Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 95
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program 5 Envisioning the Future Mineral Resources Program FRAMEWORK FOR THE VISION AND MISSION Mineral resources are important for all the nation’s citizens and essential for those individuals, companies, and communities that depend on minerals production for income and broader economic development. Science and information on mineral resources, in turn, underpin private and public decisions that determine whether, under what conditions, and at what costs minerals become available to producers and consumers. As discussed in Chapter 1, private markets are likely to yield suboptimal outcomes for scientific research and information collection and dissemination from the perspective of society as a whole—justifying four federal roles in minerals science and information. These roles are science and information, basic research, advisory, and international. In developing a vision and mission for the future around these four roles, the Mineral Resources Program (MRP) should consider the following five questions, the answers to which will frame (or define the scope of) the program’s future. The MRP has already answered these questions to some degree. The committee suggests that in addressing changing national and global mineral issues, the MRP reevaluate its answers to these questions and thus the scope of its activities. 1. How should “mineral resources” be defined? How narrowly or broadly mineral resources are defined affects the scope of MRP activities. Should the MRP focus narrowly on geological
OCR for page 96
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program science and information that foster the development of mines and metallic mineral resources in the United States? Such a focus would place considerable emphasis on fundamental ore deposit research, including mapping of known ore districts, to aid the exploration and discovery of domestic mineral deposits. Or should MRP activities be broader (as they are today) to include nonmetallic resources such as industrial minerals and construction aggregates? On the other hand, the MRP might define its scope of activities around the entire life cycle of minerals, rather than focusing primarily on scientific understanding and discovery of mineral deposits. In other words, focus on science and information important for understanding and developing public policy for the broader context of minerals development. This life-cycle scope would include purely geological investigations and fundamental ore-deposit research, but it also would embrace multidisciplinary work (environmental, geochemical, geophysical, geobiological) and investigations into, for example, environmental aspects of minerals development, waste disposal, recycling of mineral-based materials, and material flows throughout the mine life cycle, including mine closure and environmental management in perpetuity. Another view of MRP activities might take as a starting point the relationship between mineral resources and sustainable development. The MRP could define the scope of its activities around the economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development—that is, activities facilitating both sustainable supplies of mineral resources over the longer term and appropriate environmental quality associated with their development. If the MRP frames its vision, mission, and strategy around “sustainable development,” it would be essential that the MRP adopt a clear definition. When applied to mineral resources, sustainable development is often represented as the desire that mineral resources be developed and used in ways that appropriately protect the natural environment and that adequate attention be given to the potential social consequences of minerals development. However the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) decides to define resources, it should take into account recent reviews of these definitions made by the mining industry, regulators, and international equivalents of the USGS in Australia, South Africa, Canada, and other countries.
OCR for page 97
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program 2. How should “information” be defined? This second question also requires choosing how narrowly or broadly to define MRP activities. The MRP could limit itself to scientific information such as baseline geochemical sampling data. Or the program could continue to use a broader definition of information that would include minerals information such as minerals production, consumption, recycling, material flows, and the wealth of irreplaceable geological mapping, and geochemical and geophysical data that exist in mining districts. The broader definition might imply development and testing of methods and procedures to generate and evaluate recycling and material flows data and synthesis and archival management of multidimensional geospatial databases and digital maps. 3. What is the appropriate balance between research and service? This third question, rather than focusing on how narrowly or broadly defined MRP activities should be, focuses on the balance between research and service or, to frame it another way, between basic and applied research. By applied research or service this committee means research that is directly responsive to the needs of government agencies for science, information, and advice. Historically, the federal government has provided funding for long-term, high-risk research and technology development. In some cases this support is motivated by the need to solve a specific problem and is often referred to as applied research (National Research Council [NRC], 1995). In other cases the support is for pure science that creates new knowledge, which is referred to as basic research. Basic research usually is supported in the expectation that it ultimately will link in some currently undefined way to practical use. Whereas applied research usually is intended to address a specific problem, it can lead to a new fundamental inquiry as well. Most federally funded research is at once both basic and applied. In science supported by mission-oriented agencies, the belief that there is a sharp separation between basic and applied research is often wrong (NRC, 1995). It is clear that the MRP currently conducts both basic and applied or service-oriented research. In redefining its mission and vision, the MRP might see its role as to conduct only basic or curiosity-driven research. At the other extreme, the MRP might decide to discontinue basic re-
