Science Support

IM CSS 2019-01




Issuance Date: 07/19/19

Expiration Date: Retain Until Suspended

Subject: USGS Scientific Working Collections Management

Instruction: This is a new Survey Manual (SM) Instructional Memorandum (IM).


1.  Purpose and Scope. This policy establishes requirements for the documentation and management of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientific working collections. USGS scientists may assemble and maintain physical samples or specimens in the conduct of scientific research, and these working collections, while not intended for long-term preservation, are federally funded assets with a potential value to science and society. Imagery and document collections are not included in this policy. When a working collection is no longer needed for ongoing investigations, the USGS will evaluate the collection to determine its value to the mission of the USGS, the broader scientific community, or the educational community. Disposition of working collections must be approved by the appropriate authority as described in this policy. Should a working collection become USGS museum property, it shall be managed as described in the Department of the Interior (DOI) Manual and Directives (411 DM and Directives).


2.  Authorities.

A. The Organic Act of March 3, 1879 (20 Stat. 394; 43 U.S.C. 31), which established the USGS, provides for “the classification of the public lands and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain”, by the USGS. 

B. The Sundry Civil Act of March 3, 1879 (20 U.S.C. 59), as amended, directs that “All collections of rocks, minerals, soils, fossils, and objects of natural history, archaeology, and ethnology, made by the National Ocean Survey, the [United States] Geological Survey, or by any other parties for the Government of the United States, when no longer needed for investigations in progress shall be deposited in the National Museum [Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History].”

C. As a result of Congressional action in 1996 (P.L. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321), the USGS incorporated the biological research functions of the former National Biological Service and the minerals information management functions formerly conducted by the Bureau of Mines.

D. The National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program Act of 2005 (P. L. 109-58, 119 Stat. 596, Sec. 351) authorizes the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to (1) to archive geologic, geophysical, and engineering data, maps, well logs, and samples; and (2) to provide a national catalog of such archival material. These functions have been delegated to the U.S. Geological Survey.

E. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Memorandum, Improving the Management of and Access to Scientific Collections, dated March 20, 2014, directs each Federal agency that owns, maintains, or otherwise financially supports permanent scientific collections to develop clear policies for the development, management, and ethical use of these collections.

F. The Departmental Manual (DM) of the U.S. Department of the Interior, chapter 411 DM 1 - Identifying and Managing Museum Property “ (2012) establishes DOI program policy and standards for identifying and managing museum property” (1.1). It also distinguishes museum property from working collections (Section 1.5 BB) and non-museum property (Section 1.8).

G. DOI Museum Property Directives authorize bureaus to identify what is and what is not museum property (museum collections), and to establish policy and procedures for managing working collections (DOI Museum Property Directive 1, Section 1.7D).


3.  References.

A. SM 120.1 - Creation, Mission and Functions of the USGS

B. SM 502.2 - USGS Fundamental Science Practices: Planning and Conducting Data Collection and Research.

C. SM 308.76 - USGS Collections Steering Committee

D. IM OSQI 2018-01 - Quality Management System for USGS Laboratories

E. USGS Geologic Collections Management System (GCMS)—A Master Catalog and Collections Management Plan for U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Samples and Sample Collections (USGS Circular 1410)

F. Guide to Planning for and Managing Scientific Working Collections in the U.S. Geological Survey (website)


4.  Definitions.  Terms relevant to this policy are defined below. Refer to the USGS Collections website for a complete list of definitions.

A. Accessioning. The process of formally accepting and establishing permanent legal title (ownership) and/or custody for an object or specimen or group of objects and/or specimens.

B. Catalog. verb: The act of classifying objects into categories and documenting them with descriptive detail and identifying or descriptive unique numbers. noun: A file or database composed of systematically arranged records. A catalog of scientific collections is the primary tool for organizing and sharing information about collections and accessible through a digital environment at a USGS office or Science Center.

C. Collection Plan. A document established during the Project Work Plan process for new USGS research and approved by the Science Center Director that documents, at a high level, the planning for, management and expected disposition of the working collection. The Collection Plan is a living document and may be amended over the lifespan of the collection. Key requirements for a Collection Plan are provided in the Guide to Planning for and Managing Scientific Working Collections in the U.S. Geological Survey.

D. Disposition. The outcome of the collection evaluation process that determines that a collection, or portion thereof, is to be retained, transferred or destroyed in accordance with applicable Bureau requirements.

E. Project Work Plan. A document that defines an approved study, setting the timeline for the research, the discrete tasks that need to be completed to accomplish the study objectives and the relationship of these tasks to one another including the methods to be used. The Project Work Plan includes the Collection Plan and is approved by the Science Center Director (also refer to SM 502.2).

F. Repository. A controlled space where physical samples or specimens are safely stored, discoverable, and accessible.

G. Sample/Specimen. The terms “sample” and “specimen” are used interchangeably to refer to a unit of a collection that constitutes research materials such as a rock, an organism, or a portion thereof.

