Jan 27 2012

What Obama’s Government Reform Proposal Means for Our Oceans

Making Sure NOAA Stays Strong During Federal Reorganization

 

The Oscar Dyson, an NOAA vessel, headed to summer feeding grounds off the Alaskan coast to study whales that have been teetering on extinction for decades. - AP/ NOAA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Michael Conathan | Director of Ocean Policy

On January 13, President Barack Obama announced his plan to implement a sweeping reorganization of the Department of Commerce by consolidating six agencies involved in trade and economic competitiveness. One unintended consequence of this reshuffling is that by redesigning the Commerce Department, we now must find a home for the agency that comprised more than 60 percent of its budget—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, our nation’s primary ocean research agency.

In a December 2010 report, “A Focus on Competitiveness,” John Podesta, Sarah Rosen Wartell, and Jitinder Kohli detailed why President Obama’s proposed restructuring makes sense for America. But it’s worth taking a closer look at how such a move would affect NOAA and in turn affect how we manage our oceans.

The president’s plan would relocate NOAA to the Department of the Interior. In his remarks, President Obama went so far as to suggest that the Department of the Interior was a “more sensible place” for NOAA, and that it only ended up at Commerce at its inception in 1970 because then-President Richard Nixon was feuding with then-Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickle, who had publicly criticized President Nixon’s handling of the Vietnam War.

While this storied example of Beltway pettiness has circulated among ocean policy wonks for years, the reality is rather more complex. In fact, when NOAA was established in 1970, 80 percent of its budget and more than two-thirds of its employees came from the Environmental Science Services Administration—an agency that included the Weather Bureau, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Environmental Data Services—which was already housed at the Department of Commerce.

Since the announcement, many environmental groups have decried the move as potentially compromising NOAA’s scientific integrity by shifting the agency to a department that has developed a reputation for being industry friendly. Certainly, degradation of NOAA’s science-first attitude is to be avoided at all costs. Yet there is no reason the agency’s mission can’t be maintained under the auspices of Interior provided the agency retains its structural integrity and its budgetary clout.

 

Read the rest of the story on American Progress.

 

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