OCR for page 98
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program search and instead respond to the needs of other government agencies. Any mission-related basic research needs could be conducted at universities through an external grants program. 4. How “international” should MRP be? At one extreme, the MRP could consider itself the “minerals geoscientist” of the Department of the Interior and focus its activities on satisfying the needs of the department, including the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and National Park Service. A broader focus would be domestic—satisfying the needs of domestic users of mineral resources science and information, including other agencies of the federal government (e.g., U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency), state governments, and private companies operating domestically. A slightly broader focus, still, would include a modest level of support on request for the Departments of State, Commerce, and Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. The most expansive MRP vision would be fully international. It would include the Department of the Interior and other domestic users of MRP science and information but would also embrace international activities that are in the national interest. As discussed in Chapter 1, some of these activities are narrowly or directly in the national interest, and others are in the national interest in a less direct sense. Four international roles for the USGS, all of which are applicable to the MRP, were identified in NRC (2001): Improve the utility or effectiveness of USGS’s domestic mission (e.g., international studies of ore deposit or geoenvironmental models for ore types found in the United States). Contribute to the U.S. national security and foreign policy interests (e.g., technical assistance on mineral resources in developing countries, Minerals Information Team [MIT] information on mineral supplies in politically unstable parts of the world). Address global environmental issues (e.g., global geoenvironmental databases). Further private-sector aspirations in the global economy (e.g., global databases on mineral resources).
OCR for page 99
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program 5. Who are the appropriate users and partners? The MRP currently has a broad base of users (Chapter 2) ranging from federal and state agencies, industry, academic researchers, and the public. Cooperating with and listening to users will continue to be important to the MRP as a method of identifying the most important national issues to attack and as an opportunity to diversify the staff and increase budgets. Balancing service to other bureaus within the Department of the Interior and service to other users is and will continue to be a challenge to strategic planning in the MRP. Another recent NRC report highlighted opportunities for the USGS to improve interactions with partners (NRC, 2001), all of which are directly relevant to the MRP. These include: strengthen liaison and coordination with related federal agencies (e.g., National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and National Science Foundation); maintain and improve relations with state and regional government organizations and with nongovernmental organizations that are users of natural science information; facilitate the use of natural science information by the general public and by stakeholders for critical issues; increase interactions with the private sector, foreign customers, and partners; encourage USGS scientists to publish their research results promptly in journals, present papers at conferences, and convene workshops and seminars; and nurture student interest in the natural sciences. The committee cannot overemphasize the importance of collaborating with the MRP’s users. However, the committee cautions the MRP, as did the 1996 committee, on what is meant by collaboration. One might consider collaboration or partnering to be teamwork within the USGS on projects. However, the committee believes that partnering or collaboration is more than this. Collaboration between the MRP and users and even within MRP teams begins with project definition and concludes with project evaluation.
OCR for page 100
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program Committee’s View on Summary of the Five Questions The committee believes a broad definition of mineral resources is required by the underlying economic realities of mineral resources development and use in the United States. The committee also thinks that the MRP should consider focusing its activities around the life cycle of minerals and sustainable development and continue to expand its activities to address environmental concerns. The committee also believes that the MRP should develop and adopt a broad definition of information that embraces both the scientific and MIT elements of mineral resources information. This definition of information is necessary to fully support the life-cycle definition of mineral resources. As noted in Chapter 4, there are unexploited opportunities for MIT information to inform the scientific work of the rest of the MRP, and vice versa. The committee believes that the MRP should continue to have a mix of basic and applied research. The committee encourages the MRP to have a stronger international role but not at the expense of its domestic responsibilities. As stated in the MRP five-year plan, the committee suggests that the MRP expand its current partners and users both internationally and domestically. The committee encourages increased collaboration with a wide variety of users. The committee recommends that the MRP develop an expanded vision that embraces a broad definition of mineral resources, including a focus on life-cycle and sustainable development; a strong international role, which will expand the current users; and a balance between basic and applied research, recognizing that many of the program priorities are oriented toward more applied research. An expanded vision will most likely require the USGS to reevaluate its core competence—building new core competence in selected new disciplines. PROGRAMMATIC AREAS As the nation’s needs for minerals science and information evolve, the MRP must evolve to meet those needs. The committee has identified several examples of new topics that are regional, national, and international in scope and that coincide with an expanded vision for the program. The committee has not prioritized these topics. The committee
