Number 35, September 2002
Homeland Security and the Atmospheric Sciences
On June 6, 2002 President George Bush proposed
that the federal government reorganize its “homeland security” activities
into a single agency because his administration had “concluded that our
government must be reorganized to deal more effectively with the new threats
of the 21st century.” Specifically, the President argued,
“Right now, as many as a hundred different government agencies have
some responsibilities for homeland security, and no one has final accountability.
For example, the Coast Guard has several missions, from search and rescue
to maritime treaty enforcement. It reports to the Transportation Department,
whose primary responsibilities are roads, rails, bridges and the airways.
The Customs Service, among other duties, collects tariffs and prevents smuggling
-- and it is part of the Treasury Department, whose primary responsibility
is fiscal policy, not security."
While there has been considerable discussion
about the new Cabinet-level agency, as so often seems to occur in major discussions
of policy, the atmospheric sciences have not been included in such discussions.
But if the new agency is indeed to serve as “a focal point regarding
natural and manmade crises and emergency planning” (reference)
it is hard to imagine that the atmospheric sciences would not be part of homeland
security discussions (reference)
and perhaps even part of the new institutional arrangements.
Leaders in the atmospheric sciences community would appear to agree. For example,
the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
argues in a pamphlet titled “National
Security and the Essential Role of the Atmospheric Sciences” that
“weather and climate information is of increasing value … to military
operations, and responses to terrorist attacks.” And the National Research
Council has created a committee
to explore “Tools for Tracking Chemical/Biological/Nuclear Releases in
the Atmosphere: Implications for Homeland Security.”
While the issue of homeland security raises many questions about atmospheric
science and technology, there is one question in particular that I’d like
to focus on here: Should the National Weather Service (NWS), currently a part
of the Department of Commerce, be considered for inclusion in the new Homeland
Security Department? There would seem to be a number of reasons why such a move
makes sense and a number of reasons why it does not.
Reasons why a move makes sense
1. Mission alignment.
Part of the National Weather
Service mission is to focus on protection of life and property. As such,
if it makes sense to place the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within
the Department of Homeland Security, it would only seem logical to consider
placing NWS there as well. And since the vast majority of FEMA’s activities
deal with weather disasters, not terrorism, any enhanced connection between
FEMA and NWS would likely be of benefit to the nation’s disaster policies.
2. Better use of Science and Technology.
The issue of effectively using science and technology (e.g., such as transferring
knowledge from a research environment to an “operational” environment)
is receiving considerable attention in both the world of weather
and climate and in the world of homeland
Perhaps placement of the NWS into the Homeland Security Department would provide
additional impetus to turn research results into useful products and services
reference). If so, this would be a valuable boost to the nation’s
Reasons why a move does not make sense
1. Lack of mission alignment.
The NWS also has a mission to enhance the nation’s economy. The dual
missions of the NWS historically have wreaked
havoc in the area of public and private sector roles and responsibilities.
This focus on the economy suggests that the Department of Commerce is indeed
the proper institutional home for the NWS. In any case, consideration of NWS’
placement within a homeland security department would be valuable if it were
to lead to a discussion about how the NWS might reconcile the challenges posed
by the inherent conflicts of its dual mission.
Some have questioned whether the creation of a Department of Homeland Security
will accomplish its intended
goals. Before addressing whether it makes sense to move the NWS, isn’t
a logical prior step to get some understanding of whether the new organization
can actually work? Further, the nation has built its weather, climate and water
services over more than 100 years. Whatever opportunities exist for their improvement
exist in the context of a track record of success. If it’s not broken,
don’t fix it.
Ultimately, what matters most is how the NWS might better benefit the nation.
Broad institutional change occurs infrequently enough in government that it
would be worth asking whether the nation’s weather, water, and climate
services might better serve the needs of the nation under a new structure. If
nothing else, simply raising the question might lead to proposals for change
that make sense irrespective of any ultimate reorganization.
Roger Pielke, Jr.
Center for Science and Technology Policy Research
University of Colorado