The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): FY2021 Appropriations Process and Background

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Updated January 4, 2021
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): FY2021 Appropriations
Process and Background

Ecosystems instead of under Energy and Mineral
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) aims to provide
Resources, as in previous acts.) The act decreased funding
unbiased scientific information to describe and understand
for Science Support and Facilities compared with FY2020
the geological processes of the Earth; minimize loss of life
and property from natural disasters; and support the
management of water, biological, energy, and mineral
Figure 1. USGS Annual Appropriations
resources. The USGS is a scientific agency housed within
(FY2016-FY2021; nominal $, in millions)
the Department of the Interior (DOI). In contrast to other
DOI bureaus, it has no regulatory authority and does not
manage any major federal lands. The USGS also collects
scientific information for long-term data sets. These data
sets range from satellite imagery of land and ecosystem
features to streamflow and groundwater data.
Congress created the USGS in 1879 in a portion of a law
known as the USGS Organic Act (43 U.S.C. §31). The
USGS Organic Act defined the initial scope of the USGS:
[The Director of the USGS] shall have the direction
of the United States Geological Survey, and the
classification of the public lands and examination of
the geological structure, mineral resources, and
products of the national domain.
Since 1879, Congress has expanded the USGS’s statutory
authorities to include activities related to ecosystems and

natural hazards. The USGS conducts scientific activities
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS) with public law data.
under interdisciplinary mission areas, and each mission area
has its own budget line. The USGS also has budget lines for
Table 1. USGS Funding: FY2020 Enacted, FY2021
Science Support (administrative activities and information)
Request, and FY2021 Enacted
and Facilities. Congress appropriates funds for the agency
(nominal $, in millions)
through the annual Interior, Environment, and Related
Agencies appropriations acts.
Mission Area or
Budget Line
Through P.L. 116-260, Congress appropriated $1.316
billion to the USGS for FY2021 under Division G, the
Land Resources
Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related
Energy and Mineral
Agencies Appropriations Act, 2021. FY2021 appropriations
were $344 million above the FY2021 President’s budget
request of $971.2 million and $45 million above the
Natural Hazards
FY2020 enacted level of $1.271 billion (a 3.5% increase;
see Figure 1). The FY2021 President’s budget request
Water Resources
proposed restructuring mission areas (see Table 1) and
Core Science Systems
reorganizing programs under mission areas. In the FY2021
appropriations act, Congress reduced USGS mission areas
Science Support
from six to five by eliminating the Land Resources mission
area and transferring its programs and funding to other
mission areas. Congress also created new programs in
Ecosystems and retained the organization of some of the
Sources: FY2021 U.S. Geological Survey Budget Justification; P.L.
mission areas (e.g., Water Resources). Compared with
116-94; and P.L. 116-260.
FY2020 funding, the act increased funding for all mission
areas except Energy and Mineral Resources. (The act
funded the Environmental Health Program under