OCR for page 101
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program believes that it is imperative that the program address the many challenges identified in this report before expanding into new domains. The committee recommends that the MRP develop and expand its vision and program objectives to incorporate components of the existing program and elements of the new programmatic areas. Other government agencies may already be doing some work in these areas. The MRP should determine what ongoing activities exist in these areas and initiate its work in a collaborative manner. Potential administrative challenges associated with transitioning toward a more expansive role for the program are also discussed. Environmental Stewardship There is a growing need for information that will aid users in (a) predicting and minimizing environmental problems with new mines and (b) closing many existing mines in their terminal phase of production or initiation of long-term environmental management. With the current decline in domestic exploration and mine closure becoming more commonplace (NRC, 1999, 2002a), the MRP has an opportunity to expand this user base by providing data relevant to the spectrum of environmental issues facing the mining industry and the surrounding urban areas. A shift by the MRP toward environmental stewardship is justifiable on several accounts. First, there is a need for such an activity as described above. Second, and most importantly, the MRP is a logical organization to conduct this activity because it already focuses on economy and public policy, whereby information on land stewardship, and material flows and other vital information are provided to government policy makers for responsible management of public lands. The MRP also possesses a vast array of tools and technologies (e.g., modeling, data integration, sophisticated analytical capabilities, and partnering experience with other agencies and organizations) that can support an environmental stewardship initiative. Especially important is the development of creative and new postmine land-use alternatives that are mutually beneficial and cost effective. The MRP could play an important role in developing postmine closure land-use alternatives by integrating geographical information system (GIS) based information from mines and urban planners. Research on postmining use of these lands is needed to identify productive uses for
OCR for page 102
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program these excavations, including (depending on site characteristics) use as wildlife management areas, reservoirs, industrial sites, or municipal waste repositories. Because a major issue with in-pit disposal of solid wastes is the potential for impacts to ground water, MRP involvement in such land-use evaluations and planning would need to be coordinated with experts from the Water Resources Division. Regulatory and liability issues are also involved with in-pit solid waste disposal and necessitate close collaboration with relevant land owners or land management agencies; federal, state, and local regulatory authorities; and mining companies. Other examples of research areas for postmine closure of open-pit mines are additional studies on the evolution of pit lakes, biological processes that control contaminant release, and management of waste rock dumps. The MRP is currently involved in projects in some of these research areas. While many examples of these environmental issues exist within the United States, they are also common to mining sites around the world, and pertinent environmental research will have international applicability. Where appropriate for basic science or policy demands, the MRP can and should be involved with specific sites outside the United States. Data Integration and Data Mining For over 150 years the United States has reaped enormous benefits from exploitation of its rich endowment of mineral deposits. The industrial development of the nation and its transcontinental infrastructure were partly financed by the profits from mining activity. During this period the USGS played a key role in surveying, mapping, and describing ore deposits. Geologists in many mining companies systematically mapped mine exposures and compiled maps and cross sections used in development and in formulating ore deposit genesis models that further advanced exploration and laid the scientific foundation necessary to integrate ore deposits into crustal genesis and plate tectonic theory. The scientific records of this monumental human effort are a national treasure for both scientific and historical reasons, but today with many large, long-lived, and famous mines closing with increasing frequency, these important geological and mining records are being lost. As noted by the NRC (2002b), geoscience collections and data are the foundation of basic and applied research and education and underpin industry programs
OCR for page 103
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program to discover and develop domestic natural resources to fulfill the nation’s energy and mineral requirements. The geoscience community has amassed an enormous wealth of collections and data, most of which remain potentially useful and would be costly to replace, and much of which cannot be replaced once mines close. There is at present no effective government plan for preventing this loss of data (NRC, 2002b, 2002c). Disappearance of the detailed district mapping records (NRC, 2002c) and three-dimensional geochemical data is a national scientific tragedy, particularly with regard to the potential scientific benefits of using those data in crustal-scale interpretations of regional controls on ore deposition and environmental management during mine closure. The technical means are now available to capture and store the enormous volume of irreplaceable mining district data in three-dimensional GIS databases. Information in currently available