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Funding
Minerals on the line

In January, President Bush delivered a blow to the geosciences with his proposed budget for fiscal year 2005. The budget effectively would cut the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) by about $18 million, back to fiscal year 2003 funding levels. Of that loss, the USGS Mineral Resources Program is slated to lose $6 million dollars, with an additional cut of $750,000 to the program’s information division.

“To the best of our knowledge no one else does this kind of work or has the excess budget to pick this up.”
Kate Johnson, USGS

Until the budget is finalized, “we can’t answer what exactly will happen,” says Kate Johnson, head of the Mineral Resources Program, “but there will be an enormous reduction in the amount of information we can provide.” The program collects minerals-related data for the United States, as well as compiles reports on worldwide mineral resources and tracks mineral production.

The eastern, central and western regions of the minerals program collect data such as stream sediment geochemistry and geographic information on mineral locations. Users of such data sets include other federal agencies (such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers), as well as individuals (such as academics doing nationwide studies who need the USGS’ broad comprehensive data sets), companies working on remediation sites, and state and local governments.

“Obviously the [mining] industry uses the information a great deal,” says Carol Raulston, spokesperson for the National Mining Association (NMA). “We’re hopeful that Congress will restore the funding.”

If Congress accepts the cuts to the Mineral Resources Program, the broad data services would not be maintainable, Johnson says, though how extensive the reduction would be remains to be seen. “To the best of our knowledge no one else does this kind of work or has the excess budget to pick this up,” she says.

The Bush budget would completely cut the Aggregates and Industrial Minerals projects, which conduct research on industrial minerals and mining processes. Also, the minerals information group would take a big hit, diminishing their current production of approximately 700 reports a year. The reports, released on a monthly to yearly basis, cover about 90 commodities in the United States and 180 other nations. “We will produce fewer reports,” Johnson says, “and will work with users and partners to figure out which to cut.”

Raulston says the cuts to information services are of particular concern because of the United States’ growing reliance on other countries for mineral resources. Both vanadium and titanium, among other industrially used minerals in the United States, come almost entirely from foreign sources, the NMA recently reported to the National Academy of Sciences. “We would be very concerned if USGS could no longer provide accurate and reasonably up-to-date information” for U.S. reserves, she says, should foreign sources fall through.

Chip Groat, director of USGS, also has noted that the agency faces so-called uncontrollable costs, as do all federal agencies — costs that include rent and annual salary raises for federal employees. Congress may try to find money to cover such costs, Johnson says, but with a workforce of almost 400 in the minerals program alone, the need is substantial. Such costs are “a serious problem, not limited to the USGS,” she says, and amount to further cuts.

Naomi Lubick

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