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NOAA + USGS = ESSA

July 3, 2008

This intriguing press release just came across my reader.

Here are a few blurbs from the release … I need to think some more about this.

In an article published in the journal Science, a group of former senior federal officials call for the establishment of an independent Earth Systems Science Agency (ESSA) to meet the unprecedented environmental and economic challenges facing the nation. They propose forming the new agency by merging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

My intitial gut reaction, for better or for worse, is that a combination of that sort would result in diminishing the component agencies signficantly. But, like I said … that’s just my gut … it is often wrong.

Groat points to the breadth of capabilities the agency would possess. “The USGS, in bringing not only its geologic, biologic, hydrologic and geospatial expertise to the understanding of natural systems, but also its research capabilities in energy, mineral, water, and biologic resources, gives the new organization a comprehensive perspective on both environmental and resource systems. If we effectively link these capabilities with those of NOAA, we will have a powerful research institution,” he says.

That’s true. But, why is a merger necessary to create better linkage?

Hmmm … I need to stew on this a bit more … anyone have any thoughts?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Caitlyn permalink
    July 3, 2008 4:27 pm

    Since the Nixon administration there has been a group of reorganizers who have wanted to realign the government into a Department of Energy and Natural Resources, a Department of Trade and Industry and a Department of Science. It has failed each time because other than a desire to reform the structure, there were no compelling net benefits to overcome the cost and losses of reorganization.

    One of the reasons for the current structure, with NOAA in the Commerce Department and USGS in the Interior Department, is the belief that science should be directly tied to a purpose. The weather bureau was in Commerce because weather prediction was important to the agriculture industry. The USGS was in Interior to understand the resource endowment of the nation.

    NOAA is not just a science agency, though some of the science bureaucrats wish it were otherwise. NOAA has fisheries management responsibility, regulatory authority over ocean thermal energy development and over deep seabed mining and, more generally, over coastal and ocean management.

    Since the 1960s, the “Ocean Community” has been a unique grouping of scientists, developers, conservationists and local and regional governance. Ripping the science component out of the community to become part of a science organization would enhance the power of the science bureaucracy at the cost of the integration of science with application, particularly, though not exclusively, in the oceans area.

    Beyond that, I think that within USGS, there is concern that bureaucracy trumps science, and I would expect that blending USGS and NOAA would only make that more of an issue.

  2. July 3, 2008 7:07 pm

    Caitlyn … thanks so much for that response … that is very interesting history.

    You say: “I think that within USGS, there is concern that bureaucracy trumps science…”

    No doubt! I worked and had an office there for a few years and constantly heard about how the ‘system’ stifled research ideas and progress.

  3. July 5, 2008 8:09 am

    I agree. Bureaucracy is terrible for science.

  4. July 5, 2008 11:53 pm

    I’ll bet this would basically just be an expansion of the hydrology department of the USGS, while saving taxpayer money.

  5. July 7, 2008 1:43 pm

    It always seems to me that combinations of this type end up being underwhelming. The combined entity would most certainly not have access to all the funding and resources that the two of them currently can make use of. And I would bet that after “synergies” and “efficiencies” are taken into account, there would still be a real decrease in resources to the now monstrously large entity.

    Now in a perfect world… I could see such a thing being very welcome. The systems approach is where we need to head in order to have a chance to wrap our collective heads around what the planet is actually doing. But this isn’t a perfect world now is it…

  6. July 9, 2008 10:24 am

    Lumping is what gave us the Department of Homeland Security, and I think that anything the Bush administration does will malfunction. But any reorg would take place under the upcoming Obama White House, and surely this proposal is aimed that way. I know the USGS would love to get more time on those NOAA ships. But I’m hopelessly sentimental about the USGS, which remains the oldest federal agency with its original charter intact. I worked there in the 1970s and would hate to see it retire its name and seal.

    The other thing is that lumping agencies usually means a drop in their budgets, and both USGS and NOAA have been starving for decades. However, the authors are not cranks and the need is great for coordinated whole-earth science. That outweighs any qualms I might have.

  7. July 9, 2008 12:50 pm

    Andrew … I’m still torn … I like the concept, but fear that a single huge agency would (1) not function well and, as you and others have mentioned, (2) decrease funding.

    I know creating another new agency is not an answer to reducing bureaucratic nonsense, but I wonder if an ESSA ‘linking’ agency, or maybe program (?), might be a better way to apply the systems approach?

  8. geoling permalink
    July 9, 2008 7:13 pm

    In the 1970ʻs, the solid earth geophysical programs and observational networks (seismology, geomagnetism, etc.) in NOAA were taken over by USGS, leaving NOAA with only its oceanic and atmospheric geophysical programs. A few years prior to this reorganization, the agency now known as NOAA was called ESSA (Environmental Science Services Administration). So the proposed reorganization would reunite what was torn asunder, with the addition of the broad geological and geophysical expertise of the USGS.

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