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Conversation with Customers
Executive Summary


The USGS (U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior) hosted a listening session in Washington, D.C. in October 2001 as part of its on-going dialog with customers, stakeholders, and partners. Because of the diverse nature of external communities served by USGS science, the broad term "customer" is being used in this report to encompass the variety of relationships from invested partner to informed constituent to influential stakeholder. The listening session provided an opportunity for customers to provide feedback to the USGS Executive Leadership Team on current science programs, relationships and communications, products and services, and to look for future ways to expand and enhance the value of USGS science to the many partners, stakeholders, and customers it serves.

Prior to the listening session, participants were provided with a framing document based on the National Research Council (NRC) report, Future Roles and Opportunities for the U. S. Geological Survey, in which the USGS was characterized as a "natural science and information agency," an appellation that brings with it recommendations and implications for internal changes and redirection. Participants were asked to consider and comment on questions posed by USGS Director Groat to obtain specific feedback in relation to the NRC report and other issues of paramount concern to USGS leadership. The framing document and the recommendations from the NRC are appended at the end of this report.

Participants representing their organization gave oral statements on the day of the listening session to the Director, Associate Directors for the science disciplines, and other members of the Executive Leadership Team. Following these formal presentations, an open dialog took place to clarify points made during the presentations and to provide ELT members an opportunity to update customers on relevant progress and pursuits. Summaries of the oral presentations and written statements submitted by organization are provided in this report.

Organizational Themes

In synthesizing comments provided by participants, several themes emerged as being of interest to customers and useful to the USGS as guides by which to organizationally address the feedback provided

Value Added - Customers and partners value their present relationship with USGS and actively support USGS science as critically important to their work. They view USGS and its science as being consistently objective, credible, and reliable. Most customers are anxious to expand the scope of their partnership arrangements into new areas and to broaden opportunities for collaboration within existing agreements. They urge USGS to be proactive in seeing that this happens. USGS also needs an effective strategy to prioritize and respond to customer needs.

Leadership Challenge - Participants issued a consistent call to USGS for science leadership. Customers urge USGS to take the leadership role in setting the national research agenda and implementing and overseeing a national monitoring plan. They encourage USGS to coordinate the approach and methodology for monitoring. Customers see USGS as the leading contributor to national policies for water and minerals and the formulating agency for water, energy, and mineral resource assessments on which those policies can be established. USGS science leaders should champion bringing traditionally separated scientific endeavors together on such complex issues as global environments. In meeting these leadership challenges, USGS is urged to address any internal impediments to making interdisciplinary approaches and methods work to the benefit of partner organizations and other customers.

Information Management - USGS data and information are highly valued by customers and recognized as being critical to their own success. USGS is challenged to leverage information technology to make data more accessible and user-friendly and to make such technologies and data interoperable, integrated in complex fashions, and applicable in decision-support systems and processes. Data need to be easily accessed and available in real time for emergency management and response planning and decisions. USGS is called upon to lead in the creation and maintenance of data standards and to standardize analytical methods and protocols.

Expanded Partnerships - Customers recognized the tension between asserting a limited role for USGS in support of Federal land management efforts and the national and global role that USGS is expected to play (by NRC in its review and by historic relationships) as provider of critically important and relevant science in the rich diversity of its disciplines to a broad base of constituents. Customers realize USGS cannot conduct all of the needed science and urge the USGS to proactively expand partnerships for research and science. Federal land managers urge focus on local and site-based science for decision-making, while other customers want the focus to be at the meta level and/or national level and to focus on uniform standards for data and information (see Information Management above). Customers also want to be engaged in project and program planning.

Communication - USGS can and should increase a broad-based understanding of the value it brings by proactively communicating that sense of value and the utility of its science using multiple venues and mechanisms. Customers urge USGS to consistently and frequently communicate with policy makers and decision makers; with land, resource and wildlife managers; with stakeholders and influencing bodies; and with the public. The transfer and application of USGS science should be a high priority.

