Proposal to Move NOAA out of Commerce Department

Aug 7, 2017

Budgetary negotiations in Congress are tedious affairs, but can also be enlightening.

We’ve been following the Congressional reporters at E&E News and caught this line in a recent report about the House budget proposal:

“The budget also calls for unspecified savings from a Commerce Department reorganization, which would include moving NOAA into the Interior Department.”

One of the reporters on the story, Kellie Lunney, explains that the idea of moving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration out of the Commerce Department and into the Interior Department has been around for a long time. In this incarnation, the idea is to save money. The amount is not specified.

“Both Democrats and Republicans for years have eyed the Commerce Department as ripe for reorganization, especially with respect to NOAA,” Lunney said. “A lot of people think, ‘Why is NOAA in the Commerce Department?’”

After all, Commerce is focused trade and economic development, while NOAA is all about weather forecasting and fisheries management.

In beltway mythology, the structure dates back to when President Richard Nixon was trying to punish Interior Secretary Walter Hickel for objecting to the Vietnam War, Lunney said. Apparently making Hickel look after NOAA was a punishment.

Even though the idea crops up periodically to move NOAA into a department that suits it better, it never seems to gain traction. And it probably won’t go far this time, either.

“You don’t easily unwind decades of management and relationships,” Lunney said. 

Also, the person who is holding the purse strings, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), was recently quoted as saying he thinks Commerce is doing a fine job handling NOAA. 

"Really, it's not going to go anywhere," Lunney said. 

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