paper records (maps, cross sections, and chemical data) that are vulnerable to permanent loss could be saved for this and future generations. Only when this wealth of data is in digital format can it be preserved, synthesized, and integrated with the national geophysical database. A new opportunity exists for the MRP to capture and “mine” these data for archival and, more importantly, scientific purposes. The proposed MRP role would include archiving and digitizing mine geological records, and construction of a comprehensive three-dimensional digital GIS archive of all geological mapping done during the history of each deposit, including plans and cross sections. Assays as well as representative rock and core samples should be archived and located within the three-dimensional digital GIS archive, preserving data and samples that are unique in space and time after mining has consumed the zone of mineralization. The MRP now has an outstanding opportunity to expand its production of timely and useful data sets by assuming a national leadership role in data mining and by creating the first national three-dimensional mining district database to support broad crustal interpretation in important regions. Understanding the geological setting and genesis of the nation’s mineral resources in a global context remains a key scientific goal and operational objective of the MRP. Why many ore deposits occur where they do is still a major scientific question, so geological context remains as a frontier and vital area of applied multidisciplinary research. Similarly, what collective processes underlie the formation of giant ore de-
OCR for page 104
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program posits is still speculative. Ironically, the greatest density of three-dimensional geochemical and structural data on Earth is in mines, yet how these data relate to the surrounding geological environment is less clear. The United States has approached a crossroads that will determine if the crustal geological context of mineral resources will finally be illuminated by digitizing and incorporating mine data into the national mapping data base. Such “data mining” is more than plotting deposit size and grade of ore deposits in relation to crustal geological features, but rather the incorporation of all aspects of ore deposits (parent intrusives, sedimentary basins, vein and fault patterns, wall rock alteration, and exposure history) into detailed technical context of the surrounding geological host. This archive has a wealth of scientific benefits besides its archival benefit. Important new scientific developments will emerge from small-and large-scale reinterpretation of the data when visualized as never before using modern information technology and three-dimensional GIS capabilities. The mining database can be overlain with airborne magnetics, gamma-ray and ground gravity data into regional crustal geophysical interpretations so that regional and temporal controls on ore deposition such as deep-seated faults could be discovered that may have guided the emplacement of plutonic rocks, hydrothermal fluid migration, and formation of ore deposits (Hildenbrand et al., 2000). This database would be unprecedented in the world and could help stimulate a renewed level of research activity within the MRP, in collaboration with other USGS divisions (Mapping, Geologic, and Water Resources), and it would help build a cooperative bridge between the mining industry, academia, state surveys, and the environmental consulting industry. Regional and Global Views: Predicting Resources for the Future The committee endorses the MRP focus on regional- and global-scale studies that underpin key needs of the U.S. government to establish knowledge of the worldwide supply of mineral commodities needed to sustain its economy. Further, such studies will provide an understanding of the sources and pathways of possible contaminants and assist local and federal agencies to assess possible risks related to past and present mining activities. USGS researchers should provide leadership in these programs, but to ensure the most efficient data delivery they should col-
OCR for page 105
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program laborate with all classes of users (other federal, state, university, and private-sector users, including international experts). This collaboration would help the MRP to achieve its objectives and thereby gain significant scientific and financial leverage. Projects should be developed on a regional or district scale; these are commonly known as “regional metallogenic studies” and are aimed at developing an understanding of the critical geological factors that explain the presence of ore deposit types in geologically defined areas. These factors underpin successful assessments of resource potential and provide industry with key guides for exploration. The USGS already is doing several such studies; the “Tintina metallogenic province integrated studies” embody the type of work that might be done. This research is directed at understanding the reasons why world-class gold deposits are present in the Tintina area and, on the basis of its findings, what the potential might be for a similar resource elsewhere in the world. This project involves scientists from universities, state surveys, and several Canadian government agencies. Similar types of regionally based projects should be developed both nationally and internationally, with USGS scientists providing project leadership. In some cases, districts outside of the United States may have the best deposits for study. Projects selected for the MRP team should focus on those that provide information that is needed for setting government policies and for supporting land management work in other agencies. They should address the life cycle of mining within a district and include information of potential environmental problems, with suggestions for ameliorating these. The information developed from life-cycle analyses can be used to underpin the evolving exploration strategies of U.S. and other corporations as they increasingly adopt sustainable mining models. It will also help to ensure a sustainable supply of mineral commodities. Methods and Technology Development A justifiable new role for the MRP is the development of innovative minerals technology and information that would support the advancement and growth of the U.S. minerals industry in a global economy. With the demise of the Bureau of Mines in 1995, mission-driven research related to methods and technology development for the minerals industry was ended. Although several other federal agencies (e.g., the Department
