U.S. Urged to Merge Land and Oceans Agencies into One

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9, 2008 (ENS) – Today’s federal environmental research, development, and monitoring programs are not structured to handle such major problems as global climate change, declines in freshwater, and loss of biodiversity, warns a group of former senior federal officials who want to form a new agency by merging two existing ones.

In an article published in the journal “Science,” the officials propose an independent Earth Systems Science Agency that would be created by merging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS.

Former NOAA administrator D. James Baker and former USGS director Charles Groat, among the article’s seven coauthors, see important synergies in linking the two agencies.

Baker said, “Population pressure, development impact, and resource extraction affect land and sea alike. Just as the science of the Earth is seamless, so should the government responsibility be merged for these separate Earth agencies.”

Groat points to the breadth of capabilities the agency would possess.

A new combined Earth science agency
would treat the planet as a whole.
(Photo courtesy NASA)

“The USGS, in bringing not only its geologic, biologic, hydrologic and geospatial expertise to the understanding of natural systems, but also its research capabilities in energy, mineral, water, and biologic resources, gives the new organization a comprehensive perspective on both environmental and resource systems. If we effectively link these capabilities with those of NOAA, we will have a powerful research institution.”

The authors recommend that no less than 25 percent of the new agency’s budget be devoted to grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements with academic and nonprofit institutions.

“Earth system science merges earth, atmospheric, and ocean science into a panorama of the earth system as it is today and as it will be tomorrow,” said Charles Kennel, former associate administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, and director of Mission to Planet Earth.

“We need it to predict climate change and its impacts, and to help us mitigate and adapt to other changes that have the potential to affect our quality of life and economic well-being,” Kennel said.

The article, entitled “An Earth Systems Science Agency,” points to the scientific advantages of linking NOAA’s atmospheric and marine programs with the terrestrial, freshwater, and biological programs of the USGS.

According to Donald Kennedy, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and past president of Stanford University, “It isn’t often that we are offered a real opportunity to make government work better. But the modest, sensible reorganization proposed here brings a new science-rich focus on some of our biggest contemporary challenges.”

Kennedy stresses the importance of linking the new agency’s activities with the tremendous talent in the nation’s universities, while former presidential science adviser John Gibbons says the new agency’s effectiveness will depend upon the bridges it builds to other federal agencies.

David Rejeski, who worked in both the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Environmental Quality, emphasizes the importance of setting aside some of the Earth Systems Science Agency’s budget to fund research and development with breakthrough potential.

The paper points to the direct link between research and development and economic growth. The work of NOAA and USGS already fuels a large, multi-billion dollar private sector enterprise.

Mark Schaefer, a former official at the Department of the Interior and the White House science office, said, “Our nation’s research and development enterprise must be better structured and directed if we are to have any chance of solving the tremendous environmental challenges of our time.”

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