Geotimes Logo POLITICAL SCENE  April 1999 

The President's Budget Request for the Geosciences

by David Applegate and Kasey Shewey White

President Clinton's Fiscal Year (FY) 2000 budget request for science, announced in February, was bound to be anticlimactic. Leaving aside the sensational political events that overshadowed this annual ritual, the new budget came on the heels of a year in which the president and Congress sought to outdo one another in showing their fiscal affection for agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Senate passed legislation to double the federal investment in research. With budget surpluses a reality, the future could not have looked brighter. But clouds soon loomed.

High hopes began to wane after the president announced that he was fencing off the surplus to save social security. Moreover, the 1997 balanced budget agreement that established caps on future spending adroitly frontloaded spending in the near term and put as much of the pain as possible into the out years. With FY 2000, we have arrived at the out years. To top it off, the 1999 increases were partially fueled by $28 billion in emergency spending that skirted around 1999 budget caps but will have to come out of the 2000 spending, effectively lowering the caps for this year even further. For more on the broader science and technology budget and the overall budget context, visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Project website at

As the accompanying table shows, the president's overall request holds the line on spending for geoscience-related agencies and programs - with several notable exceptions. This column will focus on three of those agencies.

Department of Energy
The treatment of the geosciences program in DOE's Office of Science is an area of great concern. Although this program is not particularly large, it provides peer-reviewed grants to universities and DOE national laboratories for fundamental geoscience research in geochemistry, hydrology, rock mechanics, and geophysical imaging. The apparent 9-percent decrease masks a more significant cut to the current program of nearly 40 percent, offset by new and transferred funds for carbon sequestration as part of the administration's climate-change technology initiative. While this program funds basic research, it does so in focused areas that have broad applications to multiple DOE mission areas, including oil and gas exploration and development, geothermal energy, and environmental remediation. Given the recent criticism of DOE for the lack of science underpinning its $6-billion-per-year cleanup efforts at nuclear weapons facilities, the planned cuts seem particularly ill-advised. More specific budget numbers for the geosciences can be found at the web site:

U.S. Geological Survey
At first glance, the USGS budget request appears to contain even more bad news for geoscience, with major cuts to each of the divisions. But while the DOE cuts are worse than they look, the USGS cuts, for the most part, are an artifact of the agency's decision to enter the new fiscal millennium with a revised budget structure that consolidates all facilities costs into a single, bureau-wide "Facilities" account. Similarly, all general administrative costs would be placed into a "Science Support" account - including the USGS library, which would be taken off the Geologic Division's books. Library supporters hope that such a move will help to raise its profile and support.

The budget also would create a new "Integrated Science" account to encourage multidisciplinary projects, primarily integrated ecosystem studies and projects that meet the needs of land management agencies. Although the transfers to Survey-wide accounts have been billed as a zero-sum game, it remains to be seen what the net effect will be for the divisions and particularly for cooperative programs where USGS funds are matched by external partners.

Looking beyond the transfer issue, the request for the USGS Geologic Division includes increases for pilot real-time seismic warning systems, development of the National Geologic Map Database and digital geologic maps, and coral reef investigations. Increases would be completely offset by cuts to a variety of coastal programs, mineral resource and environmental impact assessments, and coal availability and recoverability studies.

In the Water Resources Division, increases would be targeted for upgrading streamgage stations to create a real-time flood warning system, amphibian research, and hypoxia studies in the Gulf of Mexico. They would be partially offset by decreases in the federal-state cooperative program, cost-shifting to customers and partners, and reductions in watershed monitoring and endocrine disruption research.

The National Mapping Division would come out significantly ahead, thanks to substantial increases for development of a disaster information network, a community/federal information partnership, and the archiving of future Landsat 7 data. The complete USGS budget numbers can be found at

National Science Foundation
NSF's overall budget would increase by nearly 6 percent, but most of the new money is earmarked for two major initiatives: Information Technology for the 21st Century and Biocomplexity in the Environment. All disciplines can compete for those funds, and officials at the Geosciences Directorate are confident that they will secure a piece of the pie. Separate from such initiative-related funds, the directorate - and the earth, atmospheric, and ocean science divisions within it - would receive about a 2.5 percent increase. Additional NSF budget numbers can be obtained at

The ball is now in Congress' court, with the appropriations process well underway in both the House and Senate. In many cases, White House priorities are not likely to be shared by the majority on Capitol Hill, nor theirs by the president. To track how geoscience-related agencies are faring in the process, the AGI website has updated information at We encourage you to visit the site and let your representatives know where your priorities stand.

David Applegate and Kasey Shewey White
AGI Government Affairs Program

President's FY 2000 Budget Request for Selected Geoscience-Related Agencies


Agency/ Program

FY1999 enacted


FY2000 request


Percent Change FY99 to FY00

Department of Energy

Basic Energy Sciences

     Geosciences Program

Fossil Energy R&D

     Natural Gas R&D

     Petroleum R&D



















Department of the Interior

U.S. Geological Survey

     Geologic Division*

     Water Resources Division*

     National Mapping Division*








199 (239)

172 (214)

135 (155)



-17.0 (-0.1)

-17.7 (2.1)

-2.1 (12.3)


Earth Science Enterprise

(formerly Mission to Planet Earth)







National Science Foundation

Geosciences Directorate

     Earth Science Division










Source: Agency budget materials, Office of Management and Budget

* For comparative purposes, numbers in parentheses show division totals adding back funds transferred to new and expanded USGS-wide facilities, science support, and integrated science accounts.

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