Pity the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It has certainly suffered insults over the years, beginning in 1970 when President Nixon decided to tuck the newly formed agency inside the Commerce Department. Why? Because he was miffed at Walter Hickle, his man in charge of the Interior Department.
The oceans and atmospheric agency has grown over the years to make up 60% of the Commerce Department budget, and federal officials have resisted calls to make it a separate agency. Its multi-syllabic name commonly gets shorted to an acronym. But even the colloquial NOAA gets lampooned, as shorthand for “No Organization at All,” or “National Organization for the Advancement of Acronyms.”
The slights grew more serious during the presidency of George W. Bush. Scientists and policy wonks working on global warming or protecting rare and endangered whales and fish increasingly found their work questioned, delayed or altered because it ran afoul of official White House policy.
Now it appears that NOAA may shed its reputation as the Rodney Dangerfield of federal agencies. President Obama made a point of appointing the new head of NOAA along with other key science advisors. The U.S. Senate confirmed Jane Lubchenco as the new NOAA administrator on Thursday, making her the first marine ecologist to ever run the agency that oversees America’s vast oceans.
Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, underscored that point in a statement released late Thursday: “Dr. Lubchenco joins a distinguished group of scientific leaders in the Obama administration that will ensure that science plays its proper role in shaping policy.”