Creating a NOAA Climate Service

June 22, 2011

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF
JANE LUBCHENCO, Ph.D.
UNDER SECRETARY OF COMMERCE FOR OCEANS AND ATMOSPHERE
AND NOAA ADMINISTRATOR
NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
ON THE
NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION’S (NOAA)
PROPOSED REORGANIZATION TO CREATE A CLIMATE SERVICE LINE OFFICE
AS PRESENTED IN
THE PRESIDENT’S FY 2012 BUDGET
BEFORE THE
COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE, SPACE AND TECHNOLOGY
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Johnson, and members of the Committee, before I begin my testimony I would like to thank you for the leadership, interest, and support that you have shown the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the Nation’s premier Earth science and service agencies. I am honored to be here as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at NOAA to discuss the proposed reorganization that was included in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget. This proposal would strengthen science across the agency, increase organizational efficiencies, and create a new Climate Service Line Office at NOAA - to allow us to better meet the growing demand for climate information and services on climatic conditions and long term forecasts that are vital to America’s businesses and communities. I would like to emphasize upfront that this reorganization is a proposal, and
NOAA has not created a new Line Office.

Summary

NOAA’s short term weather forecasts of conditions on an hourly basis to about two weeks out are a key component of our mission to protect American lives and property. Likewise, NOAA’s long range weather and seasonal forecasts, also known as climate forecasts, inform advance planning decisions, from weeks to months ahead of time, that allow for a rapid response to the onset of events such as severe storms, droughts, and floods.

Although many people think very long term when they hear the word ‘climate,’ climate simply picks up where weather leaves off. “Climate services” refer to forecasts of conditions any time in the future beyond two weeks. For more than a century, NOAA has provided information about the weather, by way of short term forecasts of less than two weeks, and about the climate through long-range forecasts from two weeks to seasons or years out. For example, NOAA’s climate forecasts, including seasonal precipitation and drought outlooks, are helping firefighters in Texas prepare for and respond to this record wildfire season. These data and products are not just critical to Americans when it comes to saving lives and property; NOAA’s information is being used by businesses, industry, and governments to make smart investments in the economy and infrastructure. For example, just one of NOAA’s information tools is helping the U.S. home
building industry save an estimated $300 million per year in construction costs alone, by using NOAA’s temperature trend information to design cost-effective building foundations.

Americans also depend on NOAA’s climate information to reduce their risk to natural hazards (such as drought and flooding) and to take advantage of opportunities to use scarce resources more efficiently (such as reducing irrigation schedules during periods of above normal precipitation). And they are now demanding more data and increasingly complex products in a timely manner that, in turn, requires advanced scientific study. Appendix A of this testimony provides examples of the impressive growth in demand for NOAA’s climate service, as well as additional examples of the types of services and data requests NOAA receives.

NOAA cannot meet the Nation’s increased demand for this information with our current organizational structure. Our core climate science, information, and service activities are distributed across multiple line offices and therein inhibit our ability to efficiently target and deploy our resources and efforts. To address these administrative inefficiencies, the Department of Commerce and NOAA proposed an internal agency reorganization to consolidate the management of our climate related programs, laboratories and centers in a new NOAA Climate Service. Appendix B outlines the extensive criteria used to evaluate the various options for organizational structure of a climate service within NOAA, and reviews the analysis of the various options not selected. This effort was initiated under George W. Bush’s Administration, and it has been highly vetted by a diverse array of organizational experts, scientists, NOAA’s own Science Advisory Board (SAB), and, at the request of Congress, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).

The Climate Service Line Office at NOAA would be a single point of contact in NOAA to provide credible, useful, and timely information products. It would work with the broader climate service enterprise, including other Federal, state, and local government agencies, the academic community, and the private sector to provide businesses, communities, and resource managers with services and information for decision-making. The proposed Climate Service Line Office at NOAA would improve NOAA’s organization, such that the agency can be a more accessible, transparent, and collaborative partner to achieve the agency’s climate goals and to ensure that all Americans’ needs for climate information are met. In doing so, NOAA’s reorganization would also support economic innovation and entrepreneurship. This includes supporting development of the private sector climate services industry emerging around NOAA’s climate information, in much the same way that the roughly $1+ billion private sector weather industry has grown up around NOAA’s weather data and services. Please see Appendix C for a description of the many benefits the proposed Climate Service Line Office at NOAA would provide.

A cornerstone of this reorganization is strengthening the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) and NOAA science more broadly to advance our scientific understanding and develop new technology to support NOAA’s mission and services. NOAA’s proposal embraces the highest standards of scientific excellence and integrity. In doing so, our proposed reorganization would preserve, strengthen and integrate the existing solid foundation of science across the agency, advance innovative and transformational research and development, and incubate solutions to NOAA’s next grand science challenges. I know this is an issue on which the Committee shares our strong commitment and we are grateful for your support. We look forward to working with the Committee to continue to advance NOAA’s mission-focused science enterprise as we move forward.

The proposed reorganization is good government. It comes at no additional cost to the American taxpayer, and would sustain NOAA’s scientific research capabilities and focus them on these new challenges. In short, Americans are demanding more and better products to help them prepare for severe weather events and other hazards, and NOAA is proposing to more efficiently use the resources we receive to advance our science and improve our delivery of services to the public.

A copy of the full testimony (pdf) is available online.

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