Authorizing and Appropriating

Congress passes many laws – that is its principal function as outlined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. It also controls the nation’s purse strings, deciding how tax revenue collected from the people will be spent for the people.

That is a basic civics lesson taught in schools across the country.

But what isn’t taught is how these two responsibilities intersect – or frequently do not.

There is an important distinction between “authorizing” legislation to create new programs and laws, and “appropriating” legislation to fund these programs and government operations.

Federal efforts to preserve geological and geophysical data illustrate the interplay between authorizations and appropriations. It also is an issue of concern to the Association as expressed in an AAPG statement, and one that we are working on.


The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program Act of 2005. Under the act Congress instructed the secretary of the Interior Department to conduct a program: 

  • To archive geologic, geophysical and engineering data, maps, well logs and samples.
  • To provide a national catalog of such archival material.
  • To provide technical and financial assistance related to the archival material.

In order to carry out the program as envisaged, Congress further authorized the expenditure of $30 million annually from FY2006 to FY2010.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an agency within the Department of the Interior, was given responsibility for developing and conducting this program and immediately set to work. The program is currently active and disbursing funds to state geological surveys to develop the national catalog. But since inception, and notwithstanding the $30 million annual authorization, the program has only had $750,000 to $1 million dedicated each year to achieve its objectives. Why?

The Department of the Interior and its agencies, such as the USGS, are funded each year through the appropriations process. The House and Senate appropriations committees review the president’s budget, submitted to Congress in February, and evaluate the programmatic activities of each department and agency.

If you were to sum the total cost of each authorized program in every federal department or agency in most cases you would significantly exceed that organization’s annual federal appropriations. If Congress does not specify in the appropriations bill how much a particular program should receive – and it typically does not – it falls to the department and agency heads to develop a spending plan with the available resources. There are never sufficient appropriations to fund all of the authorized programs.


Having said that, several geoscience programs important to AAPG members received funding increases for FY2010.

The USGS received a 6.5 percent overall budgetary increase to $1.1 billion. The following programs expect budget increases:

  • National Cooperative Geologic Mapping, up nearly 2 percent to $28.2 million.  Mineral Resources Assessment, up nearly 3 percent to $53.8 million.
  • Energy Resources Assessment, up nearly 6 percent to $28.2 million.
  • Data preservation holding steady at $1 million.

At the U.S. Department of Energy the fossil energy program saw an overall 40 percent decline in funding. This decline was partially due to funding for clean coal technologies that had been included in the FY2009 budget, but then received significant increases in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (i.e., the “stimulus”), which is an 18-month bill, and obviated the need for additional funds in FY2010. In the FY2010 appropriations cycle:

  • Natural gas technologies saw an 11 percent decrease to $17.8 million.
  • Unconventional fossil energy technologies, funded at $20 million, replace the petroleum-oil technologies program, funded last year at $5 million.
  • Carbon sequestration receives a nearly 3 percent increase to $154 million.

While the natural gas program funding decreases this year, the scope of the program expanded. Last year the natural gas program was dedicated to methane hydrates. This year Congress indicated that the program should “fund research into production of methane hydrates, remediation treatment technologies and unconventional natural gas production from basins that contain tight gas sands, shale gas and coal bed methane resources.”

The petroleum-oil technologies program, which in FY2009 only received $5 million, was redirected by Senate appropriators to focus on unconventional fossil energy technologies and given $20 million. The purpose of this program is to “establish a comprehensive research, development and deployment strategy for the development of unconventional oil, gas and coal resources.”

In addition to the $38 million appropriated by Congress in FY2010 for the natural gas and unconventional fossil energy programs noted above, there is an additional $50 million allocated directly from the Treasury to fund the ultra-deepwater and unconventional research programs created by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. These two programs are administered on behalf of the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, known as RPSEA.

Finally, on the renewable energy side of the equation, the DOE geothermal technologies program will receive $44 million in FY2010, the same as in FY2009. This is in addition to the $400 million of geothermal program funding that was included in the FY2009 stimulus package.


Legislators return to Washington, D.C., this month to convene the second session of the 111th Congress. In February President Obama will deliver his budget request to Congress, setting in motion the appropriations cycle for FY2011.

As always, AAPG will push for significant, focused investment in the petroleum and related geosciences to advance the science and promote technology development.

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Washington Watch

Washington Watch - David Curtiss

David Curtiss served as the Director of AAPG’s Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. from 2008-11.

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Policy Watch is a monthly column of the EXPLORER written by the director of AAPG's  Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. *The first article appeared in February 2006 under the name "Washington Watch" and the column name was changed to "Policy Watch" in January 2013 to broaden the subject matter to a more global view.

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