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NOAA readies request to create new climate service agency

Sep. 23, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Under NOAA's blueprint, the planned center would consolidate the National Climatic Data Center, the Earth System Research Lab and other NOAA operations under one organizational umbrella. Here, a 2004 NASA satellite image shows Hurricane Ivan as it moves over the U.S. Gulf coast.
Under NOAA's blueprint, the planned center would consolidate the National Climatic Data Center, the Earth System Research Lab and other NOAA operations under one organizational umbrella. Here, a 2004 NASA satellite image shows Hurricane Ivan as it moves over the U.S. Gulf coast. (AFP)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is preparing a request to redirect several hundred million dollars in its fiscal 2011 budget proposal for the creation of a national climate service.

"We're trying to get it through the system as quickly as possible to Congress," NOAA spokesman Brady Phillips said. He declined to specify an amount, but said it would be less than the $435 million in the original budget proposal for climate-related services.

The Commerce Department, which includes NOAA, formally unveiled plans for the climate service in February as a means of providing "relevant and timely" information about climate change to government officials and the public. Under NOAA's blueprint, the planned center would consolidate the National Climatic Data Center, the Earth System Research Lab and other NOAA operations under one organizational umbrella. Tom Karl, who heads the data center, is acting as transitional director for the proposed climate service. Earlier this month, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke named six regional climate service directors.

But movement on the project had slowed while NOAA awaited an analysis by the National Academy of Public Administration required by Congress in a fiscal 2010 spending bill. Among other issues, lawmakers asked NAPA to look at funding levels for the service, how it should distribute climate information and how existing programs and resources could best be leveraged to avoid duplication.

In its analysis released this week, a NAPA panel strongly endorsed the proposed service largely along the lines outlined by NOAA and recommended making it the lead federal "portal" for harnessing scientific information to public policy making. But the panel declined to suggest possible funding levels.

"We felt that writing a budget was not our task," Michael Jackson, a former Homeland Security Department deputy secretary who chaired the NAPA panel, told reporters in a conference call Wednesday.

The study is under review on Capitol Hill, said a spokesman for Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for NOAA's budget.

Although fiscal 2011 begins next week, Congress is not expected to wrap up work on next year's budgets until after the November elections.

NOAA is not the only agency doing climate research. The Interior Department announced Thursday the locations for its Southeast and Northwest regional climate science centers, along with a final cooperative agreement for a similar center in Alaska. A total of eight such centers are planned as part of a strategy "to address current and future impacts of climate change on our land, water, wildlife, cultural heritage and tribal resources," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release.

The department is coordinating the centers' work with NOAA under a memorandum of understanding, Interior spokeswoman Joan Moody said later.

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