The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a slogan that captures its odd position in the federal hierarchy: “NOAA may be the most important agency you’ve never heard of.”
That contradiction was on full display earlier this month, when President Obama announced a reorganization plan for the Commerce Department. Some agencies were to join Commerce. But NOAA, which received only a brief mention, was to move to the Interior Department.
So the agency in charge of tracking everything from the weather to fish in the sea is slated to switch over to the nation’s premier public lands department, prompting a question: Is that the right move?
Of course, whether it should even be in Commerce is a point of contention. It ended up there because President Richard M. Nixon was miffed at his interior secretary.
“The [Obama] reorganization aimed to create a new, consolidated department with a laser-like focus on business, trade and economic growth,” Lisa Brown, executive director of the Government Reform Initiative at the Office of Management and Budget, said in an interview. “NOAA focuses on weather, ocean and coastal management, and science. Those are two fundamentally different missions, both of which are critically important.”