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Archive for January 2011

If you find the Salmon reference in the State of the Union funny, the environmental field is replete with more comedy material

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picture of a wild coho salmon

In President Obama's State of the Union Address he used the oddity of Salmon being an issue covered by both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA as an area of obvious duplication and inefficiency in government. The President named just that one example, but the numbers of others are almost too many to list.

Tonight in the State of the Union address President Obama cited the fact that both NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both consider salmon as a part of their jurisdiction as a favorite example of his when he thinks about government reform and the need for a more efficient government.

If one is enjoying the salmon humor, but are are looking for yet another area of multiple jurisdictions overlapping in the federal government, an easy topic to research is the field of wetlands – their protection and restoration.  In the second half of the Bush (43) Administration a group of agencies came together, under the leadership of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to determine who was working on President’s 3-million acre wetlands goal, to track their progress, and examine the budgets of those same agencies whose activities would be key to President Bush achieving his goal. After more than a little digging the authors of the report on the progress toward the goal had copious amounts of budget and performance data pouring in from seemingly everywhere, and even though it seemed that we’d turned over every rock, another multi-million dollar program would be found and have to be included in the calculations. This happened numerous times. I know because I was there – crunching the budget and performance numbers week after week as more information arrived in bits and pieces. An optimistic policy analyst might think that finding the money would be easy, especially since we agreed not to even consider funds of less than a few numbered thousand. And since OMB was a part of the workgroup, this would be especially easy given that OMB is the President’s accountant – right?  Wrong.  Really, really wrong.  Budget planning is a fairly stovepiped process, both on the Hill in the Legislature and in the Executive branch. Common theme items rarely get compared within a single budget block, and almost never get coordinated across multiple budget blocks. The work is too difficult and time consuming and administration after administration has shrugged their shoulders and allowed a somewhat chaotic budget planning process to continue.

President Bush's Conserving Americas Wetlands Report

In 2005 President Bush's wetlands report had the unintended consequence of unearthing the multitude of agencies who all work on the same topic - wetlands.

But wait – there’s the 2005 wetlands report now, and the reports like it that were produced for the next three years.  Surely once the information was readily available we’d start using that information to proactively plan a coordinated budget. That might seem likely to some, but in Washington, D.C. budget coordination is usually labeled as crosscut budget planning, and budget analysts, understanding the workload that comes with crosscut budgets, stay as far away from that sorts of analysis whenever possible. With no specific mandate to do crosscut budget planning, or even the lower bar of  “joint budget presentations,” status quo processes continue. It may seem odd to those outside of DC that even joint budget presentations, where no advance planning is performed, but there a document that connects the dots for the sake of the legislature, also fails to be produced.  The failure resides in two places:  The Administration, for not allocating the incremental additional staff who would be needed to produce a joint budget presentation, and also Congress, for not asking the Executive branch to produce a budget proposal that optimally helps Congress make informed decisions.

We have a  long way to go on government efficiency, but perhaps the President’s funny reference to Salmon will stick in people’s heads, and both the Administration and the Hill will both take the process of budget planning a good deal more seriously than their predecessors.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

January 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Oil Spill Commission Chairs Bill Reilly and Bob Graham interviewed by Ray Suarez at the Our Changing Oceans Conference

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National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) kicked off the 11th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment: Our Changing Oceans conference in Washington, DC with an interview of Oil Spill Commission Chairs Bill Reilly and Bob Graham being interviewed by PBS News Hour’s Ray Suarez.

An MP3 audio file of the interview can be downloaded at this link from the W.H. Nuckols Consulting website.

The Our Changing Oceans conference continues through January 21, 2011.

Commentary on additional sessions at this conference will appear on this blog as the week continues.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.  
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

January 20, 2011 at 6:59 am