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The U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Resources Program Five-Year Plan, 2006-2010

Expertise and capabilities

To reach its goals, MRP depends on a diverse and geographically distributed scientific and technical staff to produce timely, impartial, high-quality products in mineral resource research and assessments and minerals information. The skills currently required include a combination of geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and minerals-information expertise. The large number of mineral commodities and deposit types about which information is required makes staffing particularly challenging. MRP requires expertise in earth materials of all types and all ages, in geochemical processes that occur from the Earth's surface to many miles deep in the crust, in commodities as diverse as salt and chromium, in all geophysical methods, as well as skills in information technology, document translation to English from Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic (among other languages), scientific visualization, and report preparation. At present, staff funded by MRP are housed in Reston, Denver, Menlo Park, Anchorage, and a number of small field offices in the conterminous United States. This distribution strengthens MRP's ability to interact with the diverse users of minerals information across the Nation.

In partnership with regional management, MRP works toward the following strategic goals:

  • Attract high-quality, motivated staff with areas of expertise that fit present and future anticipated research challenges
  • Provide training opportunities for existing staff to develop new skills, knowledge, and expertise consistent with present and future core competency needs
  • Increase the influx of new skills and ideas through a combination of permanent and short-term hires, volunteers, post-doctoral positions, and reassignments, and through participation in internal and external scientific reviews, workshops, and technical symposia
  • Partner with Biologic Resources and Water Resources Disciplines, other Federal agencies, and States to augment staff to meet increasing needs for biological, ecosystem, soils science, hydrologic, and other expertise
  • Maintain mineral-resource and earth materials expertise and facilities in the three USGS centers in Reston, Denver, and Menlo Park and in field offices in Anchorage, Reno, Spokane, and Tucson
  • Provide opportunities for staff to move among centers or co-locate with teams from other Divisions or Federal agencies to facilitate implementation of inter-programmatic and interdivisional activities and exchange of expertise and ideas.

The following areas have been identified (2005) by MRP managers as requiring additional expertise to meet program goals:

  • Research chemistry
  • Gamma-ray geophysics
  • Regional geochemistry
  • Regional geophysics
  • Spatial analysis
  • Mineral resource assessment
  • Alaskan geology
  • South American geology
  • Economic geology
  • Minerals information

The following new skills have been identified (2005) as necessary to effectively carry out future program work:

  • Fluid flow modeling
  • Geomicrobiology (including some experience with toxicology and epidemiology)
  • Economics
  • Mining engineering
  • Soil science/soil chemistry
  • Surficial geologic mapping with economic geology expertise
  • Spatial data modeling and analysis

What do MRP's land management partners say about our work?

Region 1 benefited greatly from your efforts to get us ready for the current round of planning…
The usefulness of basic data availability in common formats … is hard to overstate at all levels of analysis and problem solving…The ability to assemble needed basic data, do analysis, derive custom products and make decisions is a great step forward…
It is impossible to guess all the analysis questions we will face. This places a premium on pure basic information layers that preserve maximum flexibility.
Jim Shelden, USDA-Forest Service, Region 1

The basic data that is obtained from the Central Colorado Project will be used for many years, meets the needs of the Forest Service, and is warmly welcomed.
Rusty Dersch, USDA-Forest Service, Region 2
The MRP continues to evolve towards a research- and information-based program that assists others in using the results of USGS research and data collection to meet the needs of land management agencies and a broad spectrum of professional and general users. Drivers range from the desire for efficiency in government (as shown in processes such as the PART and Activity Based Costing) to an increased concern with risk and desire for certainty in assessments, whether of risk or of potential for undiscovered mineral deposits. These drivers will require increasing both quantification of all aspects of our work and an ability to generalize from location-specific research results to regional, national, and global integration. These requirements put a premium on staff who are accomplished in a scientific discipline, such as low temperature aqueous geochemistry, and in statistics, geographic information systems, and other methods of quantification and display, and who can mature into leadership roles in integration of data and information over large geographic areas. The staffing mix available to MRP at present (July 2005) does not include enough of these skills. Evolution towards these areas of expertise, whether through training, replacement of staff, or other measures, will be required for MRP to be successful in meeting its goals.

In addition, MRP will increasingly require high-level staff with well developed written and oral communication skills, including skills in fields far from geology, such as marketing. These staff will have responsibility for working with others who want to use MRP data, and will have to be rewarded for their non-scientific skills at least as much as for their science, as it is increasingly difficult to stay current in technical fields and perform the essential management, outreach, and communications functions.

The most significant challenge to achieving the required mix of expertise and capabilities continues to be the flat funding climate in which MRP has operated for many years. Meeting the Nation's need for high quality, scientific information about mineral production and mineral resources as well as baseline information about earth materials will require continued commitment of human and capital resources. Careful project management, collaborative priority setting, and attention to workforce planning will not be enough to sustain MRP's productivity toward the end of this planning horizon and into the next plan.

Enhancement of the fledgling external grants program will provide opportunities to build new partnerships with academic and private-sector experts, and may be a mechanism for supporting topic- and site-specific research that provides understandings required for regional-, national-, and global-scale integrated products such as mineral resource assessments. This approach is limited by the fact that Federal grants programs are in place explicitly to benefit the grantee, rather than the government, but even with this limitation, collaboration between grantees and MRP projects will likely yield research results that meet a variety of needs, including those of the USGS.

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