NOAA head Lautenbacher resigns, leaving troubled legacy on science and politics (Part 1)


Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration throughout the Bush administration, announced his resignation on Sept. 23.  While he has accomplishments to his credit, Lautenbacher’s view of himself as part of a chain of command between the Bush-Cheney White House and the NOAA research enterprise led him and some of his subordinates to be associated with a record of political interference with science communication. We told Climate Wire (by subscription) that one area of concern during Lautenbacher’s tenure was the handling by NOAA and its parent department, Commerce, of contacts between climate scientists and the media.

[This is the first of a series of posts on Lautenbacher’s tenure at NOAA.]


NOAA: Agency chief Lautenbacher resigns (Wednesday, September 24, 2008)

Lauren Morello, ClimateWire reporter

The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Conrad Lautenbacher, announced yesterday that he will resign effective Oct. 31….

Lautenbacher, a retired Navy vice admiral, has spent nearly seven years at the helm of NOAA, making him one of the longest-serving agency heads in the Bush administration….

His tenure at NOAA was…marked in recent years by controversies over funding for climate and weather satellites and alleged censorship of agency scientists….

Rick Piltz, director of ClimateScienceWatch, a group that has criticized NOAA’s handling of climate science research and its media policy, said he saw Lautenbacher as “an enforcer.”

‘A soldier for the White House’

“Lautenbacher, as a military officer, clearly conceived of himself as being in a chain of command coming from the White House,” Piltz said. “He was a soldier for the White House.”

Piltz said one area of concern during Lautenbacher’s tenure was the handling by NOAA and its parent department, Commerce, of contacts between climate scientists and the media, an issue that also drew ongoing concern from congressional Democrats.

An investigation by the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee unearthed internal Commerce Department e-mail messages that suggested federal officials sought to prevent a NOAA scientist from speaking to journalists about a potential link between global warming and hurricanes.

Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that in the end, Lautenbacher was open to complaints from her group and others about alleged censorship.

“Following our survey of climate scientists, we met with him, and he took the results seriously,” she said. “He was concerned about the scientists at his agency. Under very harsh circumstances, he tried to do the right thing.“…

Following is the text of an e-mail from Lautenbacher announcing his resignation, with some notes on how he sees his legacy:

Subject: Message From the Under Secretary
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 2008 15:43:36 -0400
From: VADM Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., USN (Ret.)

Message From the Under Secretary

September 23, 2008

Dear colleagues:

As we move toward the transition period between administrations, I report to you today that I have submitted my resignation to the President to be effective October 31, 2008. This has been the job of a lifetime and I have been honored and privileged to work with all of you as a part of the NOAA team.

In my departing letter, I noted just a few of team NOAA’s many accomplishments in the past several years and my pride in you and in being part of this great organization. Such things as:

* The creation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands marine
conservation area, now known as the Papaha-naumokua-kea Marine
National Monument, an area larger than all of our national parks
combined and the second largest area in the world dedicated to the
preservation of one of the world’s most unique coral reef areas.

* The initiation of the first-ever Earth Observation Summit which
lead to the formation of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and
the commitment of 75 nations and 51 international organizations to
build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS),
without which, among other things, it will be impossible to
monitor the viability and progress of any world wide agreement to
reduce green house gasses and mitigate global warming.

* The funding and completion of a comprehensive Pacific and Atlantic
Tsunami warning system as a component of GEOSS so that we may
never again see the tragic losses that occurred during the 2004
Indonesian tsunami.

* The concerted effort to end overfishing and create truly
sustainable fisheries for the future which resulted in strong
legislation and significant progress in meeting this important goal.

* The great improvements in severe weather forecasting which have
helped to save many lives and protect property during a period of
increased severe weather activity.

* The significant investments in climate modeling as well as the
beginning of a truly global operational climate observing system
which added to U.S. leadership and prestige in climate science.

In the meanwhile, nothing will change as to the operation and functioning of NOAA. There is a strong leadership and management team in place in which I have complete confidence. We have instituted comprehensive transition planning and preparation activities, and we are on track to be thoroughly prepared for whatever the future beyond January 2009 brings. I am indeed proud of all that you have accomplished and I will continue to the day I depart and beyond to work for you in gaining visibility, public understanding, and support for the vital national mission that NOAA performs.

conrad lautenbacher signature
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator
This message was generated for the Under Secretary of Commerce for
Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator by the NOAA Information
Technology Center/Financial and Administrative Computing Division

This entry was posted in Climate Science Watch, U.S. Global Change Research Program. Bookmark the permalink.