Friday, January 11, 2013
Marcia McNutt resigning as Director of the USGS
All Good Things Must Come to an End
It is with a heavy heart that I write to let you all know that as of
February 15 I will be leaving the USGS. It has been my honor to be your Director, and I have truly loved the opportunity to be a part of this
agency: its mission, its history, its people. If it just weren’t for the
fact that this job is more than 2,000 miles away from my family and my
home, I would be pleased to stay on as long as I was invited to do so.
I am sorry to be leaving the top-notch Headquarters staff here in Reston —
as fine a leadership group as I have ever had the privilege to work with.
I am sure I don’t have to tell you all this, but Suzette Kimball, your
Deputy Director, is worth a million dollars. Be really, REALLY nice to her
when I am gone because she will have a lot on her hands. I have also
enjoyed getting to know the wonderfully knowledgeable Regional Directors
and Science Center Directors around the country. There is no question but
that this agency is deep in talent. But most of all I have been enriched
by my interactions with you, the USGS staff. I have found almost without
exception that you are all committed, thoughtful, open to discourse,
passionate about our mission, and hard working. We might not always agree
on the best way forward, but we do agree on the goal: making USGS science
the absolute best that it can be.
In thinking back over my time here at the USGS, a number of memorable
moments came to mind – all good – when I took great pride in being part of
this fabulous organization for all we have accomplished over the past few
years. So I jotted some of them down in a list for Secretary Salazar:
Top Moments at the USGS
1. We realigned the USGS so that its management corresponds to its
strategic plan, its budget, its mission, and its performance metrics.
Significantly, major foci for USGS research such as Energy and
Minerals, Climate, and Hazards were elevated to the Associate
Director level. It is easy for the Director to hold our highest level
managers accountable for the success of the organization in the areas
most important to us.
2. At the same time, the management structure for the USGS was
simplified. One measure of the simplification is that the number of
SES and SL positions in upper-level management was reduced by one
3. With perhaps too much help from Mother Nature herself, we increased
the visibility of the USGS. Our earthquake program has always been in
the news, but new challenges like the oil spill, hurricanes, white
nose syndrome, and Asian carp allowed different areas of the
organization to show their ability to serve the Nation, and serve it
well. The USGS took the spotlight when one of our own, Paul Hsieh,
was honored as a Federal Employee of the Year for his role in ending
the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
4. We propagated the USGS scientific integrity standards, improved upon
them, and applied them across all of DOI, becoming the first
Department to comply with the Administration’s request that all
government agencies have a scientific integrity policy that conforms
to OSTP guidelines.
5. We completed designing and building the ground station for Landsat 8
and are on track for a launch on February 11, 2013. This satellite
will continue the unbroken 40-year record of global imaging by
Landsat for land-use and climate change. More than 9 million Landsat
scenes have been distributed to date. DOI’s mission as the Nation’s
land stewards is enhanced through Landsat 8 and retains its
6. Our hyperspectral survey of the nation of Afghanistan discovered 1
million metric tons of mineral wealth in more than 2 dozen
world-class deposits of copper, gold, lithium, rare earth elements,
and other commodities. In commenting on our work, Scientific American
speculated that replacing "opium and Taliban strongholds with a
mining bonanza" could "change U.S. foreign policy and world
7. We established a Strategic Sciences Planning Group within DOI, co-led
by our own David Applegate, USGS Associate Director for Natural
Hazards, and Gary Machlis, Science Advisor to the Director of the
National Park Service, which is available for scenario planning for
emergencies that are disrupting or could disrupt the vital work of
the Department. They are currently performing a scenario for
Superstorm Sandy so that communities will be better prepared for the
8. We have become a leader in the Federal Government in the use of
social media to accomplish our mission. Whether it is crowd-sourcing
content for our next generation of topographic maps, sending
automatic text message alerts of flooding rivers to citizens, or
using Twitter to detect earthquakes internationally in areas where
scientific instrumentation is absent, the USGS is recognized by
industry experts as the setting the standard.
9. We commissioned a wide-ranging study of all business practices at the
USGS, called ACES (Achieving Cost Efficiencies for Science) in order
to determine where savings could be found in facilities, operations,
contracting, science centers, management, and other areas. We are now
implementing the recommendations of the report, working to return
millions of dollars each year in funding to our basic science
10. We are increasing diversity at the USGS by restoring our
internship program to its historic high levels, recruiting a
workforce that matches the diversity goals we have set, and creating
pathways to full-time positions. This has been accomplished in spite
of the overall reduction in the workforce.
11. The USGS obligated 99.95 percent of its ARRA funding on
schedule, completing two new Great Lakes research vessels,
modernizing the streamgage network, and achieving a decade or more of
progress in the Advanced National Seismic System.
