NOAA grapples with reorganization uncertainty
By SeafoodSource staff
Published on 08 February, 2012
When President Obama last spring released a video soliciting ideas on modernizing government to better compete in the 21st century economy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was about to get thrown into the mix. “Move NOAA from DOC to DOI,” read a suggestion tagged No. 1979 and ranked No. 1439 in the White House compilation. “I think it paints a bad picture when we are supposed to be managing and conserving marine resources and we are under the Department of COMMERCE” rather than the Interior Department, an anonymous NOAA employee said in the submission.
Months later, after a lengthy consultation process, such a transfer ended up a part of the Obama administration’s proposal to seek congressional approval of authority to consolidate six major business and trade agencies.
Government Executive inquiries have found some support for transferring NOAA, but the proposal comes at a time when the 42-year-old agency that deals with issues as diverse as weather, fisheries and space has been struggling with ever-tightening budgets. The plan draws criticism from lawmakers, some former NOAA officials, environmental nonprofits, and at least one union leader who says the Office of Management and Budget’s efforts to consult employees about potential changes were insufficient.
Dan Sobien, president of National Weather Service Employees Organization, whose 4,000 members make up the largest bargaining unit at NOAA, was unimpressed with OMB’s online solicitations. “Nobody contacted us for our input. No one from the White House said, ‘Hey, wanna come talk?’ ” he said. “There was no coordination.”
Sobien added he also wasn’t notified of the plan in his capacity as co-chairman of Commerce’s labor-management forum. “Until someone at an administrative level comes down and says, ‘I’m thinking about consolidating it,’ I can’t follow everything,” he said.
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco reassured staffers that their mission and work are still important while promising to keep them in loop. A spokesman for NOAA referred inquiries to OMB.