House Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) today announced his intention to initiate a formal Committee investigation into the formation of a "climate service" at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Hall's announcement follows nearly ten months of Committee inquiry and correspondence related to actions by NOAA to stand up a climate service, triggered by NOAA senior official Tom Karl's statement in a press interview that "We've moved in. We're waiting for the marriage certificate, but we're acting like we have a Climate Service." Despite Karl's statement, NOAA is precluded from establishing or implementing a climate service unless explicitly authorized by Congress to do so.
In March, Hall wrote NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco requesting documents related to the NOAA Climate Service, including any changes to the roles and responsibilities associated with the agency's organizational structure, reporting lines, review processes, program oversight, or program advocacy. A follow-up letter was sent on September 6.
To date, NOAA has yet to provide a complete response to repeated inquiries or a schedule for final production of the documents requested by Chairman Hall on March 15. However, limited information provided to the Committee suggests that certain aspects of NOAA Climate Service implementation have already begun. NOAA established a Climate Service Executive Board and appointed a Climate Service Interim Director. There are also indications that NOAA Climate Service staff have been put in policy and operational control of climate science and service programs, projects, and activities throughout the agency.
In recent correspondence to the Committee, NOAA acknowledged that "at times some NOAA staff engaged in climate services activities referred to themselves or their existing teams in shorthand, using terms such as "NCS' or "Climate Service'; however NOAA has not changed its organizational structure to establish or implement a Climate Service Line Office."
"I'm very concerned that NOAA has taken steps to form what amounts to a shadow climate service operation with budget, policy, and other decision-making authorities," Chairman Hall said. "In the absence of a complete response to the information I have requested, it is difficult for me to accept NOAA's attempt to dismiss concerns identified by the Committee as unimportant or simply informal "shorthand.' Accordingly, I hope and expect to use this formal investigation to answer key questions in an effort to ensure timely and informed decision-making on this critical agency policy issue. In the meantime, I will continue to strongly oppose any action by NOAA to establish a climate service or any action by Congress to endorse or accept NOAA's proposal to establish a climate service."
Announced in 2010 and formally proposed as part of the Administration's fiscal year 2012 budget request, establishment of a NOAA Climate Service would constitute the largest reorganization of the agency since its establishment in 1970. In addition to aforementioned process concerns, Chairman Hall and Republican Committee Members have communicated significant policy objections to this proposal, most notably that it would dramatically cut NOAA's fundamental research program in order to stand up a new operational service prone to politicization and policy advocacy.
NOAA is a significant contributor to the Federal government's interagency climate research effort, which has spent $36 billion since being established. "The current fiscal climate demands greater prioritization of agency resources, and it would be irresponsible to dramatically cut NOAA's core research activities including those aimed at protecting lives and property in order to stand up a new operational service prone to politicization and policy advocacy," Hall said.
Amendment language authored by Hall and incorporated into the final fiscal year 2011 spending bill explicitly prohibits NOAA from using funds to "implement, establish, or create a NOAA Climate Service as described in the "Draft NOAA Climate Service Strategic Vision and Framework."