H. Working Collections. “Organic or inorganic specimens and items maintained by bureau/office programs that are not intended for long-term preservation and care as museum property due to their expendable nature. Working collections are intended for use during education or ongoing research and may be consumed or discarded during the analysis process according to bureau policy. Some specimens and items may subsequently be designated museum property. Working collections will be discarded when it is determined there is no longer a need for the collection for future research or education or upon completion of the ongoing research according to standards set in bureau/office policy” (411 DM 1, 1.5 BB).


5.  Policy. 

A. USGS scientists must plan for the acquisition and management of working collections. Through the required Project Work Plan (SM 502.2) process, USGS scientists must complete the Collection Plan describing the need for, proper care, and planned disposition of all new working collections. Collections must be maintained according to disciplinary best practices for the sample type.

B. For existing collections that lack a collection plan, the materials must be evaluated by the responsible parties (see section 6) to determine their potential for disposal, transfer, retention as ongoing working collections or museum property, based on evaluation criteria and documentation requirements set forth in Guide to Planning for and Managing Scientific Working Collections in the U.S. Geological Survey.

C. Working collections are managed at the Science Center or Cost Center levels.

D. Loans and/or subsamples are made at the discretion of the Science Center Director or their designee, in consultation with the collection steward/scientist, or if materials are held by an external repository, as prescribed in the agreement with that repository.

E. When work on a collection is completed or an evaluation of a collection determines that it or a subset of it is no longer necessary to meet the USGS mission, the collection may be transferred or destroyed, based on condition, value, and usage. Disposition of working collections must be approved by the appropriate authority as described in this policy (see section 6). Disposition of samples from Tribal or Federal lands must be determined in consultation with the responsible Tribe and/or land management agency. Disposition may also need to be in accordance with any special permit or collection agreement requirements. In the case of transfer, ownership will be offered first to the National Museum (Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History) and, if declined, to another qualified repository (see Guide to Planning for and Managing Scientific Working Collections in the U.S. Geological Survey)  to be made publicly available. Archiving of collections data and associated documents must conform with USGS data management requirements and USGS records disposition schedules.

F. Formal documentation of disposition activities must be completed according to the guidance provided in Guide to Planning for and Managing Scientific Working Collections in the U.S. Geological Survey.


6.  Responsibilities.  Management and disposition of working collections and associated documents in the conduct of USGS scientific investigations is the responsibility of all individuals engaged in these activities. Specific responsibilities are as follows:

A. Associate Directors. Associate Directors interpret this policy within their respective mission area working collections, and may develop mission-specific procedures and practices aligned with this policy. Associate Directors ensure mission area representation on the USGS Collections Steering Committee.

B. Regional Directors. Regional Directors are responsible for ensuring the understanding and implementation of this policy within their Centers.

C. Core Science Systems. Core Science Systems (CSS) Mission Area, in collaboration with Associate Directors, assists in developing consistent practices governing working collections, and maintains this working collections policy.

D. Science Center Directors. Science Center Directors or their designees ensure that scientists in their Centers follow the requirements of this policy and ensure that activities in the collections plan are adequately funded, staffed, and implemented. Science Center Directors have the authority to retain working collections for further research and transfer custody of working collection materials. Center Directors are authorized to recommend to the USGS Collections Steering Committee, the retention of collections, or parts thereof, as USGS museum property.   Science Center Directors ensure that accessioned museum property is cared for in accordance with the policy of The Department of the Interior. Center Directors or their appointees authorize working collection destruction/disposal.

E. Scientists. USGS scientists develop a collection plan during the Project Work Plan process consistent with scientific best practices for the collected sample type, and ensure proper handling, labeling, storage, cataloging, management, and description pertaining to the specimens and samples collected. Scientists ensure appropriate labeling and storage of collections that may contain possible hazards to other people or the environment (e.g., biohazards, toxins). Scientists ensure that collections are made with appropriate permits and follow applicable coordination and procedures depending upon land jurisdictions. USGS scientists cooperate with any designated curator or collections managers in their Science Center, or other relevant specialists, in developing these plans.  

F. USGS Collections Steering Committee. The USGS Collections Steering Committee, established in 2015, advises USGS leadership on the curation, coordination, and management of a full range of collections and associated materials in the conduct of USGS scientific investigations (SM 308.76). The Committee collaborates with Science Center Managers, scientists, curators, and collections managers to facilitate implementation of this policy. The USGS Collections Steering Committee also reviews all proposals for accessioning collections as USGS museum property, and makes recommendations to the USGS Museum Property Steering Committee, including the National Museum Curator, which has final authority on accessioning.

G. USGS National Museum Curator. The National Museum Curator is responsible for overseeing the care of USGS accessioned museum property in accordance with applicable authorities including laws and DOI policies, such as the 411 DM and Museum Property Directives. The National Museum Curator oversees the USGS Museum Property Steering Committee and is responsible for compiling data and filing reports on a timely basis to the DOI Office of Acquisition and Property Management and the USGS Office of Accounting and Financial Management.




/s/ Julie Wozniak for Katherine M. McCulloch                                       July 19, 2019

_____________________________________________            ____________________

Katherine M. McCulloch                                                                        Date

Associate Director for Administration