Moving NOAA from Commerce to Interior?

Many readers of this blog are interested in this topic. Even so, you may have missed David Goldston’s thoughtful contribution to the subject. [I did.] Entitled “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Why NOAA Shouldn’t be moved to the Interior Department,” it’s been around a couple of weeks.

David Goldston is currently director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He worked for two decades on Capitol Hill, culminating with service as Chief of Staff to the House Committee on Science and Technology, under Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R, NY), from 2001-2006. Immediately after leaving the Hill, David served as a visiting lecturer at Harvard and Princeton, as well as a columnist for the journal Nature, for a brief period before joining NRDC. He is well respected around Washington for both his intellect and for his prodigious work ethic.

His post is worth reading in its entirety.

David makes two points that especially resonate:

First, the move appears to be “collateral damage from an unrelated [re-]organization.” That is, it doesn’t seem to be motivated by any positive vision for NOAA and its functions and responsibilities. Rather, in the face of administration efforts to concentrate federal business support functions into a single Cabinet department, NOAA is looking to be something of an untidy outlier in its current home.

Second, by thrusting NOAA into Interior, itself a blend of science and resource management agencies, the Nation runs the risk that important debates about the protection versus the exploitation of marine resources may be hidden from the light of day. David notes this a bit more bluntly: If NOAA and Interior disagree now, it’s a dispute between two cabinet departments that has to get elevated to the White House to get worked out by third parties.  If NOAA is a division of Interior, the Interior Secretary can just shut NOAA up.”  

In addition, he observes that the agencies in Interior that share common missions already collaborate well with NOAA; that NOAA partners up not only with elements of Interior but also with the entire gamut of other Departments and independent agencies; and that the proposed move would fail to address one of NOAA’s more serious challenges – the lack of a robust funding for satellites and other observing infrastructure. [There’s more…]

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David closes this way: “So, in short, there’s little if anything to be gained by moving NOAA to Interior and much to lose – all from a proposal that wasn’t motivated by anything involving NOAA to begin with.  The Administration wasn’t trying to screw up the National Weather Service, or to silence NOAA, or to weaken the federal focus on oceans, or to distort the already precarious balance that keeps environmental issues on the table when fisheries and ocean issues are being decided.  It just seems to have stumbled on to a way to do so.  This reorganization proposal would have made more sense coming from NOAA’s enemies.”

[Other than that, I wonder how he really feels…]

It’s the weekend. Grab that second cup of coffee, read David’s post from beginning to end, and take some time to ponder the policy implications. Whatever your task and role in helping seven billion people to live wisely and well on the Real World, you’ll be that much more effective come Monday morning.

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7 Responses to Moving NOAA from Commerce to Interior?

  1. James Henderson says:

    “….the lack of a robust funding for satellites and other observing infrastructure…”. One point that has come through all this debate clearly is that the other organization in the federal government that has a big stake in finding robust funding for satellites and an observing infrastructure is NASA. A perusal of the NASA website shows a lot of similar functions to the NWS and NOAA Satellite Service. There is no reason that I can think of that prohibits part of NOAA spinning off and becoming a part of NASA. Spin the rest of NOAA to Interior with solid requirements for a regulatory function.

    • william hooke says:

      An interesting idea with much to commend it. One barrier people have run into along these lines is that the NASA mission has been restricted by policymakers to be science/research. Once satellite operations become routine, NASA is supposed to hand them off to other agencies, e.g., NOAA, Interior, DoD. Policymakers have been reluctant to impose operational responsibilities on NASA, for fear that cost overruns (a way of life in the business) in running the operational weather and communications satellites would slow the pace of innovation. Your thoughts?

      • James Henderson says:

        Your points are well taken! I would count that with the current political thinking (always subject to change) that NASA has to reduce their space exploration budgets and concentrate on more earth bound explorations, this would be a good time to marry the two operational observational programs and increase the overall NASA functions to include real time operational forecasts and warnings. The Space Laboratory in Boulder would fit nicely. Under Joanne Simpson NASA had a modeling program that I think has been curtailed somewhat but the pieces are still there. It wouldn’t be easy and would require some out of the box thinking but there is enough redundancy to at least consider it.

        Most nations beside the U.S. have their military weather combined with their domestic weather service. The military guys support their missions with tailored infrastructure. Again there is redundancy between all three programs. I am sure there would be much push back but it ought to be at least considered while we are looking at options.

        One final note, historically there has always been a good relationship between the USGS and the NWS. The hydrological mission has a forecast and an observational component. Again there are redundancies. Oh well, probably more than you wanted to hear.

        • william hooke says:

          Thanks, James…the world may well be moving your way…as DoD seeks to find budget cuts, their polar satellite program has been in the crosshairs. And it certainly appears that NASA programs are under close scrutiny as well…with some of your proposed tradeoffs, or similar ideas, under discussion.

          Did I say the world was moving your way? Let me modify that slightly.It’s the UnitedStates that’s moving your way. By contrast, the Chinese are in fact stepping up their satellite efforts. In fact, China plans some 20 rocket launches in 2012 putting 30 satellites into Earth orbit.

          In your opinion, are they making the same mistake the United States made in more prosperous times, or do they know something we don’t know? Do they see the 21st century’s need for Earth observations, science, and services with more acuity than we do?

          • James Henderson says:

            Hi Bill
            Your last paragraph is of more than casual interest to me. Over the past two years I have become engaged in working with the Chinese aviation program. I will be going again this year to Beijing and additionally to Shanghai to provide additional training to their aviation meteorologists. The thing that struck me when I first became engaged in this program was the lack of productivity of their meteorologists. i certainly don’t mean that in a bad way as they are extremely smart and as they gain more experience they will be better meteorologists. However, the aviation forecast program is under their FAA (CAA). Their is a huge disconnect between the CMA and the CAA so that the CAA forecasters cannot take advantage of the modern satellite technology. Just quick example, we have the day night images that allow our meteorologists to see low clouds and fog thus helping them with the aviation forecasts and warnings. The CAA forecasters do not have this though it could be readily available to them. The CMA has the lightning data and it is not available to the CAA forecasters. The point of all this is they can continue to modernize and make available a lot of osbservations but they will need a vast reorganization and modernization. Given the opportunity to do that will involve loss of jobs and streamlining of functions. I am not sure they are up to that .

  2. James Henderson says:

    Sorry for the typos. I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to respond. :>)

    • william hooke says:

      Thanks, James, for a thoughtful follow-on here…and no worries about the typos…the ones I fret about are the typos where I meant to say “always” and typed in “never.”

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