The Washington Post

Obama’s reorganization plans earn early criticism

The folks who make these weather charts would move to the Interior Department as part of President Obama’s reorganization efforts. (Courtesy NOAA)

Think President Obama’s plans to reorganize federal agencies is going to be easy? Talk to the federal government’s weather forecasters.


By our count, the proposed reorganization unveiled Friday would involve several agencies and departments, including elements of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor and Treasury and independent agencies, including the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Export-Import Bank.

Though the White House focused most of its attention Friday on plans to combine disparate federal trade- and commerce-related entities under one roof, one of the most notable proposals would move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Interior Department.

The plan upsets the union representing employees of NOAA and its National Weather Service, who say the plan runs counter to the agency’s history.

“Whomever is advising the president on this issue is ignorant of the mission and history of the National Weather Service,” said Richard Hirn, general counsel and legislative director of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, representing 4,000 NOAA workers responsible for compiling weather data.

Hirn said Obama’s reorganization plans go against the original intent of the weather service, which Franklin D. Roosevelt moved from the Agriculture Department to the Commerce Department in recognition of the burgeoning aviation industry and the need to provide accurate, timely weather forecasts.

Today, NOAA continues promoting commerce through its protection of the nation’s commercial fisheries and by forecasting “space weather” and potential solar electromagnetic radiation and its affects on telecommunications and aviation, Hirn said. Plus, agency officials are preparing several pilot programs that should improve weather forecasting. Any reorganization and rejiggering of agency funding would jeopardize those projects.

Put simply, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Hirn said in an e-mail. He said his members, who were caught off-guard by Friday’s announcement, agree.

White House officials familiar with the reorganization plans dispute Hirn’s interpretation of history and said moving NOAA to the Interior Department would allow several agencies with weather, oceanic and geographical and geological responsibilities to work together under one agency.

In an interview Friday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House chief performance officer who led the reorganization review, claimed his team talked to hundreds of federal employees, union leaders and business leaders who would be affected by the changes, including NOAA officials. (His staff hasn’t provided details of the meetings or who he met with, despite several requests.)

And did NWSEO — the first federal worker union to endorse Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign — get a call from Zients and his aides?

“No, they ignored us,” Hirn said.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Obama seeks more power to merge agencies, streamline government

South Carolina Republican debate: Winners and losers

84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, poll finds

Can Newt Gingrich make another come back?

Fact Checking the Fox News-WSJ debate in South Carolina

For more, visit PostPolitics and The Fed Page.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.


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