Need To Strengthen Coordination of Ocean Pollution Research

CED-82-108: Published: Jul 14, 1982. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1982.

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Hugh J. Wessinger
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GAO conducted a review to determine whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) implementation of the National Ocean Pollution Planning Act had improved the coordination of federal ocean pollution research development and monitoring.

NOAA has made considerable progress toward implementing the act. It has: (1) issued a plan and one revision containing extensive catalogs of federal ocean pollution research projects, (2) conducted a detailed review of oil pollution, which contributed to a Department of the Interior decision to intensify research on the long-term effects of off-shore drilling, (3) influenced the distribution of some NOAA research grants, and (4) improved communication among researchers and managers by sponsoring various meetings and forums to exchange information. However, NOAA attempts to implement the act have been hampered because NOAA has had little authority to influence research conducted by other federal agencies, and the NOAA plan has not indicated how recommended research should be funded and has not recommended specific roles to agencies which research similar subjects. NOAA must rely on the voluntary cooperation of research agencies to help prepare and implement its 5-year plan, and it has no explicit authority under the act to review research budgets. These limitations reduce the likelihood that any changes recommended by the plan which are not viewed by the affected research agencies as fully consistent with their interests or missions will be adopted. Agencies concentrating on their own interests to the exclusion of broader federal concerns could lead to misplaced research emphasis and unnecessarily duplicative research. The plan should provide more direction on the spending of funds and the allocation of responsibilities among agencies which are researching similar issues.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The agency does not agree with the recommendation for congressional action, but NOAA hopes to influence other agencies in their budget processes through better coordination and through closer communication with OMB.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should seek legislation amending the National Ocean Pollution Planning Act of 1978 to more fully realize the congressional purpose of effective coordination of ocean pollution research. The proposed legislation should be drafted after mechanisms or institutional arrangements used in other multiagency coordination programs have been reviewed for their applicability to the coordination of ocean pollution research. At a minimum, the National Ocean Pollution Planning Act should be amended to give NOAA, or an appropriate interagency coordinating committee, explicit authority to review federal agency research budgets before they are approved by the Office of Management and Budget.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the NOAA Administrator to prepare future ocean pollution research plan revisions so that they address, in more detail than has been the case in the past: (1) how federal research money should be allocated so that the most important research gets done and limited research money is not diverted to less important programs; and (2) how responsibilities should be allocated to agencies exploring similar ocean pollution issues to avoid duplication or inefficiently organized research.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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