On Tuesday, May 13, Dr. Suzette Kimball appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a largely positive hearing on her nomination to the position of Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. She spoke about her own inspiration for becoming a geologist and dedication to civil service, and fielded questions from both sides of the aisle, receiving an amiable reception from all the members in attendance. Topics ranged from the USGS’s natural hazards monitoring and mitigation programs to landslide hazards to Landsat, and generally showed a sincere interest in the Survey’s research and monitoring efforts. Also in attendance were presidential nominees for Commissioner of Reclamation (Estevan Lopez) and Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management (Dr. Monica Regalbuto). On a positive note, Chair Mary Landrieu noted that she expects the nominations for all three “very important offices” to advance quickly.
Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was particularly intent on hearing about the natural hazards monitoring capabilities in her eruption- and earthquake-prone state, where the Alaska Volcano Observatory’s seismic network has recently seen a dearth of funding sufficient even to maintain existing instrument installations. Kimball explained that “the USGS in past years has approached the budget process in these times of [fiscal constraints] by in each year identifying one or two of those fundamental activities that we would promote and push, because there simply are not enough dollars in these constrained fiscal times to be able to raise that bar for everyone and every program. So we’ve been approaching it in a stepwise process.” This year, some extra funds have been found to supplement the hazards and stream gauge programs, and Kimball reiterated that the USGS is committed to stabilizing funding for similar kinds of basic data collection. Senator Cantwell (D-WA) questioned Kimball on a national landslide hazard mitigation strategy, an especially relevant topic since the recent Oso landslide in Washington. Kimball agreed that a national plan is important, and that the USGS currently has some funding to do hazard assessments and comprehensive LIDAR laser surveys.
Senator Landrieu (D-LA) asked about State Water Resources Research Institutes, federal-state partnerships meant to address regional and state water issues. Kimball mentioned that in the past it has been a challenge to link their research directly to USGS mission goals, but efforts have been made to clarify the relevance of their work and the USGS now looks forward to lasting future collaborations. Senator Manchin (D-WV) requested an update on the USGS’s program for critical minerals research. Kimball reported that there has been a budget increase for the program and that “One of the new aspects of our work looking at these minerals and developing these assessments is to approach it from a life cycle perspective for use, reuse, recycling. We are committed to continue with our work on global assessments and we are committed to providing the kind of information that’s needed knowing that this is a global resource issue.”
Senator Johnson (D-SD) expressed interest in the future of the Landsat program and the continuity of data collection; the USGS and NASA have 42 years of an unbroken record of Earth observation through Landsat and other systems, and are currently planning for future instrument platforms. Kimball agreed with the importance of the program and said that the Survey expects a joint USGS-NASA report on a Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study (which will discuss future sustainable land imaging satellite systems) to be released at the end of May.
Dr. Kimball has been the Deputy Director of the USGS since 2010, and has served as Acting Director since February 2013. She was an associate chief scientist and associate regional director in the National Park Service before joining the USGS in 1998, and since then has held positions as the Associate Director for Geology from 2008 to 2010, Director of the Eastern Region from 2004 to 2008, and Eastern Regional Executive for Biology from 1998 to 2004. She has a doctorate in environmental sciences with a specialty in coastal processes from the University of Virginia, a master's in geology and geophysics from Ball State University, and a bachelor's in English and geology from the College of William & Mary.
The full hearing may be viewed at http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2014/5/full-committee-hearing-to-consider-pending-nominations.