White House:

Ocean Conservancy's Woglom discusses proposal to transfer NOAA to Interior

Is the Obama administration's recent proposal to bundle the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the Interior Department a positive move for oceans policy? During today's OnPoint, Emily Woglom, director of government relations at the Ocean Conservancy, discusses the proposal and the White House's push for federal agencies to work together on oceans policy.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Emily Woglom, Director of Government Relations at the Ocean Conservancy. Emily, thanks for coming on the show.

Emily Woglom: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Emily, the president recently proposed bundling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the Interior Department. What would the shift mean to the current set of laws relating to our oceans and, overall, do you think that this is a positive move?

Emily Woglom: Well, I think that's a great question and, to be fair, we haven't seen the details of the proposal yet. We've just heard that this is what they're thinking about in terms of moving NOAA over into the Department of Interior. And the question about what it would do for the laws that govern the ocean is really an important one and that will depend a little bit in terms of how this moves forward. But certainly right now, the laws that govern our fisheries management, coral reefs, a whole host of ocean resources vest the authority for management with the secretary of commerce. If that needed to be changed, it would be the secretary of interior. There's a question as to whether or not that would open up those same laws for sort of broader amendment or other mischief that we might be concerned about in terms of the impacts it would have for those laws overall. And in terms of, you know, the proposal, I think we certainly have some concerns. Our primary concern is just to make sure that there continues to be a strong voice for ocean science and ocean conservation within the federal government. And we have some concerns that a rapid reorganization of NOAA right now might cause some distraction and take away from NOAA's ability to fulfill its mission at this point.

Monica Trauzzi: But is there any reason to believe that just moving it from one agency to the other it might get less attention or it might be seen as a less important program?

Emily Woglom: I think that's a good question and I think that there are a lot of issues that people -- that we want to make sure that we're thinking through and that we look at if this idea moves forward. And one of them is the stature NOAA and, again, you know, regardless of where NOAA sits, to a certain extent, what it comes back to is, is there appropriate budgetary resources for the agency? Is there appropriate political will behind it? But one of the things that we have right now is that we have a voice for the ocean and for ocean science that's separate from some of the more extractive resource issues that interior has management authority over. And so that creates a certain amount of dialogue around some of the issues, to have a separate ocean science and ocean conservation agency. So there's some concern, certainly for us, that putting NOAA within Interior, you would lose that opportunity for that independent voice and that dialogue that that would create.

Monica Trauzzi: Is the president being overly ambitious here? I mean why do you think he's gone forward with this proposal?

Emily Woglom: Well, you know, it's clear from the president's announcement that the primary purpose of what they're looking at is focused on how do you realign and streamline government to improve services for business and trade and commerce? And that's a laudable goal. It's natural when you do that, however, that when you start moving boxes within the Department of Commerce, you know, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is 60 percent of the Department of Commerce's budget. And so when you start making those moves, it naturally comes up as a question what do you do with NOAA? And our concern is that we want to make sure that there is a thoughtful process that looks at that question rather than making the move just as an afterthought or as a side effect of what he's really trying to do, which is focused on business.

Monica Trauzzi: What are the prospects for something like this even moving in an election year? I mean we're in a very politicized climate right now.

Emily Woglom: Certainly and, you know, there are a number of steps that would have to happen before this would actually become a reality. It's my understanding that the first step would actually be requesting and getting authority from Congress for an expedited approval of any reorganization plan. And that it wouldn't be until after that that you would even see the details what the reorganization would look like. And then there would clearly need to be some process to put that out in front of Congress, get them to approve it and move forward. You know, as you said, the highly politicized climate right now has made it difficult for the Congress and the administration to come to a compromise and agree on just about anything. So, you know, clearly there are some steps and hurdles that would have to be overcome before this would be able to move forward.

Monica Trauzzi: In the background of this entire reorganization discussion is a proposal from the White House for federal agencies to work together on oceans policy. Are the two moves from the administration consistent with one another?

Emily Woglom: That's a great question and I think that what the discussion and the conversation about the re-organization really highlights is the fact that no matter where you draw the lines, no matter how you draw the boxes around different agencies, when it comes to the ocean, there are a whole host of agencies, not just NOAA and the Department of Interior, that have jurisdiction and then have management authority over ocean resources. And so there's always going to be a need for agencies to work across jurisdictional boundaries and to collaborate. And so that's why the National Ocean Policy is so important, it's because it offers a mechanism and highlights some of those areas where that collaboration is needed, regardless of where NOAA sits.

Monica Trauzzi: But during a time when budgets are being slashed, wouldn't that type of coordination be more expensive?

Emily Woglom: Well, that's a good question. You know, coordination, in our view, should be making things more efficient and should be, therefore, -- you know, it should be part of the process of how we move more effectively and in a more efficient manner to address the needs of the ocean users and the ocean ecosystem and the wildlife. So we actually really see the coordination that the National Ocean Policy would provide as a way to be more efficient in the work of the government, not to be more costly.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, a lot to watch here. Thank you for coming on the show.

Emily Woglom: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]