Science Themes

While individual customer comments varied widely and posed decidedly differing viewpoints on some issues, several science themes emerged, which crossed most customer segments. The theme areas covered in this portion of the document are:

The thematically arranged comments below are not attributed to any particular customer, rather they represent an additional lens through which to view and address customer comments.

Basic Research/Assessments/Monitoring/Modeling

USGS is relied upon as the agency that provides basic research, long-term and national-scale monitoring and observations, mapping and geographic information expertise, resource assessments, and modeling capabilities. Customers urge USGS to continue these critical core activities, which are valuable to a varied constituent base. Customers want scientific information and analysis that can be integrated with that of other providers. They want to have information "translated" (i.e. implications or impacts are identified but not advocated and presented in a manner that makes it easily applicable) for decision-making, policy development, and risk mitigation. Expansion of long-term observation and monitoring capabilities are desired to enable the reporting and forecasting of change over time (i.e. global climate change, ecosystem change) and to increase the development of predictive models. Customers view USGS as having the leadership role in coordinating national monitoring efforts, establishing standards, and providing analysis and integration of information. A specific example of this was the strong support articulated for continuing, expanding and modernizing the national streamgage network. Customers encourage USGS to develop initiatives to provide an assessment of national resources and to maintain databases that support both national security and public health needs (i.e., pesticides and contaminants in soil, water and air).

Applied Science and Decision Support

Customers across all segments call on USGS to make scientific data and information applicable and decision focused. They see the value of USGS science increasing in direct proportion to its applicability in decision-making and risk mitigation. They need data and scientific information presented in ways that inform decision-making and policy development processes. As a body, customers need a better understanding of what data are available and how data can be integrated, synthesized, interpreted, and applied to their specific decision-making, land-management, risk-assessment, or policy-development purpose. They urge USGS to invest in and leverage technologies that increase integration and interoperability of data. Customers were split between those that urge USGS to focus on national scale, crosscutting, and unifying strategies and those who want to see science that meets site or species-specific needs. National, standardized land-cover vegetation maps for resource management and conservation planning and national seismic hazards maps for national engineering decision-making are examples of national scale needs. Federal land, wildlife, and resource managers urge USGS to focus on its core mission in support of their needs and to prioritize scientific investigations based on land management issues, ecosystem management issues and issues of endangered, declining and over-abundant wildlife populations. Land, wildlife, and resource managers particularly emphasized the need for rapid response time and specific focus in order to meet emergency and short-term tactical science needs.

Water Quality and Availability

USGS is called upon to take the leadership role in characterizing the condition of water resources nationally in terms of both water quality and water availability. A clear picture is needed of the health of aquatic systems and of surface- and ground-water supplies that are supported by basin-wide monitoring studies of ground water and surface water. National trends impacting quality and supply are needed, along with monitoring and reporting national needs and the changing demographics of those needs. Information and data layers to investigate conjunctive use of water resources and the protection of water delivery systems in times of drought, flood, landslide, and other natural hazards are needed. Environmental impacts on water quality and supply from nonpoint source pollution, logging, agriculture, road building and ship/vessel traffic need to be understood on both national and local levels. Customers urged USGS to increase collaboration with other Federal agencies to integrate projects and to use interdisciplinary processes to better address these significant water-resource issues.

