House Republicans charged Wednesday that the Obama administration is aiming to establish a "propaganda office" for Democratic initiatives on global warming through a proposal to consolidate operations in a new "climate service" office within the Commerce Department
Tensions boiled over at a congressional hearing as officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defended the consolidation plan contained in President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget and denied having any ulterior motive.
NOAA hopes to move more than 50 percent of its resources into the new climate service department, which it says will serve as the central clearinghouse for farmers, local governments, the military and academics seeking information on climate trends.
But a number of GOP lawmakers, who have staunchly opposed the administration's climate and energy policies in the past, challenged NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco at a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
"[The climate service office] sounds a lot like a propaganda office to me. This seems to be an unneeded distraction that has nothing to do with science," said Rep. Paul C. Broun, Georgia Republican. "This just seems like a politically motivated advocacy office that this administration is trying to stand up."
Ms. Lubchenco called the proposal a "good government" reform and rejected Mr. Broun's accusations and similar concerns from other Republicans on the committee.
"NOAA is proposing to more efficiently use the resources we receive to advance our science and improve our delivery of services to the public," she said, adding that the reorganization, if approved by Congress, would be budget-neutral and would not require additional funding.
The hearing came on a day when former Vice President Al Gore, a leading Democratic voice on the environment, chided Mr. Obama for failing to deliver the change he promised on climate change, and criticized congressional Democrats for giving up on the controversial "cap-and-trade" energy plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Gore, in a lengthy essay for Rolling Stone posted on the magazine's website Wednesday, criticized both the administration and congressional Republicans for not doing enough to address what he says is the global crisis of climate change.
Republicans fear NOAA's proposed climate service office would serve as a vehicle to resurrect the cap-and-trade proposal and masquerade as an impartial scientific data center while providing political cover to far-reaching environmental legislation.
"Our proposed reorganization has nothing to do with cap and trade," Ms. Lubchenco told skeptical Republicans. "There is no advocacy in what we are proposing."
Robert Winokur, deputy oceanographer for the Navy, said he and fellow researchers currently must navigate a variety of offices at NOAA, depending on what they need.
"We would like, frankly, a simple and easy entry point into the organization," he said, adding that a "single data portal" would help the Navy and other branches of the military make long-term plans.
Committee Democrats voiced support for the reorganization proposal and said they hoped a reorganized NOAA, by coordinating and targeting its analysis, could better predict droughts, floods or storms.
"Why would we not want to give people the tools and information needed to anticipate what is to come?" asked Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
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Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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