12. We completed building out all eight of the DOI Climate Science
Centers. They are all hard at work helping their regions with the
science needed to understand and adapt to changing conditions to
13. In partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation, we launched the
WaterSMART initiative and are undertaking the first national water
census on water use and availability in many years. The USGS
continues to be the Nation’s leader in providing accurate, dependable
information on water quantity and quality.
14. We established a prototype of earthquake early warning in
California. Selected users now have advanced notice before the
destructive shaking from an earthquake arrives.
15. We helped inform Secretary Salazar’s decisions by producing
reports such as the one on uranium resources, water, and ecosystems
that aided when he withdrew more than 1 million acres for 20 years
from additional mining claims around the Grand Canyon and another
report on science gaps in the Arctic, which the Secretary requested
in advance of decisions on offshore resource development.
16. We published the first two of the biological carbon
sequestration reports, for the Great Plains and the West, both
landmark studies of the biosphere’s capacity to store carbon now and
into the future.
17. We institutionalized a role for DOI within the Federal STEM
education plan. We argued strongly that DOI should have a major role
in STEM engagement, given the natural laboratory setting for STEM
instruction on Federal lands and the importance of STEM education to
the missions and workforce of the Fish and Wildlife Service,
Reclamation, Parks, BOEM, and other agencies, in addition to the
18. Along with Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of NOAA, I edited a
special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
that collected much of the science conducted during Deepwater
Horizon. I also authored or coauthored four of the articles in the
issue. While the oil spill may be over, it is important that the
lessons not be forgotten.
19. We performed excellent science on behalf of our DOI partner
agencies. The brilliant scientists at our National Wildlife Health
Center in Madison, Wisc., developed a vaccine for plague and a
low-cost delivery system that will protect black-footed ferrets and
their prey, prairie dogs, helping the recovery of the ferret, once
thought to be extinct. Our scientists are also making major advances
in the pathology of white nose syndrome.
20. We also performed excellent science that furthered the mission
of other Federal agencies. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
specifically mentioned USGS scientist David Krabbenhoft’s work on the
mercury cycle as having been important in the recent EPA rulemaking
that limits emissions from coal-firing power plants.
21. Our science is also advancing U.S. energy independence. We
provided ecosystem science on landscape scales in support of
industrial wind and solar energy facilities to help avoid wildlife
impacts. In addition to being the recognized authorities on
undiscovered, conventional oil and gas resources, our energy group is
internationally regarded as world leaders in assessing undiscovered,
unconventional shale oil and shale gas resources. We participated in
demonstrating the feasibility of producing gas from methane hydrates
and have the first assessments of recoverable resources from these
types of deposits. The USGS has also produced assessments of
geothermal energy for the Western United States.
As extensive as this list is, it still fails to capture many of those
personal moments when I was so touched by my interactions with the USGS
staff and by our ability to use the USGS to simply do good.
For example, a personal highlight was the opportunity to honor Jack
Townshend for his 69 years of government service. And I never will forget
traveling with Ken Hudnut to the Santa Monica Mountains to rename Ballard
Mountain (former name: Negrohead Mountain) in honor of John Ballard, the
first African-American to settle in the Los Angeles area and homestead the
mountain. With that simple act by the Board of Geographic Names, we were
able to undo more than a century of injustice and give immense pride to the
hundreds of descendants of John Ballard who didn’t even know they had such
a famous forefather.
I also enjoyed my interactions with the stellar team that the President
assembled here in Washington. Working with Energy Secretary Steve Chu, U.S.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, Sandia Laboratory Director Tom Hunter, and
Jane Lubchenco on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill made us “brothers in
arms.” My trip to Antarctica with NSF Director Subra Suresh, Lori Garver,
Deputy Director of NASA, and Carl Weiman, Associate Director for Science at
OSTP, to improve interagency coordination was one of those “bucket list”
experiences. I was overwhelmed by the passion and dedication of USGS
scientist Katie Dugger, an expert on Adelie penguins, who camped out on the
ice with a teacher-volunteer in primitive conditions to study her “
subjects.” I was humbled to stand on the South Pole 100 years after the
first conquest by Amundsen.
I am timing my departure so that I can witness the launch of Landsat 8 on
February 11, a very significant event for the USGS, and after that ride off
into the Western sunset. As of February 16, Suzette Kimball will be the
Acting Director, and Bill Werkheiser will be Acting Deputy Director. I
shall miss you all. A committee of the National Academy is poised to move
on making recommendations for my successor, and I know that Secretary
Salazar will leave you in good hands. Of course until then, I remain your
Director, and we have much to accomplish before I depart.
Best wishes to you all,
at 3:57 PM