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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The U.S. Needs a Single Department/Agency Dedicated to Global Warming

Summary.  The National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee issued a draft version of its Third National Climate Assessment in 2013.  The Committee is drawn from bureaus and divisions within thirteen diverse federal departments and agencies.  Its mission is to report on scientific information and assessments thereof related to global warming, but does not include a mandate to formulate policy.

These and other aspects of the Committee’s composition and responsibilities lead to identification of several administrative problems and deficiencies.

This post recommends that in order to overcome these difficulties a single cabinet-level department or agency be created solely devoted to most or all aspects of the global warming issue.  This new entity critically should be charged with proposing policies addressing mitigation of and adaptation to further global warming.


The National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) issued a draft version of its Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) in 2013.  The NCADAC was established in 2010 under terms of the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972.  It is housed in the Department of Commerce under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The NCADAC consists of 60 members.  Forty-five senior authors drawn from academic, nonprofit and consulting organizations prepared the report.  240 other scientists and professionals assisted the NCADAC.  The work was coordinated by fourteen ex officio members drawn from thirteen federal agencies.  These are the logos of the participating departments and agencies:
 
In turn the NCA is authorized under the Global Change Research Act of 1990  (the Act) to “assist the nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change”.  It is assembled in the Global Change Research Program.   A principal objective of the Act is to “improve cooperation among Federal agencies and departments with respect to global change research activities”.  In addition, every four years it is to prepare an assessment for the President and Congress that (1) evaluates and interprets its results, including scientific uncertainties, (2) analyzes effects of global change on the environment and on an extensive range of human economic and social activities, and (3) analyzes current natural and man-made trends and offers projections of future trends for up to 100 years.  It is noteworthy that its tasks do not include formulation of policies to address global warming.
 
The draft NCA was open for comments for a time, and its final version in response to comments received is in preparation.  Links to the full draft report, as well as to each chapter individually, are available here.
 
Thirteen Federal Departments and Agencies
As noted above, official government participation in the preparation of the NCA comes from twelve departments and agencies and the White House.  These are
 
Agency for International Development
Department of the Interior
Department of Energy
Department of Defense
Department of Homeland Security
Smithsonian Institution
Department of Agriculture
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
White House Council on Environmental Quality
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Department of Transportation
Department of Health and Human Services
Environmental Protection Agency
National Science Foundation
Department of State
 
Descriptions of each department or agency including the section within each having to do with global warming, and the title of each ex officio member participating in preparing the report, are given in the Details section at the end of this post.
 
Several serious problems arise from the present dispersed nature of the federal global warming effort.  The Details provided at the end of this post make clear that the offices in the federal government working on global warming are strewn across a myriad of departments and agencies.  Only perhaps two of these, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are concerned primarily with the environment in general, and within them, specifically the issue of global warming.  The problems arising from the existing arrangement include the following important issues.
 
1)     Personnel from thirteen federal departments and agencies with a broad range of administrative responsibilities serve as Acting Ex Officio Members coordinating the preparation of this third NCA. 
 
     As noted above, NCADAC is not mandated to formulate policy recommendations to address global warming and the harms it inflicts on humanity.  (For example, see the NCA Executive Summary, in the section “Responding to Climate Change”.  It states that mitigation approaches are being assessed elsewhere than by the NCADAC, including by various departments and agencies among those in the NCADAC.)
 
     Furthermore, the departments and agencies of the NCADAC have disparate objectives and conduct differing activities related to global warming.  These are carried out in a fashion that is administratively segregated, without significant coordination by an upper level cabinet official.  This situation potentially inhibits effective communication between personnel in related fields.  Important research and assessments are conducted by various ones of these agencies and departments, while regulation of emissions from different sources originates in still other agencies and departments. 
 
     In summary, the present status of research, evaluation and policy development related to global warming critically lacks a centralized, authoritative, coordinated organizational structure.
 
2)     Many of the organizations in the NCADAC are full federal departments headed by a cabinet member, a Secretary, or an agency headed by an Administrator.  Since s/he heads a very large organization (see Details), her/his attention is divided among many issues over time.  For this reason s/he can neither provide the focus nor devote the attention to global warming that it merits.
 
3)     Some of these departments and agencies oversee a variety of activities, many of whose goals are inconsistent with each other, with respect to the issue of global warming (see Details).  Consequently it is difficult for the particular Secretary or Administrator to develop and implement policies that could address global warming as effectively as possible, because s/he represents conflicting subordinate divisions.  The same person is being asked to perform functions that are mutually opposed to each other.  This is not an effective way to promote policies that address the issue of global warming.
 