OCR for page 106
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program of Energy) do fund some minerals-related technology research, there is no mission-driven federal program that has replaced this important and much-needed activity once carried out by the Bureau of Mines. The MRP, with its highly experienced scientific staff and well-equipped research and analytical laboratories, is poised to participate in and support leading-edge minerals-based technology development. The MRP is attuned to the technological needs of the industry because its personnel are familiar with the tools and techniques of minerals exploration. The MRP already examines mineral resources availability for the future and thus has a unique perspective on the types of technology needed to assess and process these resources. The objective would be to bridge the gap between purely basic academic and purely applied industry research by conducting projects that focus on the development and application of novel approaches to solving minerals- and mining-based problems that are not typically within the capabilities or scope of industrial research and development departments. This research could include such areas as exploration technology, mineral processing, analytical methods, and biotechnology. It could also include areas related to understanding the colloid chemical and surface chemical behavior of mineral systems. The committee recognizes that expanding into these areas would necessitate staffing considerations, which are discussed below. This research would, in many cases, require close collaboration among MRP, academic, industry, and other federal and state government agency scientists. Through these collaborative research projects there will be opportunities for new discovery and innovation, which will ensure a healthy U.S. minerals industry capable of meeting the growing public demand for minerals and mineral-based products. When this research is done by private industry, the information typically is restricted and not freely available to all. A benefit of the MRP performing this research is that the results would be available to any interested party. Examples of countries that provide government-funded strategic research and development for the mining industry are Australia, Brazil, France, and Canada. These federally funded government agency and industry partnerships contribute to increased productivity by assisting minerals producers to improve existing operations and develop new technologies. The Department of Energy’s Office of Industrial Technologies mining program, which is currently engaged in industry-driven mining technology development, serves as an excellent model for a new MRP role in national minerals research (NRC, 2002a). The program’s mission is to re-
OCR for page 107
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program duce U.S. energy consumption and is therefore relatively narrowly focused on mining activities that consume energy. The two research areas the program has targeted are minerals processing and exploration and mining technology development. Critical areas not included in the program’s scope are environmental protection, health, safety, remediation, and reclamation. Consequently, there is a potential role for a federally funded program that could assist the U.S. mining industry in these critical areas, and the technical expertise and experience of the MRP could be applied to problems of environmental protection and through its abandoned mine land experience to some aspects of remediation. If the MRP were to assume this role it would be important to avoid overlap with the current program and to look for opportunities to work with industry and other interested parties. Supporting Sustainable Land-Use Planning Over the past decade there has been growing interest in sustainable development, which has forced society to choose between competing land-uses including agriculture, mining, forestry, recreation, industrial development, residential development, and conservation. As the population grows, these choices will become increasingly important and will require an expanding knowledge base to ensure intelligent land-use decisions. Making these choices is difficult and requires not only high-quality data but also expertise and leadership from many different scientific disciplines, including geology, biology, wildlife management, forestry, and hydrogeology. Local governments and citizens must also participate in deciding how to use the land in a sustainable way. These decisions must be based on good science, including comprehensive, balanced, and integrated evaluation of all land resources (e.g., minerals, timber, water). One of the MRP science goals is to understand the geologic setting and genesis of the nation’s mineral resources in a global context, in order to ensure a sustainable supply of minerals for the nation’s future (see Sidebar 2.1). The committee believes that the MRP should play a major role in sustainable land-use planning by providing scientific and technical leadership in the evaluation of national mineral resources with the objective of facilitating improved land management decisions. The MRP should explore new state and local partnerships where appropriate. Significant con-
OCR for page 108
