Official Urges Against Breaking up NOAA

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WASHINGTON — As the White House considers organizational changes for federal economic and trade offices, it should not break apart the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) because of the integral nature of air and water observation, NOAA’s deputy administrator said June 15.

One improvement that could be made within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be to move NOAA funding from the category of General Government Programs to Natural Resource Programs, said Kathryn Sullivan, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and NOAA deputy administrator.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address in January, called for a reorganization of the federal government to cut waste and duplication and to better help American businesses compete. The recommendations of a six-month study were delivered to Obama June 9 and will be reviewed over the summer, White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a June 16 press briefing.

NOAA is aligned under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The study floated options for moving NOAA to the Interior Department or splitting it up between the Interior Department and NASA, according to an industry source. NASA has long built weather satellites on behalf of NOAA.

NOAA should remain with the Department of Commerce because weather and climate observation are strongly linked to the U.S. economy, Sullivan said in an interview. If a decision to move NOAA is made, it should keep the agency whole wherever it is placed, she said.

NOAA “is really an agency of the globe because the phenomena that we need to understand and have reliable forecasts of as a country to have an effective economy and a safe populous are global,” Sullivan said. “I can’t give you a two- to three-day weather forecast for anywhere on the planet unless I’ve got observations and measurements from everywhere on the planet.”

When OMB crafts its budget proposals each year, NOAA funding is lumped in with funding for unrelated agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development. For the sake of making more comparable budgetary trade-offs, it would make sense to list NOAA in the Natural Resource Programs category with agencies such as NASA, the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture, Sullivan said.