14 December 2009

USGS Director McNutt Speaks to Press on Climate and Future Directions for the Survey

Posted by Michael McFadden

Marcia McNutt, USGS DirectorMarcia McNutt has attended about 35 AGU meetings. But this one is different, she said at a press conference Monday afternoon. “I walk these halls of Moscone with a different sense of purpose,” the new director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and science advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, told reporters at a news briefing on 14 December.

It used to be that she would come to AGU meetings with the thought of what she could learn that would invigorate her own science, McNutt, who served as AGU president from 2000-2002, noted. “Now, it’s with the thought of what can I bring back from these meetings and sessions that will help the agency thrive in this time when Washington is really listening to scientists,” she said.

McNutt said that, given President Obama’s and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s priorities, “the time is right to make climate change a top priority within the USGS.” McNutt said that even with the restrictions on resources that are going to be inevitable, because of the federal deficit and the war in Afghanistan, “this is going to be one of the very few areas where we will see some growth in the budget and some creative ways that we can work with other agencies to get some traction on this problem.”

She said her second priority is dealing with the renewal of the USGS workforce at a time when about 40 percent of the workforce will be at or beyond retirement age in the next five years. The situation presents a threat because of the potential loss of a storehouse of knowledge and talent, but it also is an opportunity to have new, young talent that might better reflect the diversity of the nation, she said.

McNutt noted that the leadership transitions at AGU and USGS are different. Whereas, the position of director at USGS is “like a revolving door” with senior staff helping to acclimatize a new head every few years, AGU had a longstanding director, which makes the transition a learning process for the Union. She said AGU should continue doing many of the good things it has been doing as a scientific society, including providing venues for good ideas to come forward at meetings and through publications, and keeping members informed about federal science funding. She added that it is “very powerful” when AGU makes statements on scientific matters.

Just back from the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, McNutt said there is a divide between public and private rhetoric. When things got down to a one on one level, delegates “really did understand the issues and really wanted to find some way toward solutions. But when they were in their big blocs, they had these formal stances they felt obligated to take.” McNutt added that she “got a total charge” out of the number of young people at Copenhangen and their insistence that the talks be successful.

–Randy Showstack, AGU News Writer