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program tributions could be made by collecting data, coordinating data and information, providing minerals expertise where needed, and publishing regional minerals assessment reports that inventory known and potential mineral resources in an area. These reports should also include minerals value, their local economic impact (jobs, tax revenues, etc.) and potential environmental impacts associated with their extraction. IMPLEMENTATION The committee examined several aspects of potential program evolution, including changes in the mission and vision statements, changes in the breadth of the program, and new programmatic areas that the MRP could undertake. As noted in Chapter 3, the committee believes that planning, goal setting, and outcomes measurement are important and have not been adequately addressed by the MRP. The committee concludes that to implement new programmatic areas within the existing MRP, mechanisms for prioritization and planning, project selection, review, performance assessment, and determining value to the nation need to be established. A simple and transparent planning process that results in fully documented program and project plans is essential. These plans should be easily understood by other federal agencies, Congress, and MRP staff. Program and Project Planning The first step in the implementation is to ensure that the mission statement of the MRP is consistent with the mission of the USGS. The next step is the development of a new vision statement for MRP that encompasses portions of the existing program that would continue and incorporates the thrust of newly defined program areas. The vision statement and accompanying statement of mission are the foundation of a better planning and communications strategy that must underpin the MRP program. A sound foundation is essential if the MRP is to successfully convince Congress, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and users of the value of its work and lead to increased support for critical activities. General recommendation 4, set forth by the committee reviewing the MRSP plan (NRC, 1996) centered on planning, prioritizing, and per-
OCR for page 109
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program formance (see Chapter 3). The present committee, in Chapter 3, recommended that the MRP implement a management review of proposals to align the work with strategic objectives, a rigorous external review process, and an internal review process that cuts across organizational units. It is imperative that the MRP implement this recommendation as the program evolves. Program and project development should involve formal input from a spectrum of stakeholders and participants that would increase in number and diversity with adoption of the broadened programmatic areas discussed earlier. Mechanisms for input into the planning process might involve: Formal meetings with representatives of state geological surveys to receive suggestions for regional MRP projects and to develop better mechanisms for collaboration and joint program delivery; Annual meetings with major long-standing collaborators (e.g., Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs) to discuss new proposals and review progress of ongoing projects; An annual forum with universities, especially those with interdisciplinary National Science Foundation-funded Integrative Graduate Education Research and Traineeship programs that are relevant, to outline new program directions and solicit participation in new projects; Organized meetings with the World Bank and foreign banks; and Forums involving mineral resources organizations from other countries and the mining and environmental industries. Two products should emanate from the program and project planning process: (1) a predefined set of program objectives to facilitate the later evaluation of program and project accountability and efficacy and to enhance the ability of users, OMB, and Congress to see the high value of these activities and (2) a project proposal plan that uses a clear set of issues-based criteria and embedded performance objectives that assist the MRP in structuring projects for maximum effectiveness. Project proposals, submitted by MRP staff or outside participants, must be subjected to external review to ensure that they meet program objectives and other criteria set forth in the program and project plans. Adoption of an expanded set of programmatic areas may lead to new collaborations. Advantages to this are widespread input into program and project development and an increasing potential for reimbursable research. Reimbursable work could enhance MRP activities, expand the
OCR for page 110
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program workforce, and keep the MRP in close contact with its users. However, if too much reimbursable research is undertaken, there is the potential to distort program priorities and lead to problems of conflict of interest (NRC, 2001). The MRP might consider an external grants program involving academic, industry, and government scientists to perform research. Scientists in these organizations would be responsible for proposing projects consistent with the mission, vision, program plans, and project criteria of the MRP. The principal advantages of an external grants program are new opportunities for broad-based collaboration, which would leverage expertise across a broad spectrum of researchers, and increased communication with the external research community that would contribute to improved program and project planning. The main disadvantages are possible quality control and quality assurance issues that could undermine data quality and integrity, potential loss of timeliness in project completion, and possible distortion of the MRP mission. Assessing Program and Project Outcomes The committee agrees with the opinion expressed in USGS planning documents that periodic program reviews are important to understand performance and to evaluate program goals and objects (USGS, 2002e) (see detailed discussion in Chapter 3). Reviews of program efficacy are generally most credible if undertaken by external organizations. Other geological surveys, such as the British Geological Survey and the Geological Survey of Canada, have used this form of assessment very successfully. The committee believes that external project review and assessment are also important. One aspect of this is external peer review of proposed new and ongoing projects to ensure that the highest-quality science is being done. Another aspect is a review of the “value for money” of some completed projects. This type of cost-benefit analysis is valuable in demonstrating to OMB, Congress, users, and the general public that the projects are relevant, cost effective, and of significant social and economic value. Some projects point to “cost avoidance” (e.g., identify geological hazards that if avoided would reduce the cost to society). Project results, value for money, and cost avoidance findings should be widely communicated to the public.
