Lubchenco’s NOAA future

Oregon State University has yet another tie to the Obama administration as OSU professor Jane Lubchenco has been named to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lubchenco is the Valley Professor of Marine Biology and a Distinguished Professor of Zoology.

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As NOAA’s leader, Lubchenco follows in the footsteps of former OSU President and NOAA administrator John Byrne, who still maintains close ties with the university, and lives in Corvallis.

Byrne, speaking from his OSU office Jan. 2, reminisced about his own time as NOAA chief during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, and the challenges Lubchenco is likely to face.

“She’s going to run into the same types of problems (I did),” Byrne said, including perpetual budget problems. “There just isn’t enough money.”
Byrne anticipates that she’ll find many of the issues NOAA considers priorities will be subject to power struggles between the legislative and executive branches, with the fight often overshadowing the substance of the issues.

There is also the challenge of running a very large agency, where various branches are more interested in their own issues than in NOAA as a whole.
“It’s a challenging job, very diverse,” he said, with the weather service and the fisheries industries among some of the more powerful voices.

One challenge Byrne faced that he hopes Lubchenco won’t is the breakdown of a weather satellite while she’s in office.

“They’re so expensive they’ll eat up her budget,” he said.

Byrne said Lubchenco is a good match for the Obama administration, which has made environmental conservation and climate change a priority. He said that Lubchenco’s appointment, coming even before President Barack Obama is inaugurated, indicates that his administration is conscious of the importance of NOAA.

“I wasn’t appointed until March (of 1980),” Byrne said. “I think that President Reagan didn’t know what NOAA was about.”

And while her nomination has temporarily put OSU in the news, he said Lubchenco will be too busy with national issues to spend too much time thinking about her home state once she’s settled into her new position. Besides, OSU is already nationally recognized for its sea grant program and other work in atmospheric sciences, he said.

“OSU has a good reputation with NOAA.”

~ Theresa Hogue

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