Trump Sets Record With Delay In Nominating Administrator

2017-09-21T11:45:46+00:00 September 21, 2017|
The U.S. Capital at night. (Credit: Will Ramos)

(Click to enlarge) The U.S. Capital at night. (Credit: Will Ramos)

It’s official: Donald Trump has waited longer than any president in history to pick a NOAA administrator. Trump yesterday broke the record set by Republican President George W. Bush, who delayed his decision until Sept. 19, 2001, when he nominated former Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher for NOAA’s top job.

(From Greenwire / by Rob Hotakainen) — Lautenbacher, a Californian who had the job for seven years, said that the longer the post remains vacant the more difficult it will be for a new administrator to advance an agenda for NOAA.

“The problem is that they fall behind in their ability to be able to compete within the current administration for resources, attention and emphasis on their issues,” he said. Critics say the fact that Trump has set a new pace for stalling should come as no surprise.

“I’m not sure it says a whole lot, other than that science and the science organizations are clearly not a priority for this administration, but we’ve known that — I mean, that’s a dog-bites-man story,” said David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University. “My guess is that this is not on the administration’s radar”.

In contrast, President Obama nominated marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco for the post in December 2008, even before he was sworn in. President Clinton announced his pick in February of his first year, while President Reagan waited until April. And Presidents Carter and George H.W. Bush made their nominations in June and July, respectively.

Brian Kahn, who covers science and policy for the nonprofit Climate Central, researched the specific dates that presidents nominated their first pick for NOAA administrator, using records from the American Presidency Project, NOAA and the Federal Register. Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists who work on climate change issues, published his research in April.

Speaking of Obama’s early action on a nominee, Kahn, who also teaches seminars at Columbia University’s climate and society master’s program, said, “What’s interesting about that is that it clearly is a reaction to making sure that climate science and weather science got top billing right there up front on the nominees list.” With Trump now in the ninth month of his presidency, the delay is getting increasingly worrisome for some members of Congress, who have been pushing the president to act.

In late June, Florida Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist said that leaving the post vacant “is taking an unnecessary risk with people’s lives and livelihoods.” In a letter to Trump, he noted that NOAA is responsible for everything from weather forecasting to ocean monitoring to fisheries management. “Not only does this work help support the local economy of my district, but it also provides valuable information to my constituents — information that saves lives,” Crist said.

And Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey wrote a similar letter to the president in June, telling him that there “is no reasonable excuse” for not filling the job.

Trump’s critics say the president showed once again this week that he has little interest in the topic, failing to include climate change in a list of serious threats to the world during his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. And many of the president’s opponents say that the Trump administration showed disdain for NOAA’s work by proposing to cut the agency’s budget by 16 percent in 2018 and by disbanding NOAA’s federal climate advisory panel last month.

NOAA officials say the agency is running smoothly under the leadership of its acting administrator, Benjamin Friedman, who has served as NOAA’s deputy undersecretary of operations, responsible for the agency’s day-to-day management of national and international operations.  “NOAA is prepared for the hurricane season and is operating at full tempo,” said Scott Smullen, NOAA’s deputy communications director. And with Friedman at the helm, Smullen said NOAA “continues to provide the American public with science and services important for public safety, the nation’s natural resources and the economy.”

Trump did surprise some of his critics when he moved to fill the No. 2 job at NOAA earlier this month: He nominated Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, a former Navy oceanographer with a long history of tracking climate change for the Pentagon, to be assistant secretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

Many names have surfaced as possibilities for the No. 1 job, with three mentioned the most: Barry Myers, CEO of AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pa.; Scott Rayder, who served as Lautenbacher’s chief of staff; and Jon White, president of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

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