OCR for page 111
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program Staffing The reputations of the USGS and the MRP rest, in large part, on the expertise of the highly regarded, scientific staff (NRC, 1996). An essential part of maintaining and developing this professional expertise is attracting and retaining talented scientists with recognized expertise central to the MRP vision, mission, and program objectives. As the MRP evolves to meet the nation’s changing needs for minerals science and information, so must its workforce. High-quality personnel are essential for developing high-quality minerals science and information; therefore, the committee urges the MRP to devote substantial efforts to recruiting and retaining excellent staff. This initiative should be undertaken as part of the program’s five-year plan and should take into account the new areas of expertise that will be necessary in the future. The committee is aware that it has been difficult for many years to hire new staff because of severe budget constraints, and, as noted in Chapter 2, the committee is concerned about the apparent decline in the size of the workforce since 1996. If the size of the workforce remains the same as it is today or continues to decrease, the modes by which the MRP employs people in the future will have to be increasingly flexible. The program should look at methods other than hiring to gain required expertise. One such method is to exchange employees with other government agencies or universities through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act. Another method to gain needed expertise is to implement an external grants program (NRC, 1996), which would allow the program to buy the talents of university, government, and industry researchers. The committee realizes that it will be difficult to implement an external grants program without new funding. Funding Base funding for the MRP decreased between 1990 and 1996 (Figure 3.3). In 1997 the budget increased by approximately $16 million, which was for the newly transferred MIT. Since 1997 both base funding and MIT funding have remained rather constant in nominal dollars. However, even given low inflation rates over this period, the diminished buying power results in a decrease in the ability of the program to meet its vision, mission, and program objectives. This will become even more of an
OCR for page 112
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program issue in the future as the program’s responsibilities evolve. The program may have to consider reallocating funds within the current budget. However, the committee believes that as the program’s responsibilities increase, its budget should be increased to a level commensurate with the tasks. With an appropriate level of funding for research related to national needs, MRP will be better able to fulfill its mission, vision, and objectives. SUMMARY In summary the committee believes the MRP should adopt a broad definition of mineral resources—one that incorporates activities on the life cycle of minerals and sustainable development. To support the lifecycle definition of mineral resources, the committee encourages the MRP to develop and embrace a broad definition of information to include both scientific and MIT-type information. The committee endorses a stronger international role for the MRP but not at the expense of its domestic responsibilities and encourages increased collaborative opportunities commensurate with its expanded roles. The committee strongly encourages the MRP to consider broader programmatic elements, namely (1) environmental stewardship with special emphasis on developing postmine land-use alternatives integrating GIS-based information from mines and urban planners and addressing unique environmental issues associated with mine closures, (2) data integration and data mining that accentuate the capture and storage of irreplaceable mining district data and the use of such archived data for creating the first national three-dimensional database in support of crustal interpretation, (3) an expanded regional and global perspective focusing on lifecycle studies of mining districts for developing and applying sustainable mining models for global application; (4) methods and technology development in minerals technology to support the U.S. minerals industry in a global economy, and; (5) sustainable land use planning centering on scientific and technical leadership for evaluating national mineral resources for improved land management decisions. The committee recommends that the MRP develop and expand its vision and program objectives to incorporate components of the existing program and elements of the new programmatic areas. To implement new programmatic areas, the committee recommends that the MRP de-
OCR for page 113
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program velop specific program and project planning processes that include external reviews, ensure that projects fit with the USGS and MRP missions, and specifically respond to priority issues defined by Congress. The committee urges the MRP to devote substantial efforts to recruiting and retaining staff for new program areas and also to look to interagency and university employee exchanges and an external grants program to gain the necessary expertise. As the MRP’s responsibilities increase, the budget should be commensurate with the assumed tasks.
OCR for page 114
Future Challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program This page intentionally left blank.
Representative terms from entire chapter: