The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 40,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 budget of $867 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research programs. The ASM represents scientists who work in academic, medical, governmental and industrial institutions worldwide and are involved in research to improve human health and the environment.
The USGS supports microbiological research on water contamination and quality, climate change, and new and re-emerging wildlife diseases. A unique aspect of USGS is its ability to carry out large scale, multi-disciplinary studies on a national scale and to sustain long-term monitoring and assessment programs of the nation's natural resources. USGS programs provide the impartial science that federal, state and local governments need in order to respond to rapidly changing environmental conditions.
The USGS's environmental monitoring capabilities also make it the lead science provider for accessing information and facts for resolving complex natural science problems across the nation and around the world. For instance, the USGS is initiating studies in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to learn the current geographic extent of the West Nile virus. This collaboration hopes to understand how West Nile moves between birds, mosquitoes, and humans, and to predict future movements of the virus in an effort to protect human health. The USGS is also co-sponsoring with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation research on the ecological changes that affect infectious diseases such as biodiversity loss, habitat transformation, environmental contamination, and climate change. This type of research can only be accomplished with USGS's extensive environmental monitoring data and its expertise in analyzing complex environmental phenomena.
The ASM is concerned that the FY 2003 budget request proposes cuts that will severely restrict the USGS's ability to provide scientific support for the Department of Interior and other agency research needs. The proposed cuts result in a decrease of $47 million for the USGS, or 5.1 percent, to $867 million for FY 2003. Within the USGS budget, the Biological Resources Division (BRD) would be cut by 4 percent to $160 million, the Water Resources Division by 14 percent to $178 million and the Geologic Division by 4 percent to $225 million. The ASM would like to submit the following comments and recommendations for adequate funding levels for research in the Water Resources Division and the BRD for FY 2003.
National Water-Quality Assessment Program
The National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NWQAP) is the primary source of long-term, nationwide information on streams, ground water, and aquatic ecosystems. Made-up of 42 sites nationwide, the NWQAP evaluates water resource quality over the long-term, rather than simply assessing known problems or specific geographic areas at a particular point in time. These assessments provided critical information that is otherwise unavailable, and involves extensive collaboration between government, research institutions and other partners for responding to local, state, regional, and national efforts to protect, improve, and manage water resources.
The Administration's budget proposes a $57 million budget for the NWQAP, a 9 percent reduction from FY 2002. The ASM recommends that Congress restore the program's funding to the FY 2002 level of $64 million. This level of funding will prevent the proposed termination of water quality assessments in 6 of the 42 study units. This level of funding will also allow the program to initiate new microbial sampling initiatives, designed to identify possible bacterial, protozoan and viral threats in the nation's water systems.
The ASM applauds USGS's leadership in addressing existing and future water quality needs through multidisciplinary research teams. The ASM urges Congress to support this critical program that plays such an important role in public health and safeguarding our water supply from unexpected biological hazards.
Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program (Toxics) conducts long-term research to improve our understanding of the behavior of contaminants in the nation's ground and surface waters. The Toxics Program complements the water-quality monitoring and assessment programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other DOI agencies by identifying new issues and emerging contaminants, and developing the knowledge and methods needed to direct their future activities. This collaboration ensures that current and future research priorities across federal agency obligations are addressed. For instance, the Toxics Program is involved in the restoration of the Florida Everglades ecosystem (i.e., bioremediation) and the development of new real-time sensors capable of detecting biological or chemical contamination.
The President's budget proposes to eliminate this program in FY 2003. The ASM recommends that Congress restore the program's funding to the FY 2002 level of $14 million. The ASM supports the focus and mission of this program within the USGS and requests that Congress fully support the research program. Furthermore, the ASM believes the Toxics Program is a critical component of the nation's efforts to combat increasing levels of toxic substances and water-borne pathogens in our drinking water supplies.
State Water Resources Research Institute Program
The ASM is concerned that the Administration's budget proposes to eliminate this program in FY 2003. The funding level for the program in FY 2002 was $6 million. Therefore, the ASM highly recommends that the Subcommittee allocate the necessary funds ($6 million) to keep the SWRRIP program viable. The Water Resources Research Act of 1984 established the State Water Resources Research Institute Program (SWRRIP) to coordinate State and federal research on water quality and water supply problems. This program is also one of the federal government's principal mechanisms for training the next-generation of water scientists and engineers.
Wildlife Disease Initiative
The Wildlife Disease Initiative (WDI) is currently an unfunded program within the BRD. The USGS anticipates the cost of the program in its first year, which would be FY 2003, to be $10 million. The ASM supports this level of funding for the WDI. The WDI would focus research on the recent emergence of major diseases affecting wildlife, such as, the West Nile virus (WNV), Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), bovine Tuberculosis (TB), and the potential introduction of Foot and Mouth Disease. While several of these diseases (TB, CWD, and FMD) can have a devastating effect on domestic animals, their potential impact upon human health is less understood. The WDI would allow the USGS to assist the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in bridging this knowledge gap. Such a partnership would provide the critical wildlife expertise necessary for studying the effects of these emerging diseases on wildlife; improve our understanding of wildlife's role as reservoirs; and improve our ability to prevent and control outbreaks.
No other agency has the capabilities or expertise to address disease detection, control and prevention in wildlife. Therefore, the ASM fully supports this integrative, inter-agency program that combines animal and human health as elements of public health. Furthermore, the ASM urges the Subcommittee to consider the importance of tracking and responding to wildlife diseases, such as, WNV that can move freely between animal host and humans.
Interactions between the environment, its biota and people are highly complex and solutions require integrative, multidisciplinary approaches and an adequately funded and staffed USGS. The ASM encourages Congress to maintain its commitment to U.S. Geological Survey research programs, which are vital to continued discovery of geological, hydrological, geographical, and biological processes that are so important to the well being of the environment and protecting public health.