4)     It is possible that vital communication among personnel engaged in their particular activities within their departments and agencies may be inefficient, simply because of bureaucratic barriers.  (This writer has no substantiation for this surmise.) 
 
5)     Most of the specific offices, bureaus and divisions contributing to preparation of the NCA are housed in larger departments and agencies.  As such they have to contend with their peer offices, bureaus and divisions within their departments and agencies for support from limited budgetary resources.  This potentially limits their capabilities for carrying out their objectives.
 
The U.S. needs a new cabinet-level department/agency dedicated to global warming.  The very motto of the NCADAC, “Thirteen Agencies, One Vision…”,
 

 
cries out for just such a solution.  This vision in reality must be expanded to the notion that America’s effort against continued warming be empowered by strong science, critical evaluation, and bold new federal policies. 
 
Bureaus, offices and divisions within the thirteen agencies of the NCADAC contribute diverse activities to the assembly of the NCA; these are identified below in the Details section.  The statement of purpose of the NCADAC, to “improve cooperation among Federal agencies and departments with respect to global change research activities”, speaks directly to the crucial weakness of current federal efforts to combat global warming, namely, the diffused location of efforts among executive branch departments and agencies.  The Details section makes clear just how broadly these responsibilities are scattered.
 
In order to overcome the managerial, bureaucratic and budgetary impediments to the development of cogent global warming policy, all or most of these activities should be united under the leadership of a new Department or Agency dealing exclusively with global warming.  (A reasonable case for exceptions exists perhaps for preserving efforts devoted to international climate negotiations within the Department of State, and for keeping the Sustainable Infrastructure section within the Department of Defense, for example).
 
A single department or agency would resolve the difficulties identified above.  1) The scattered, diffuse distribution of efforts devoted to global warming would be centralized into a unified administrative structure.  The mission of the new department or agency would include formulation of policy, not merely research to collect new information and evaluation of that information.  2) The department secretary or agency administrator could focus all her/his efforts on the single subject of global warming.  3) The attention of the department secretary or agency administrator would not be diverted by needing to concern herself/himself with the prerogatives of conflicting subordinate divisions.  4) Having a single administrative structure would facilitate communication among personnel working on various aspects of the global warming effort.  And 5) formulation of the budget and allocation of resources could be accomplished within the administrative structure of the new entity to optimize efficiency and effectiveness.
 
It is concluded that the U. S. should create a single new cabinet-level department or agency whose mission would be to address all aspects of the global warming problem.  Doing so would overcome serious bureaucratic problems that currently exist, and optimize federal efforts in this endeavor.
 
Details
 
Federal Agencies Involved in Global Change (Many statements below are based on information obtained from agency-specific internet pages and from Wikipedia.)  As noted above, the fourteen offices whose staffs were officially involved in assembling the NCA are components of thirteen separate departments or agencies.  The details below provide thumbnails of these departments and agencies, and the offices in which the staff members are located.
 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
 
EPA is a free-standing federal agency created in 1970 by an executive order from President Nixon.  Its head, the Administrator, has cabinet-level authority.
 
Its organization chart presents twelve Offices, including Air and Radiation, Research and Development, and Water.  The Office of Air and Radiation is responsible for controlling air pollution and radiation exposure, and includes the subjects of climate change, energy efficiency, pollution from vehicles and engines, acid rain, and stratospheric ozone depletion.  EPA gained authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act by the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007.  Under this authority EPA and the Department of Transportation jointly regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, i.e. from distributed sources.  EPA also uses this authority to regulate emissions from fixed point sources, primarily electric power plants. 
 
A member of the Office of Research and Development, National Risk Management Laboratory, Air Pollution Prevention and Control Division is a member of the team overseeing preparation of the NCA.
 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
 
NASA, an independent federal agency, was established in 1958 to develop civilian space exploration.  Currently many of the modalities used to measure and assess global warming and its terrestrial effects use NASA spacecraft.  Its organization chart shows the main aspects of its operations. 
 
The Senior Advisor for Inter-Organizational Environmental Science, NASA Science Mission Directorate helps supervise the preparation of the NCA. 
 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
NOAA is but one division of many in the Department of Commerce.  Most of these are directed toward promotion and assessment of domestic commerce and international trade. 
Within this setting NOAA appears to be an outlier, having little in common with the other divisions.  Its organization chart clearly shows its emphasis on oceanic and atmospheric research.  It uses advanced scientific technologies to study changes in the oceans and the atmosphere, including global climate observation and use of state-of-the-art climate models. 
 
A scientist in NOAA’s Climate Program Office helps prepare the NCA.
 
Funding for preparing the NCA and for the NCADAC is shared between NASA and NOAA.
 
