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House Science Panel to Investigate NOAA Climate Service
22 September 2011 4:29 pm
A political feud over a "shadow" climate science service is heating up again. Following months of partisan sparring, Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX), announced yesterday that the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology that he chairs will investigate whether the Obama Administration has ignored Congress and created a centralized climate service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Last year, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco announced the agency's intention to create the climate service, which was envisioned as a parallel entity to the National Weather Service that would issue long range climate forecasts. Republican lawmakers, however, opposed the idea, and inserted language into a 2011 spending bill that barred the agency from using any funds to "implement, establish, or create a NOAA Climate Service."
Some members of the House science committee became upset after NOAA climatologist Thomas Karl appeared to suggest in a December 2010 interview that NOAA had moved ahead regardless. Soon, Hall was writing to Lubchenco, asking for an explanation. In a series of letters, the committee asked for information regarding, among other requests, the responsibilities of Karl and a few other climate-focused employees and funding for their positions. A NOAA spokesperson told ScienceInsider that NOAA responded with nearly 13,000 pages of information, including job announcements and personal e-mails.
That isn't enough, says Zachary Kurz, a spokesperson for the committee. "The committee has reason to believe that NOAA has set up a shadow organization and several documents we have received so far seem to support that belief. Further investigation is needed to determine whether or not these documents were isolated incidents or a pattern of behavior."
Kurz says further hearings on the matter would not be productive "until we have a better idea of the goings on within NOAA."
The Obama Administration believes the climate service would serve an important function and requested funding for it in 2012, which begins next month. In a statement to ScienceInsider, Lubchenco said that her agency has not gone beyond its congressional mandate. "NOAA has not changed its organizational structure to establish or implement a Climate Line Office as proposed in NOAA's fiscal year 2012 budget request. We understand that Congressional approval is needed for the proposed reorganization to occur and have submitted it to Congress for consideration."