Scope of the Position:

The Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere/NOAA Administrator must oversee the monitoring of the oceans, coasts, and atmosphere in order to understand and predict changes in the earth's environment. In FY 2017, NOAA requested a budget of approximately $5.8 billion, an increase from previous years, indicating preparation for foreseeable issues. The Under Secretary/Administrator must properly utilize funds to protect, manage, and restore coastal and marine resources to ensure that the nation's economic, social, and environmental needs are achieved. The Administrator oversees six divisions that aim to provide comprehensive environmental protection.

Illustrative Management Challenges:

According to the Department of Commerce Inspector General's March 2016 Semiannual Report, two major challenges facing NOAA are continued efforts to manage the satellite acquisition program and establishing a more cost-effective process for gathering NOAA fisheries data.1 Another Agency challenge may arise from the tension between NOAA and Congress over climate change data.2

Satellite Acquisition Program

The creation and management of NOAA environmental satellites makes up over 20 percent of NOAA's budget. The satellites comprise a major source of the Agency's environmental data collection. NOAA relies on the satellites to track severe weather patterns and study climate and environmental conditions. Delays in acquisition could lead to incomplete satellite coverage. In response to potential acquisition and development delays, the Agency has launched the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) to best track satellite development and progress. This undertaking ensures that the satellite program meets its development deadline in order to provide appropriate coverage. Another program, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R), has been subjected to launch delays. Maintaining launch deadlines and developments holds increasing significance in the upcoming year with a combined total budget of over $2 billion committed to satellite programs.

Data Collection in NOAA Fisheries

For over four decades, NOAA Fisheries observation programs have used human observers to catalogue data and monitor fishing. Today, these programs have a $69 million budget and monitor over 45 fisheries. Recently, the Agency has begun researching and testing a new system of electronic data collection in an attempt to reduce costs and streamline the observation process. Despite 12 years of testing, NOAA Fisheries has not yet developed a nationwide strategic plan and continues to have each region developing its own plan, with current objectives detailed across multiple policy documents.1

Climate Change Study

Within the past year, NOAA has been under scrutiny from the House Science Committee Chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith, over a 2015 climate change study.2 Rep. Smith has argued that NOAA scientists preparing a study for publication in the journal Science were colluding with Obama administration environmental policymakers to alter temperature readings to make a better case for clamping down on industries contributing to climate change. Throughout the interactions between NOAA and Congress, Rep. Smith expressed suspicion that NOAA has a political motivation and rejected NOAA's assertion of a "confidentiality interest" that he said was not recognized by his oversight committee.3


     1U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General Semiannual Report to Congress;; March 31, 2016.
     2House Science Chairman Pressures NOAA Anew on Climate Change Study;; February 26, 2016.
     3Lawmaker Claims NOAA Altered Climate Change Data, Issues Rare Subpoena for Internal Research;; November 5, 2015.

NOAA Administrators:

NOAA Administrators have typically come from a background in science, research, and environmental studies, which equips them to deal with the vast array of challenges they encounter on the job.

Current Incumbent:

Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan (Acting) (2014-present): Prior to her appointment as Under Secretary/Administrator of NOAA, Dr. Sullivan had a considerable career in environmental services. In addition to her extensive background in research, Sullivan has a career that spans across Earth and space. In 1978, she was one of the first women to join the NASA astronaut corps, becoming the first American woman to walk in space. Among her many accomplishments at NASA, perhaps one of the most important was her mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1993, Sullivan began her career with NOAA as Chief Scientist and later became the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, as well as Deputy Administrator. Sullivan has also served as Director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Ohio State University. Preceding this position, Sullivan was President and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry.

Previous Administrators:

Dr. Jane Lubchenco (2009-2013): She currently is a part of the faculty in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University and serves as the U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean in the State Department. Lubchenco previous was on the faculty of Oregon State University, where she researched several topics, including human and environmental interaction, biodiversity, climate change, and sustainable use of oceans and the planet. She began her career in 1975 as an Assistant Professor at Harvard University. She holds a PhD in marine ecology from Harvard University.

William J. Brennan (Acting) (2008-2009): He currently serves as President of the Maine Maritime Academy. Prior to his appointment as Administrator, Brennan led W.J. Brennan Associates, a policy and management consulting firm serving clients with natural resource, energy, and environmental issues. Following time as a senior staffer for Congressman John R. McKernan, Jr., Brennan was appointed to serve as the Commissioner of Maine's Department of Marine Resources in 1987 after McKernan's transition to Governor of Maine. Brennan began his career at the Woods Hole Laboratory, a facility of the NOAA Fisheries service. He holds a BS in marine biology, MA in marine affairs, and doctoral degree in ecology and environmental sciences.

Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, USN (2001-2008): Lautenbacher currently is a Senior Advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Prior to his tenure as Administrator, founded a management consulting firm and worked for Technology, Strategies, & Alliances Inc. He also served as the President and CEO of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education. Lautenbacher served 40 years in the U.S. Navy. He holds an MS and a PhD from Harvard University in applied mathematics.

D. James Baker (1993-2001): He currently works with the Clinton Climate Initiative on the Ecosystems and Livelihoods program. Preceding his appointment as Administrator, Baker exhibited a significant career in oceanic and environmental sciences. Baker joined the faculties of Harvard University and the University of Washington, where he helped to develop the first College of Ocean and Fishery Services. While Dean of the department, he simultaneously served as a group leader for NOAA's Deep-Sea Physics Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Baker previously served as President of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc. and managed the International Ocean Drilling Program and other efforts to enhance various organization programs. He holds a BS and a PhD in physics.

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