State geologists moving to UA, face layoffs

Layoffs are likely at the Arizona Geological Survey now that it is moving to the University of Arizona on July 1.

Arizona State Geologist Lee Allison has warned eight of his staff that they face layoffs as the Arizona Geological Survey moves to the University of Arizona on July 1.

A consolidation bill pushed by Gov. Doug Ducey and approved by the Legislature specifies that the state duties of the Geological Survey will continue but provided no specific money to the UA to fund the agency’s employees.

Officials with the Arizona Geological Survey and the University of Arizona said they did not ask for the consolidation and, in fact, were surprised when the governor announced it in his budget message in January.

Allison said he’s been told by UA officials that they will provide the same amount of funds the state did last year — $941,000 — but for only one year.

He said the UA will also claim 85 percent of the “overhead money” provided to the survey by grants from federal agencies, which Allison has used in recent years to double his operating revenue.

The financial arrangements were still being negotiated, UA officials said. “We are not at a point right now where we can comment,” said Caroline Garcia, associate vice president for research.

“We didn’t initiate it, but the transfer makes scientific sense to us and is in line with our land-grant mission of service,” said Chris Sigurdson, a UA spokesman. “The details under discussion include making sure we don’t have to support the operation with tuition dollars. That’s been one of the criteria we’ve put in place for several non-academic programs.”

The UA is being “generous” in its approach to the consolidation, Allison said. “They are getting an added burden with no direct appropriations. They are doing more than required.”

He said the legislation authorizing the move did include an “intent that we move over intact and retain all our services” but it did not direct any funding.

The Geological Survey will move to new offices near campus at 1955 E. Sixth St., formerly occupied by the UA Office of Arid Lands Studies.

The site is half the size of its present home in the Arizona State Office Building on West Congress Street. There is no room for the store run by the Survey, nor for storage of much of its historic records and documents, Allison said.

In January, the Geological Survey had 27 employees, eight of them Ph.D. scientists who monitor earthquakes, map mineral deposits, measure land subsidence (settling) and investigate geological disturbances to provide information to researchers, industry and the public.

In recent years, it has also led national and international efforts in digitizing programs and information in the geosciences and created online portals to much of the information it has archived since its founding in Territorial times.

It already works closely with UA colleagues in mining, engineering, hydrology, environment and geosciences at the UA, said Joaquin Ruiz, UA vice president for innovation and strategy and dean of the College of Science. “I am thrilled to have the survey in the College of Science,” he said.

Ruiz said he has not been part of the financial discussion, but said the move is “a challenge for (Allison), that’s for sure. What we’re going to do is try to help him as best we can.”

A briefing paper prepared for the consolidation by the Arizona Geological Survey says the agency has gathered more than $35.8 million in government and industry grants and private gifts since 2011 — nearly seven times its appropriations from the state.

The grants include “overhead” — money for management and infrastructure that allowed Allison to double his operating revenue.

“These funds had been about as much as our state appropriation, and used to support our core mission, so the net result will be a 40 to 50 percent reduction in funds for state services,” he wrote in a Sunday blog on the Arizona Geology website.

Some users of the information provided by the Geological Survey opposed the consolidation, fearing those consequences.

“In concept, it isn’t a bad idea; in reality, it’s a nightmare,” said Rick Grinnell, vice president of the Southern Arizona Business Coalition, which supports the mining industry.

The survey’s annual appropriation of less than $1 million is a tiny part of the state’s $9 billion budget, Grinnell said. “This was put together by number crunchers and not well thought out,” he said.

Grinnell said the survey’s mapping of state mineral resources is important to his industry, but just one of many valuable services. “Lee has just done an amazing job over there. It’s not broken. It doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Allison has a national reputation for leadership in the field, said Gary Woodard, a water policy analyst with Montgomery Associates. “Lee came in to a pretty tiny, underfunded, moribund agency and turned it around. He clearly put a focus on water and on increased outreach.”

Woodard said he’s heard strong concerns about the move voiced in hydrology circles.

Hunter Moore, Ducey’s policy adviser for natural resources, said the survey was moved to the University of Arizona because its functions are research-oriented and have “a lot of crossover and synergy” with the university.

“One of the things we said from the outset in our discussion with the UA is that we recognize the Geological Survey has a lot of talent. They get a lot of work done, and that is valued by the customers. We held several meetings to make sure we did not see a talent drain or a detriment to the level of service,” Moore said.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158. Follow him on Facebook or @bealagram on Twitter.