Budget cuts imperil EPA library system

Research database, access to documents may be curtailed in Fiscal 2007 budget proposal

By | March 10, 2006

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials are proposing to cut funding by 80% for the agency's national library network, a system that supports the research needs of thousands of EPA staff scientists and enforcement personnel, environmental biologists and ecologists in academia and industry, and members of the general public. "The libraries are a good resource," said Fred Stoss, associate librarian for biological and environmental sciences and mathematics at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "Closing down the library network will have great ramifications for EPA staff scientists and policy analysts," he told The Scientist. "It concerns me a great deal," echoed Craig M. Schiffries, senior scientist at the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE). "EPA has identified reliance on sound science and credible data among the guiding principles to fulfill their mission to protect human health and the environment. It would appear that access to world-class library resources would be needed to fulfill those goals," he told The Scientist. EPA has proposed cutting $2.0 million from the library system's $2.5 million budget for Fiscal 2007, which begins Oct. 1, 2006. The network includes 27 libraries serving 10 regional offices, two research centers, and 12 research laboratories around the country. Combined holdings include more than half a million books and reports, 3,500 journal titles, 25,000 maps, and 3.6 million items on microfilm. Last year, EPA libraries handled more than 134,000 research requests and cataloged about 50,000 unique documents. Cutting $2 million from the budget could entail reducing operations at or even closing selected regional libraries, letting go of a third of contractor library staff, and shutting down the Online Library System (OLS), an electronic catalog of library holdings, according to an internal report prepared last year by the EPA Library Network Workgroup, a group of library officials who evaluated the proposed cuts. EPA spokesperson Suzanne Ackerman confirmed the agency wants to cut $2 million from the library budget but said details have not been worked out. "We have no intention of stopping providing important information to our scientists or doing away with library services," she told The Scientist. A statement she later provided to The Scientist said: "EPA is working to modernize an outdated system by streamlining our physical collections and making them available on-line to provide more information to a wider group of people -- including scientists." But many of EPA's reports and documents exist only in print and must be converted into digital format to be available on-line, a process for which no budget presently exists. "Virtually everything the agency had done before 1990, which is a considerable volume of work, is largely in hard-copy format," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit whistleblower group that first drew attention to the library controversy. Members of EPA's Science Advisory Board may be questioned about the issue when the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards holds a hearing on EPA's R&D budget March 16, committee spokesman Joe Pouliot told The Scientist. For Fiscal 2007, EPA's overall budget would fall by $310 million -- or 4.1% -- to $7.3 billion. Research and development funding would decline by 7.1% to $528 million, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The largest portion of EPA's basic and applied research is in the life sciences, primarily biology and environmental biology. Nearly a third of EPA's R&D is conducted by colleges and universities, about half by the agency's own laboratories, and the balance by nonprofit institutions and state and local governments. Ted Agres tagres@the-scientist.com Links within this article EPA National Libraries http://www.epa.gov/natlibra/overback.htm National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) http://www.ncseonline.org/ D. Secko, "Science librarians question cuts," The Scientist, January 25, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23008/ "EPA Library Network: Challenges for FY 2007 and Beyond" http://www.peer.org/docs/epa/06_9_2_library_network.pdf Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) http://www.peer.org/ E. Russo, "The plight of the whistleblower," The Scientist, January 17, 2005. http://www.epa.gov/sab/ T. Agres, "NIH held to flat funding in '07," The Scientist, February 7, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23092/ "EPA R&D Funding Falls Again in 2007 Proposal." http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/epa07p.htm

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