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How Do I Tell My Employees They Are Not Essential
by Gordon Eaton, Director, U.S. Geological Survey

Released: 1/23/1996

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Public Affairs Office 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4460

(Note to Editors: the following 500-word op-ed piece was prepared a.m. January 23, 1996, and is offered for possible use in editorial comment or opinion page material.)

If the Federal Government shuts down again, I have no idea how I will explain to my employees -- the highly talented and dedicated men and women of the U.S. Geological Survey -- why they are no longer considered essential to the well-being and future of the United States. The problem is, I don’t believe it for a minute myself.

How do I tell the hundreds of USGS people who have been working long hours in freezing weather to measure and monitor the floods in the Northeast that their hard work to help protect lives and property is regarded as no longer essential to their fellow Americans?

As we mark the anniversary of California’s destructive Northridge earthquake (January 17, 1994), how do I tell our geologists and seismologists that they are not essential?

It makes no sense whatsoever, as our population grows, for me to tell dedicated scientists to stop assessing the very water, energy and mineral resources that are critical to meeting the growing demands of the country.

We are now nearly 80,000 water quality analyses behind because of the last Federal shutdown. How do I send our USGS water chemists home again and tell hundreds of state and local agencies responsible for drinking water safety that our work is not essential?

The American public pays about $50,000 a day to the Federal treasury to purchase USGS maps and related products to help build and re-build the Nation and to experience, develop and protect its resources. How do I tell our mappers and cartographers to go home, to stop answering the thousands of daily requests, because they and their maps are now deemed not essential?

All of us in the Geological Survey know that we must do our share to reduce the Federal budget. Not without considerable personal grief and pain, we have reduced the USGS staff by almost 20 percent in the last two years. And we are planning further significant belt tightening, even as we are being asked to expand our programs and responsibilities. If there is another government shutdown, will the floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and water quality problems also shut down? Will the Nation’s growing thirst for water, energy and mineral resources stop? Of course not.

As a Nation, we will not stop paying the "disaster tax," that indirect, hidden cost of repairing, rebuilding, preventing and mitigating against the effects of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters. A shutdown will not end this "tax" that according to recent estimates has averaged $50 billion a year. What the continued budget stalemate will stop is an important part of the scientific defense against such disasters. What the stalemate will shut down is part of the scientific effort to plan a more orderly future for the development, protection and recreational use of our natural resources.

Perhaps the final "essential" question that should be asked is: how can another shutdown possibly be in the best interest of the country?

(Note to Editors: Dr. Gordon P. Eaton became Director of the U.S. Geological Survey -- the Nation’s largest water, mapping and earth science agency, part of the Department of the Interior -- in March 1994. He began his career with the USGS in 1967, and left in 1981 to serve in several academic positions, including Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Texas A&M University; President of Iowa State University; and Director, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. Assistance or interviews can be arranged through Donovan Kelly, USGS Public Affairs Officer, phone 703-648-4460.)

The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.

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