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Ex-officials urge creation of geoscience mega-agency

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Courtesy NOAA

(Read caption) The logo for the old Environmental Science Services Administration. Formed in 1965 as part of a reorganization of the United States Department of Commerce, ESSA was reorganized again in 1970, when it became the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

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To cut costs and to improve the study of the earth's environment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Geological Survey should be merged into a single agency, urged a group of former officials

An Earth Systems Science Agency, say the officials, would improve the government's efforts to study climate change, sea-level rise, and altered weather patterns, as well as declines in biodiversity and the availability of fresh water. The officials point to many advantages to linking NOAA's expertise in atmospheric and marine systems with the USGS's terrestrial, freshwater, and biological knowledge.

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The recommendation, published in this week's issue of the journal Science (subscription required), comes from former USGS executives Mark Schaefer and Charles Groat and former NOAA administrator D. James Baker. Also signing the proposal were former White House science adviser John Gibbons, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Donald Kennedy, former NASA associate administrator and Mission to Planet Earth director Charles Kennel, and David Rajeski, who served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and on the Council on Environmental Quality.

"It doesn't make sense to have scientists working in such similar areas in two different agencies -- they should be working side by side,'' Mr. Schaefer told Bloomberg. Schaefer is now a consultant to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The recommendation notes that the budget for federal environmental programs stands at about $8 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Bloomberg reports that Schaefer said that funds are likely to decrease with next year's budget.

ScienceDaily notes that the ex-officials' paper points to the link between earth systems research and economic growth. The work of NOAA and USGS fuel private-sector enterprises that generate billions of dollars.

EnviroWonk, however, is skeptical. The green policy blog doubts that streamlining government geoscience is easier said than done:

We get the science argument here, but wonder about the bureaucratic nightmare of combining a $4 billion, 12,000-employee arm of the Commerce Department (NOAA), with a $1 billion, 8,500-employee arm of the Interior Department (USGS). We're just not convinced that's going to create less red tape.

The Associated Press notes that the new agency would revive the name ESSA. Created in 1965 as part of the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Science Services Administration was reorganized in 1970, when it became NOAA.

[via EnviroWonk]