Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Compromise Brewing @ NOAA?

Nature has an interesting editorial this week about the goings on at NOAA. Entitled Storm brewing the editorial delves into the problems that occurred recently when the new head of the National Hurricane Center in Florida criticized NOAA administration for spending millions of dollars on an anniversary celebration while at the same time the current generation of satellites that track storms as they form is failing with no replacement in sight.

The editorial seems fair in its treatment of both sides. One of the interesting points it made is the importance of public relations in establishing its scientific credentials with the general public. This is a point that many in the realm of science and in the realm of policy do not understand. The extreme value there is to be placed on, what I shall call advertising, the important role that government agencies play in our national lives. It has seemed to me that one of the key failings of government has been its public relations inaction in the face of the negative sentiment of the past twenty years. For us scientists all one has to do is look at NASA to understand the importance of public relations. Sure, they have a very exciting product (many of the other branches of government do too) but only a portion of the money spent goes to that product.

Towards this NOAA administration has been passing decrees (which, though politically insensitive, is fitting with its traditional military command structure) which has been unpopular with workers within NOAA. As Nature says:
NOAA scientists have also been unhappy in recent months about
management decrees suggesting, for example, that they improve the
agency's branding by substituting 'NOAA' for 'National' in the names of
centres such as the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane
Center. Both of these outfits have distinguished histories and
identities of their own, and NOAA needs to find ways of asserting
itself and its mission in the public eye without diminishing them.
But here I disagree with Nature. It makes absolute sense that NOAA would want its name associated with its two most highly regarded products. But I also understand the importance of keeping these organization's identities. This seems like the perfect situation for compromise. The two organizations should add NOAA to their names such as "NOAA National Weather Service" or "National Hurricane Center NOAA" thus keeping the history and associated quality while melding that scientific quality with NOAA in the public mind.

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