Lubchenco to Leave NOAA in February

Lubchenco to Leave NOAA in February

Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is leaving NOAA to return to academia in February.

Lubchenco reportedly made the announcement in an email to NOAA employees.   According to a NOAA organizational chart, of the three positions directly under the Administrator — two Deputy Administrators and a Chief Scientist– two are vacant.    Only the Assistant Secretary for Enviromental Observation & Prediction and Deputy Administrator job is filled at the moment.   Former astronaut Kathy Sullivan serves in that role.

Lubchenco is a highly respected marine ecologist who was a professor at Harvard from 1975-1977 and then at Oregon State University until her appointment with the government.   Her years at NOAA, however, have been marked by controversy over the agency’s management of its satellite programs and unrelated matters such as financial misconduct by the head of the National Weather Service.  

The collapse of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program and the need for NOAA to initiate a restructured program in which it must pay for the replacement Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) instead of sharing costs with the Department of Defense is straining NOAA’s resources.   JPSS and its cousin, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system, plus a few other smaller environmental satellites, now consume approximately 40 percent of NOAA’s budget.  Congressional skepticism that NOAA learned the appropriate lessons from the NPOESS failure led the Senate Appropriations Committee to recommend that all of NOAA’s satellite programs be transferred to NASA.   Action is pending on that recommendation.

It is not at all unusual for high level political appointees like Lubchenco to depart after a President’s first term.

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