Monday, July 7, 2008


The latest Science Magazine, a group of former USGS and NOAA senior employees recommend the development of an earth systems science agency.
We propose that an Earth Systems Science Agency (ESSA) be formed by combining NOAA and USGS and by building a strong policy, administrative, and collaborative research bridge to NASA's Earth sciences program. The agency should focus on research, monitoring, communication, and the advancement of applications, particularly decision support systems that inform policy-making and guide implementation.
This discussion piece makes some very good points. As it stands, many of these scientific responsibilities are spread out among numerous different agencies. As a result, some scientific efforts seem to be duplicated while others are neglected. As it stands, these agencies are also in direct competition for resources. A single agency would have the potential to be much more efficient.

The core mission of ESSA should be to conduct and sponsor research, development, monitoring, educational, and communications activities in Earth systems science. Its portfolio should include ocean, atmospheric, terrestrial, cryosphere, freshwater, and ecological processes and the interactions among them. It should develop and communicate comprehensive information on Earth processes, including natural disasters and extreme weather events. It should generate information critical to the sustainable use of water, mineral, biomass, wind, and other resources. Also, it should provide information on the state and quality of freshwater, estuarine, and marine biological resources and nonrenewable materials resources to guide commercial and conservation activities.
This discussion piece does not touch upon the political hurdles associated with developing a single agency. That is surprising, considering the authors background. There would have to be significant political will to pull this off. Does Congress really have this type of will? I am skeptical that this could really be pulled off. NOAA is in the Department of Commerce and USGS is in the Department of the Interior. There would be a pretty substantial battle for resources.

It took September 11th to generate the momentum necessary to develop the Department of Homeland Security. While climate change is much larger in scale, it is more of a chronic problem rather than a discrete event. In my humble opinion, it is much harder to generate political momentum for these types of issues. There are probably very strong budgetary arguments for this type of move (returns to scale?), but is that enough? Is there a powerful politician out there that would champion this type of cause or is this just another pipe dream?

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