed by USGS science. Data collected by the USGS are crucial to reducing risks from natural hazards, generating maps needed for commerce and resource management, monitoring water quality and quantity, and managing our nation's living resources.
The Biological Resources Discipline (BRD) in the USGS has also suffered the effects of a budget that has not kept pace with the rate of inflation. In four of the last five fiscal years, the BRD's budget has increased at a rate smaller than the rate of inflation. This has resulted in at least $19 million in lost purchasing power cumulatively since FY 2005. Since FY 2004, the BRD suffered an 18% decline in the number of full-time employees, according to USGS annual budget requests.
These funding shortfalls have come at the expense of important science programs that inform natural resources managers and reduce economic losses from invasive species and pathogens. The BRD provides scientific data that helps us understand how our nation's ecosystems are changing due to climate change and that informs our efforts to address these changes. Research conducted by the BRD addresses the risks of contaminants to our nation's living resources. The BRD also provides the science necessary to understand and manage our nation's endangered fish, wildlife, and plants. All told, these services contribute significantly to the health of our nation's environment and economy.
The USGS Budget Request
AIBS requests that Congress provide the USGS with $1.3 billion in FY 2010, with at least $240 million for the Biological Resources Discipline. This budget increase would go a long way towards rectifying past budget shortfalls and to ensuring that the agency continues to provide critical information to the public and to decision-makers at all levels of government. Given the valuable role of all programs within the BRD, AIBS requests that any budget increase for certain BRD programs not come at the expense of other BRD or USGS programs.
Natural resource managers demand reliable, relevant, and timely information. The Biological Informatics Program develops and applies innovative technologies and practices to the management of biological data. However, the ability of the Biological Informatics Program to fulfill this function has been jeopardized by a budget that peaked in FY 2004. The program received less funding in FY 2009 in actual dollars than was appropriated in FY 2003. Increasing funding for the BRD would enable the Biological Informatics Program to continue ongoing activities and begin to implement initiatives the resource management and research communities have identified as priorities, such as adding new nodes to the National Biological Information Infrastructure program.
The Cooperative Research Units facilitate collaboration between USGS scientists and researchers at 40 universities. These partnerships make additional intellectual and technical resources available to address the biological, ecological, and natural resource questions the USGS seeks to answer. As with other programs, funding for the Cooperative Research Unit has not kept up with inflation. The $2.4 million increase requested by the President will help to fill a backlog of staff vacancies at Cooperative Research Units across the country and would ensure that the program's contributions to biological research and to science education and training will continue.
The BRD provides the scientific data needed by the Department of Interior and others to effectively manage our nation's fish and wildlife. The Biological Research and Monitoring program develops new research methods, inventories populations of plants and animals, and monitors changes in these species and their habitats over time. This information is used to recover endangered species and prevent the establishment of invasive species, as well as to determine the impacts of climate change on natural systems. The science funded by the Biological Research and Monitoring program is vital for maintaining the health and diversity of our nation's ecosystems while balancing the needs of public use. These data are critically important for resource managers at the federal and state levels and should be fully funded and supported. The President's requested $11.3 million increase will help to address several pressing science needs, including the impacts of climate change on ecosystems.
Additionally, we also ask Congress to fully fund fixed costs at the USGS. The President's budget fully funds these costs, without which USGS science programs would likely be forced to reprogram funds that would otherwise support important scientific research.
The USGS is uniquely positioned to address many of the nation's biological and environmental challenges, including energy independence, climate change, water quality, and conservation of biological diversity. Biological science programs within the USGS gather long-term data not available from other sources. These data have contributed fundamentally to our understanding of the status and dynamics of biological populations and have improved our understanding of how ecosystems function, all of which is necessary for predicting the impacts of land management practices and climate change on the natural environment. This array of research expertise not only serves the core missions of the Department of the Interior, but also contributes to management decisions made by other agencies and private sector organizations. In short, increased investments in these important research activities will yield dividends.
There is growing concern from within the government and outside that funding for the USGS must improve if it is to continue to serve its mission. Without an increased investment in USGS science, core missions and national priorities will suffer. Thus, any effort that Congress can make to fundamentally improve funding for the USGS will be appreciated.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.