A Bridge Not Too Far
Charles G. “Chip” Groat

Sometimes you need to be careful what you ask for; other times you can be overwhelmingly energized by what you receive. Such was my experience when our partners and customers talked to us recently about the future roles and opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the nation’s earth and natural science agency.
We asked the National Research Council (NRC) to examine the future roles, challenges and scientific opportunities for the USGS. The NRC report characterized the USGS as a natural science and information agency with a broad responsibility to a large number of customers across the country. Using the NRC report as a springboard, we invited our partners and customers to participate in a “listening session” on Oct. 11, 2001, in Washington, D.C. We needed to hear what the bureau is doing that is working and where we need to improve. We also wanted to know whether we are meeting our customers’ needs to the greatest possible extent. Approximately 40 speakers representing federal agencies, scientific organizations and environmental groups presented their viewpoints to top decision makers about the usefulness of USGS research, how the agency translates information and makes it available to scientific organizations and the public, and the intrinsic value of USGS science to society.
We listened to our customers and learned with a renewed sense of commitment that they need us and we need them. What we heard again and again from other government agencies and from non-governmental groups is that science is the bridge between societal issues and policy options. Sometimes the federal government is criticized for not being connected with its citizens, for not providing an adequate return for the investment of tax dollars in the work of government. I believe science can be a powerful connection between society and the solutions it needs. USGS science can be that bridge.
Our customers told us to take a proactive approach in building those bridges — to seek out opportunities and to use partnerships and alliances to provide the science our changing world needs.
We listened to the American Farm Bureau Federation remind us that farmers and ranchers rely on USGS research and technology for making planting and harvesting decisions. We listened to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin tell us we should not relent in providing the sound science the nation needs for water resource issues. We heard the National Park Service, one of our sister bureaus in the Department of the Interior, when they said USGS science provides critical information used to manage, protect and conserve natural resources in our national parks. We listened to encouragement from the Environmental Protection Agency to continue to support partnerships for monitoring pesticides in water.
We listened to ideas from the American Geological Institute about forging new alliances between the science community and the public health community. We learned about the importance of strengthening and expanding existing partnerships with academia and the private sector. We learned about the need for accessible and timely data. We listened to how we might expand the reach of our science.
We learned that the USGS must be a partner in building strong bridges between science and policy. Those bridges can protect and preserve the environment and wildlife habitats. Those bridges can ensure that the nation has the energy resources it needs to fuel its future. And those bridges can promote the use of tools and technology that will help us prepare for natural hazards and protect people and property from ensuing disasters.
The challenge to the USGS is to build bridges in concert with our partners and customers. It is they who are out on the landscape, close to the communities, the natural and living resources, and the hazards. They can take the power of USGS science and put it to work to protect lives and property, preserve habitats, and provide for the nation’s energy future.
In recent weeks we have all come to regard the future with a new and watchful eye. We see the world around us and the nature of change with a heightened, if wary, respect. And yet we cannot shy away from that future or its challenges. Science has a powerful role to play in meeting those challenges. One of our customers spoke of it as “the cold, dark ocean of social relevance” and urged USGS to dive in. To meet those challenges, to confront that social relevance, to use science to its greatest value to the people we serve — we need to build those bridges of partnership and opportunity. We need to build them strong and we need to build them together.
We are taking what we heard from our customers to build that bridge of science knowledge and information that can be used to make our world as safe and secure as possible. We thank our customers for their thoughtful words, well-phrased critiques and inspiring challenges. Working in partnership will put USGS science to work in preserving and protecting the changing world around us.

Groat is the director of the U.S. Geological Survey. E-mail:
 Read the NRC report, Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey, at

Opinions and conclusions expressed in this section by the authors are their own and not necessarily those of AGI, its staff or its member societies.

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