White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
 
CEQ promotes policies within the White House intended to limit emission of greenhouse gases and promoting renewable energy sources.  In these ways it seeks to mitigate global warming.
 
The Deputy Associate Director of CEQ participates in assembling the NCA.
 
Department of Energy (DOE)
 
DOE has expanded from the original Atomic Energy Commission created to host civilian applications of nuclear energy after World War II.  It was elevated to the cabinet-level DOE in 1977.  Its organization chart shows it has major responsibilities in military and civilian aspects of nuclear power.  In addition, in the Office of Science and Energy there are an Office of Science, and Assistant Secretaries for Fossil Energy, and for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  Separate sections, reporting directly to the Secretary of Energy, include the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which supports new commercial ventures in renewable energy, and the Energy Information Agency.
 
This summary shows that within the same Department there are programs dealing with the fossil fuel industry on the one hand, and renewable energy on the other.   
 
The Director of the Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, found in the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, a component of the Office of Science, is an official supervising preparation of the NCA.
 
Department of the Interior (DOI)
 
The organization chart for DOI shows five primary divisions, including Land and Minerals Management; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Water and Science. 
 
The Water and Science division includes the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), whose mission comprises Climate and Land Use Change, Core Science Systems, Ecosystems, Energy and Minerals, Environmental Health, Natural Hazards, and Water. 
 
The Land and Minerals Management division oversees public lands, offshore waters and federal energy and mineral resources; this includes granting permits for and regulating natural resource extraction on federal lands.  DOI’s division of Land and Minerals Management includes the Bureau of Land Management; the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  The Bureau of Land Management oversees American public lands, about one-eighth of the total area of the U. S.  Its responsibilities include regulating natural resource development such as logging, mining and extraction of fossil fuels, as well as projects for renewable energy.
 
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management governs the development of offshore oil and gas resources in an environmentally and economically acceptable way, as well as developing offshore renewable energy.
 
It is seen from this summary that DOI comprises development activities in the realms of both fossil fuels and other minerals, and growth of renewable energy.  Historically its emphasis has been on the first of these activities.
 
The USGS Chief Scientist for Climate and Land Use Change is an official supervising the NCA.
 
National Science Foundation (NSF) supports basic research projects proposed primarily by academic investigators across the spectrum of scientific endeavor.  The Director of NSF’s Program in Decision, Risk and Management Sciences contributes to coordinating the preparation of the NCA.
 
The Smithsonian Institution  was founded in 1846.  Iits website states it is the largest museum and research organization in the world. Its Environmental Research Center studies connections between land and water in coastal zones, including effects of global warming.  A Senior Policy Advisor focusing on global environmental issues participates in supervising preparation of the NCA.
 
Department of Transportation (DOT)
 
DOT’s principal objective is promoting ease and safety of domestic transportation and travel, and fostering their economic development.  Its various sections relate to highways, waterways, air travel, railroads, pipelines and movement of hazardous materials. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles originate jointly from DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA.  CAFÉ standards are the executive branch’s means for regulating fossil fuel use in distributed (i.e., moving) emission sources.
 
An energy economist working in the Office of the Secretary is an official overseeing preparation of the NCA.
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a component of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  HHS also operates the Social Security Administration, Medicare, and the National Institutes of Health. An epidemiologist who is Associate Director for Climate Change in the Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects at the National Center for Environmental Health of the CDC is an official supervising preparation of the NCA.
 
Department of Agriculture (DOAg)
 
The organization chart for DOAg has seven divisions, all related to aspects of agriculture, both domestic and foreign.  
 
The DOAg official supporting the preparation of the NCA is Director of the Climate Change Program Office (CCPO), which is responsible for coordinating climate change research and program activities in the Department.  These activities set forth the causes and consequences of global warming, as well as ways of mitigating and adapting to it.
 
Department of Defense (DOD)
 
DOD is a large organization responsible for military activities of the U. S.  The DOD official contributing to preparation of the NCA is Program Manager for Sustainable Infrastructure in the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program.
 
Department of State (DOS)
 
DOS has an office for special envoys and representatives reporting directly to the Secretary (see organization chart) , one of whom is devoted to international negotiations on climate change.  A DOS official in this office participates in preparation of the NCA.
 
The U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is also a component of DOS, reporting directly to the Secretary.  The Global Climate Change Coordinator in USAID is an official overseeing preparation of the NCA.
 
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
 
DHS seeks to keep the U. S. secure from external threats.  Its organization chart shows seven operational divisions.  DHS was assembled from several other federal agencies after the attacks of September 11, 2001.  The Senior Counsel to the Secretary participates in preparation of the NCA.
 
© 2014 Henry Auer

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