FY24 Budget Outlook: U.S. Geological Survey
The Biden administration has been seeking to ramp up funding for the U.S. Geological Survey for several years, but a big budget increase is unlikely to materialize in fiscal year 2024. Senate appropriators propose to hold funding steady at around $1.5 billion, while House appropriators propose to cut it by about 10%.
These cuts would be spread across USGS’s main mission areas, though the House appropriators largely spare Energy and Mineral Resources. They also provide little guidance on how to apply cuts within each mission area, opting not to specify funding levels for many programs in contrast to prior years.
The administration sought $1.8 billion for the agency, a 20% increase that would allow USGS to expand its work in areas such as critical minerals, climate science, carbon sequestration, and natural hazards risk reduction. Congress supported each of these priorities in its fiscal year 2023 appropriation, albeit at levels lower than requested, but budget caps set in law this year make it even less likely the administration’s request will be met during this budget cycle.
The request is detailed in USGS’s budget justification , and Congress’ proposals are detailed in reports by House and Senate appropriators. Summary figures are collected in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
The Senate proposes to hold funding for natural hazards preparedness programs mostly flat, while the House does not specify funding levels for each program. The administration proposed to direct significant budget increases to research on coastal resilience, carbon sequestration, and earthquake hazards, while requesting to partially reverse the boost Congress provided last year to volcano and landslide preparedness efforts.
Earthquakes. The administration proposed increasing funding for the Earthquake Hazards Program by nearly $10 million to $102 million, while the Senate would provide essentially level funding of $93 million. Within that total, the Senate allocates nearly $30 million for expanding the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system, a $1 million increase, while the House proposes a $4 million increase.
Marine hazards. The administration proposed increasing funding for the Coastal/Marine Hazards and Resources Program by $18 million to $63 million, with $10 million of the increase for improving modeling and forecasting capabilities for coastal hazards. The remainder would be dedicated to carbon sequestration research and community resilience programs. The Senate proposes steady funding of $43 million for the program.
Volcanoes. The administration requested to cut the Volcano Hazards Program by nearly $2 million to $36 million. Within that total, funding for the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System would be reduced by about $3 million to $15 million, which would require the agency to slow the deployment of new digital monitoring infrastructure for high-threat volcanoes. The Senate recommends maintaining the current funding level for the effort and accelerating the upgrades where possible. It expresses concern that current monitoring systems are “outdated and inadequate.”
Landslides. The administration requested $11.7 million for the Landslide Hazards Program, $3 million less than the current enacted level and in line with last year’s request. Senate appropriators recommend steady funding for the program and encourage USGS to prioritize efforts to reduce risks posed by post-wildfire landslides, among other activities. The agency says it will continue efforts to deliver more “actionable” landslide risk information to communities and implement the National Landslide Preparedness Act, a 2021 law that requires the agency to maintain capacity to deploy scientists to landslide sites.
Sinkholes. The House proposal includes a request for a briefing on “any benefits associated with creating a new Sinkhole Hazards Program to conduct sinkhole research, hazard mitigation, hazard assessments, including developing maps that depict zones that are at a greater risk of sinkhole formation.”
Geomagnetic hazards. The Senate proposes flat funding of almost $5.3 million for the Geomagnetism program, while the administration requested an increase to $5.9 million. USGS is working to expand its geomagnetic monitoring network by establishing three new observatory sites and deploying a series of low-cost stations for recording variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. Information provided by the program helps in assessing risks related to electromagnetic disruptions caused by solar activity.
Mineral Resources. The Senate proposes a marginal increase for the Mineral Resources program while the administration requested a $23 million increase to $93 million. This increase would be directed to expanding research on reclaiming critical minerals in mine waste and on mineral supply chains for green technologies. The administration also hopes to accelerate efforts to locate critical mineral resource assessments, building on data from the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) and approaches developed through partnerships with its counterparts in Australia and Canada. Both the House and Senate propose steady funding of about $11 million for Earth MRI, which supports efforts to identify potential critical mineral deposits. That effort will also receive $64 million in fiscal year 2024 that has already been appropriated through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The House and Senate both also instruct USGS to launch a study on lithium resources and recovery.
Energy Resources. The Senate proposes to hold funding for the Energy Resources program at $33 million while the administration sought a $24 million increase. The increase would support efforts to inventory greenhouse gas emissions and sinks on federal lands, identify promising areas for geologic carbon sequestration, and quantify U.S. geothermal energy resources.
Water Resources. The administration requested to increase the Water Resources program budget by 3%, the lowest sought across the agency’s mission areas. The request would also pare back funding for the Open Evapotranspiration program (Open ET) by $3 million to $500,000 and would eliminate funding for a $5 million water cycle research center first funded in 2023 and a $4 million program to maintain the “talent pipeline” for hydrologic sciences. Additional funds would support the expansion of USGS’s network of streamgages and the build-out of the Next Generation Water Observing System. House appropriators support those increases, while the Senate proposal would hold funding for the observing system level and does not specify a total funding level for streamgages. Both the House and Senate would maintain funding for the talent pipeline program level at $4 million, and the House also explicitly maintains level funding for the Open ET effort.
Climate centers. The administration proposed increasing funding for the USGS network of Climate Adaptation Science Centers from $63 million to $87 million, with much of the proposed increase directed toward regional stakeholder priorities and the development of climate adaptation services. Congress increased funding for the program by $11 million last year, but this year the Senate proposes holding funding steady and the House proposes an increase of $4 million.
Land Change Science. The administration sought to double funding for the Land Change Sciences program, with most of the increase intended for expanding research on the impacts of climate change on physical and biological systems and developing a methodology for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions on federal lands. The Senate proposes to hold funding steady at $20 million.
Mapping and imaging
Mapping. The administration requested to increase the National Geospatial Program budget by about $4 million to $98 million, of which $10 million would be used to initiate an interagency effort to develop a Federal Climate Data Portal. Meanwhile, the request proposes to cut funding for the 3D Elevation Program by $6 million, which would push back completion of the project by two years to 2027. The Senate accepts this proposed cut to 3DEP while the House proposes flat funding of $43 million to keep the project on track and states they expected USGS to move faster on the project given the funding it has received. The administration also requested to decrease the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program by 5% to $42 million, but the House proposes a smaller cut and the Senate proposes level funding.
Land imaging. The administration requested to increase the budget for satellite operations by $18 million to $110 million, with $12 million of the increase for the Landsat program. USGS says the extra funds are needed to keep Landsat Next mission development on track, and the Senate specifically supports the increase within a topline of $104 million for satellite operations. The mission, a joint effort with NASA, is planned for launch in 2030 and will consist of a trio of identical satellites rather than the single-satellite approach used for earlier Landsat missions. Of the remaining increase requested for satellite operations, $5 million is for launching a pilot program to augment existing imaging capabilities with commercially acquired data.
Advanced computing. The administration requested $30 million within the budget for Core Science Systems for a high-performance computing initiative that would help USGS “transform fire and drought science delivery for resource managers.” The funds would support the acquisition of computing hardware and the development of integrated data platforms and artificial intelligence capabilities. USGS also plans to hire a team of computer and data scientists who would serve as liaisons to the research community. Congress is unlikely to meet this request, as the Senate proposes steady funding for Core Science Systems and the House proposes a 7% cut.