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): FY2021 Appropriations Process and Background
Note: P.L. 116-260 eliminated Land Resources and transferred
mission area to create two new programs and eliminate the
funding for those activities to Core Science Systems and Ecosystems.
Water Resources Research Act Program. Congress rejected
Table figures may not add to totals shown due to rounding.
the proposal by retaining all programs and increased
funding for the mission area by $29 million for FY2021
The following sections summarize USGS mission areas and
compared with FY2020. Congress directed $64.5 million as
selected programs from enacted FY2021 appropriations.
Cooperative Matching Funds for activities across Water
Ecosystems Mission Area
Resources. Congress funded the Next Generation Water
Observing System (NGWOS), initiated in FY2018, at $24.5
The Ecosystems Mission Area conducts biological and
million. According to the USGS, NGWOS will support
ecological science to inform natural resource management
more accurate national modern water prediction and
decisions. The budget request proposed consolidating
response by developing dense networks of water
research spread across five Ecosystem programs into three
monitoring systems in medium-sized watersheds
new programs and one new center, and it proposed
representative of larger water-resource regions.
eliminating the USGS’s Cooperative Research Units
(CRUs). Congress funded five reorganized programs and
Core Science Systems Mission Area
the CRUs. Congress adopted the proposal to create a
The Core Science Systems Mission Area generally focuses
Species Management Research program and a Land
on the USGS’s mapping mission. The budget request
Management Research program. Deviating from the budget
request’s proposed reorganization, Congress created a
proposed transferring the National Land Imaging program
and some components of the Land Change Science program
Biological Threats and Invasive Species Research program
from Land Resources to Core Science Systems; Congress
to conduct science for managing significant invasive
transferred only the National Land Imaging program to
species and wildlife diseases and a Climate Adaptation
Cores Science Systems. Under the National Land Imaging
Science Center and Land Change Science program, which
program, Landsat satellite system operations received $84.3
incorporates activities previously funded under Land
million for FY2021, in part to support Landsat 9 (scheduled
Resources. Congress rejected eliminating the
to launch in 2021). Under the National Geospatial Program,
Environmental Health program, which supports studies of
Congress provided no less than $46 million for the 3D
the effect of contaminants and pathogens on humans and
Elevation program, which aims to acquire high-resolution
other organisms, and funded the program at $24.7 million
elevation data over the entire country.
under Ecosystems. Congress also rejected the request to
eliminate CRUs and instead funded them at $25.0 million.
Energy and Mineral Resources Mission Area
The Facilities budget line includes funding for rent, facility
operations and maintenance, and deferred maintenance and
The Energy and Minerals Mission Area includes scientific
repair activities. Under deferred maintenance and capital
research and assessments related to energy and minerals.
improvement, Congress provided $55.5 million for
Previously, it also included the Environmental Health
renovation of the National Wildlife Health Center, which
program, which Congress transferred to Ecosystems in
conducts research for detecting novel zoonotic pathogens
FY2021. Congress provided level funding for both the
and emerging infectious diseases, developing rapid
Energy Resources program and the Mineral Resources
diagnostic tests, conducting disease surveillance, and
program, including $10.6 million for mapping and
designing vaccines to control these diseases. Congress also
surveying critical minerals. Critical minerals, according to
the USGS, are “mineral commodities that
directed the USGS to obligate necessary funds for the new
have important
Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility, which first received
uses and no viable substitutes, yet face potential disruption
in supply, and are defined as critical to the Nation’s
appropriations in FY2020 to improve hydrologic
economic and national security.” Congress also directed the
capabilities through a research-to-operations framework.
USGS to provide a report to the Committees on
Congressional Oversight
Appropriations on potential initiatives to increase domestic
The President’s FY2021 budget request proposed
critical mineral supply.
restructuring and reorganizing the USGS mission areas ,
Natural Hazards Mission Area
stating that the realignment would ensures programs with
The Natural Hazards Mission Area provides scientific
similar objectives and themes are managed within the same
information to reduce losses from natural hazards. For
mission areas (e.g., land imaging programs with other
FY2021, Congress funded programs in the mission area at
mapping programs ; adaptation and landscape science with
level or increased funding, compared with FY2020. The
biological science programs) and existing staff are
Landslides Hazards program received an additional $4
leveraged more effectively. Through P.L. 116-260,
million above FY2020 levels to study potential landslides
Congress reduced the mission areas by eliminating Land
and resulting tsunamis in Alaska. Under the Earthquake
Resources, per the request, and moving its programs to
Hazards program, Congress provided $25.7 million for
other mission areas. Overall, Congress directed
continued development and expansion of the ShakeAlert
reorganization of some programs and rejected reorganizing
and eliminating other programs. Congress may consider
West Coast earthquake early warning system.
oversight on whether changes (1) improve efficiencies and
Water Resources Mission Area
better utilize resources and expertise, as the Administration
The Water Resources Mission Area monitors water
suggested, and (2) result in funding levels that enable the
resources and conducts research to improve water
USGS to accomplish its mission.
management. The budget request proposed restructuring the

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): FY2021 Appropriations Process and Background

Anna E. Normand, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

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