“As you are likely aware, this is a year of exceptional budget challenges.” This may not be the first or last time U.S. government information users hear such words. (See the NewsBreak, “U.S. Census Bureau to Eliminate Strategic Publications Including Statistical Abstract” by Barbie Keiser, posted March 28, 2011.) In this case, the words introduce the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announcement of the decision to terminate funding of the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) program.
Kevin Gallagher, associate director for USGS Core Science Systems, posted the announcement on the NBII website June 3, 2011. He went on to explain, “In the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012, the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) under the Biological Information Management and Delivery Program is slated for termination. As a result, the funding that has facilitated our NBII Node partnerships in the past will no longer be available.” NBII cutbacks had already begun in Fiscal Year 2011 due to the stopgap nature of recent appropriations legislation. As explained by Gallagher, “The year-long continuing resolution for Fiscal Year 2011 just recently enacted by Congress accelerates the reductions in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget by including a $3.8 million decrease for the NBII.” This notice and other details are provided on the termination page.
USGS had managed and funded the NBII program, which the website described as “a broad, collaborative program to provide increased access to data and information on the nation’s biological resources,” since the late 1990s. NBII provided funding and technical support to program partners who made their information available through the NBII program and portal (formerly, NBII.gov). The partners were from all levels of U.S. government, academia, the private sector, and other sectors. Their resources and collaborative efforts were organized into regional and topical “nodes.” The Bird Conservation Node, for example, included such partners and collaborators as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ducks Unlimited, the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture (itself a multisector partnership), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Resources in the Bird Conservation Node included data from nonprofit, citizen-based bird surveillance programs and bird-mapping applications from NBII, among many others. The other topical nodes were Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Invasive Species Information, and Wildlife Disease.
NBII’s collaborative, multisector partnership approach makes the withdrawal of USGS funding a continuing story. While the collaborative program is closing, some partner programs that do not rely on NBII funding will still be accessible through their own sites. These resources are listed on the NBII termination web page. Survivors include contributors from all sectors, such as: Butterflies of North America from Montana State University; Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, the open access journal from ProQuest LLC; and the State of California’s Southern California Biogeographic Information and Observation System. Some NBII resources are funded by other USGS programs and also will survive, including the Core Science Metadata Clearinghouse operated with the Energy Department’s Oakridge National Lab.
USGS also has posted a list of “non-supported programs” on the termination webpage at www.nbii.gov/termination/index.html#nls. On this page, USGS explains:
We have determined that the Applications identified below can no longer be sustained online due to the absence of funding and resources to continue them. In making this determination, we individually reviewed each application against carefully defined evaluation criteria. This review process began immediately after the NBII Program received its termination language to ensure a through [sic] evaluation. It is conceivable that some organizations may have interest in, and the capabilities and resources to continue support, a particular application in the list below. If this is the case, please contact the USGS at email@example.com.
The long list of no-longer-supported resources includes the Aquatic Biota Survey Database, a Conferences of Interest database, the Global Invasive Species Information Network, and the National River Restoration Science Synthesis Website & Database. The list also includes tools and applications, such as the Houston Area Water Quality Mapping Application, and the Bird Conservation Data Access Wizard. In addition, NBII had managed collaboration support services; in that category, the no-longer-supported list includes several university grant programs and topical email discussion lists.
What value have we lost with the defunding of NBII and can it be replaced? The NBII.gov website served as a central portal, a one-stop shop, for trusted biological resources online. Many of these are specialized resources that are very difficult find—or to distinguish from lower-quality resources—without a specialized tool like NBII.gov. This role could possibly be filled by another organization in a roughly similar way. NBII also funded and supported the development of collaborative tools and provided an organized space for collaboration. It is possible that another organization can commit partially to this role, but not likely with the same scope. Unique USGS resources that were primarily funded through the program have been lost, of course. The mission of NBII was to further a national goal of promoting information standards, metadata, and sharing in this sphere to further conservation and science; high-level support of this critical mission has also been lost.
The collaborative, federated nature of NBII has usually been seen as its strength. Many NBII resources will live on because they are not dependent on USGS for funding or staff support. The January 2012 version of NBII.gov itself will be in digital archives due to the collaborative efforts of libraries. The site has been preserved by Stanford University Libraries as part of the Fugitive U.S. Agencies collection on Archive-It.org. It has also been preserved by the Library of Congress but is not yet available from the LoC.gov website.