Partnerships and Alliances

Customers across all segments value their partnerships and alliances with USGS and urge USGS to be more aggressive, expansive, and proactive in establishing new partnerships and enhancing existing partnerships. Many customers expressed the desire to formalize and expand their existing partnerships, especially around information technology, in order to exchange useful, integrated, and interoperable data and information for decision-making and for predictive forecasting. Customers who are currently partners wish to collaborate more fully to avoid duplicative efforts and to ensure interdisciplinary approaches. USGS was encouraged to increase collaboration within DOI to mitigate tension between their support role to DOI and their role as a national natural science agency. To do this, USGS must address with partners the issues of scope, scale, timing and responsiveness to assure research meets partnersŐ needs. Customers who currently have USGS staff in liaison or site exchange roles encouraged USGS to continue and expand those opportunities as part of building institutional relationship and capability. Customers value and need this technical assistance to apply USGS science to their issues and their decision processes. USGS was urged to collaborate more fully with partners for favorable funding and political support in areas of national interest. New partnership opportunities and collaborative efforts with public and environmental health agencies and Department of State were encouraged. International partnerships were likewise encouraged. Private sector customers recommended fostering partnerships with clearly defined roles for the government and private sector. In the international arena, the goodwill engendered by the sharing of data and information and the availability of scientific expertise should continue to be fostered. Increased use of competitive grants, engagement with the university community, and investigating an external science advisory board were advocated.

Data and Knowledge Integration

Customers challenged USGS to provide the leadership needed to integrate data in complex fashions for planning, assessment decisions, predicting and forecasting, early warning and management solutions and decisions. Customers encouraged USGS to develop data sharing models for long-term data exchange, development and access among multiple users for a wide variety of purposes. To do this, USGS will need to establish and execute data policies, guidelines and quality standards that comply with OMB requirements. Data will need to be provided in a variety of resolutions in global, national, regional and local scale. Customers desire a web-based, integrated information system that is user-driven and capable of allowing users to insert additional layers of information. USGS was asked to migrate to seamless national coverages, to expand use of GIS and to integrate data and information from remote sensing systems for land and resource management decision-making.

National and Homeland Security

Customers see a role for USGS in homeland and other national security efforts and urged USGS to take the initiative to identify and recommend means of eliminating possible terrorist threats to food, water, energy, and mineral resource supplies. USGS was called upon to capitalize on remote sensing and geospatial data analysis in assessing national security needs. From a national security standpoint, customers called on USGS to provide analysis of the vulnerability of the NationŐs water supply to contamination from both natural and human sources and to provide protection and remediation strategies. Security of water delivery systems is another area in which USGS is urged to play a role in providing data for augmenting compromised surface-water systems with alternative ground-water resources..

Human Health

USGS can take a leadership role in demonstrating linkages between the earth sciences, ecology, natural disasters, and human health. USGS has an opportunity to conduct environmental health mapping using GIS for exposure profiling, risk assessments and epidemiology. As human exposures to pesticides and emerging contaminants are more on the public and policy radar screen, data and information are needed on exposure pathways through water and soil and to input to more sophisticated and predictive models.

Endangered and Invasive Species

Customers pointed to the high cost ($150 billion/year) in damage from invasive species and urge USGS to investigate the environmental and economic impacts of non-native species. Issues of preventing the introduction of species, identifying those the harmful effects of non-native species, understanding their spread, and mitigating their effects were raised as needing scientific solutions. There are biodiversity implications in the issues of endangered and invasive species as well.

Emerging Issues

Customers identified an extensive list of emerging issues for which USGS science is needed. These include: global climate change and variability, status and trends in water quality, health of river basins and watersheds, status and trends in the health of ecosystems, resource availability and scarcity, hazard and risk characterization and mitigation, advanced systems for hydrologic prediction and seismic warning, and human health impacts from environmental exposures. The USGS should be proactive in the development of data and information and the technology and tools, including assessments, monitoring, and predictive modeling to address these issues.

Future Workforce

Three major workforce challenges were presented to USGS by its customers: Maintain a highly skilled, properly trained, diverse workforce equipped to use applied technologies; maintain a highly motivated scientific staff by ensuring scientists an opportunity to work on challenging problems that address societal needs; establish a corps of technical assistants to help extract, analyze and integrate data from multiple sources and apply information to decision-making. Customers, partners and university-based alliances indicated their willingness to participate in professional development initiatives that would help USGS build and maintain needed workforce capacity.

Conversation with Customers

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