"Insufficient ocean science funding in the United
States, combined with increased capacity in other nations, has lessened
U.S. pre-eminence in ocean research, exploration, and technology development.
Chronic under-investment has left much of our ocean-related scientific
infrastructure in woefully poor condition." - The U.S. Commission
on Ocean Policy
A presidentially-appointed commission, after a multi-year intensive
review of the nation's ocean policies and programs, finds that "the
federal investment in ocean and coastal research must be significantly
increased to at least double today's $650 million annual investment,
over the next five years. Additional investments in technology development
and ocean exploration are also needed." This is one of the conclusions
in the preliminary report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, a
16-member bipartisan panel chaired by Admiral James D. Watkins. The
commission also recommends that an Integrated Ocean Observing System
be implemented, and that NASA transfer operation of Earth-observing
satellites to NOAA. The commission took testimony and comments from
hundreds of people in the first comprehensive review of the nation's
ocean policies in over 30 years, and found that "the message was
clear: major changes are urgently needed." The report continues,
"While new scientific understanding has taught us that natural
systems are complex and interconnected, our decision-making and management
systems have not been updated to address that complexity and interconnectedness.
Better approaches and tools are also needed to gather data to understand
the complex marine environment. Perhaps most important, people must
understand the role the oceans have on their lives and livelihoods and
the impacts they themselves have on the oceans."
The committee's preliminary report, issued in April, runs nearly 400
pages plus appendices, and is available at http://www.oceancommission.gov.
It offers 198 specific recommendations, including establishment of a
cabinet-level National Ocean Council and a Presidential Council of Advisors
on Ocean Policy, integrated systems for data-gathering and analysis,
and better coordination among federal, state, local, territorial and
tribal entities. According to the report, the commission's recommendations
are "based upon three fundamental and cross-cutting themes: (1)
creating a new national ocean policy framework to improve decision-making;
(2) strengthening science and generating high-quality, accessible information
to inform decision makers; and (3) enhancing ocean education to instill
future leaders and informed citizens with a stewardship ethic."
Four chapters of the report (Chapters 25 through 28) address science
and technology issues. The report points out that comprehensive scientific
information is vital for policy makers, yet despite recent progress,
"the ocean remains one of the least explored and understood environments
on the planet." The commission believes that "increases in
funding, changes in grant practices, and the establishment of new partnerships
are all essential to maximize the national research enterprise."
The science and technology recommendations will be summarized in more
detail in FYI #91.
In response, House Science Committee Vice Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI)
has already introduced both his own version of a NOAA authorization
act (H.R. 4546), and a second version proposed by the Administration
(H.R. 4607). Witnesses at a May 5 Science Committee hearing commended
the commission's effort as "comprehensive and visionary,"
an "enormous achievement," and "a near-miracle."
In general, they gave enthusiastic support to the commission's recommendations.
However, they voiced some reservations, including concerns that a new
White House National Ocean Council might not be sufficient to coordinate
and guide what was referred to as the "fragmentation" and
"patchwork" of federal ocean-related programs; that substantial
new funding would be necessary for successful implementation of the
recommendations; and that concentrating too many responsibilities within
NOAA (including too-rapid transfer of responsibilities for Earth-observing
satellite operations) might lead to a "fragile," less-robust
system and to the neglect of other NOAA activities. "I don't think
anyone can disagree with the basic thrust of the report," said
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), but he, too, questioned
some of the recommendations and warned that budgetary realities will
not allow Congress to "do everything you want." To his query
about the top funding priority, the most common witness response was
implementation of an Integrated Ocean Observing System.
The commission is currently reviewing comments on its preliminary report.
Submission of the final report to the President and Congress is expected
sometime this summer, but no release date has yet been set.