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Lubchenco, Head of NOAA, To Step Down in February

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced on Tuesday that she plans to step down from her post in February to return to academia and her family in the Pacific Northwest. Lubchenco’s four-year tenure has been marked by a number of major challenges, such as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, for which NOAA was one of the main environmental response agencies, and extreme weather events, from the devastating 2011 tornado season to Hurricane Sandy.

NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.
Credit: NOAA.

Lubchenco, who was a marine ecologist and environmental scientist at Oregon State University and had served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is a leading advocate for fisheries conservation, and she touted the completion of the nation’s first National Ocean Policy as one of her signature accomplishments at NOAA. In an email to NOAA employees, which was published by the Washington Post, she put “ending over-fishing, rebuilding depleted stocks, and returning fishing to profitability” as NOAA’s No. 1 accomplishment during her tenure.

She said she is looking forward to returning to her family, writing, “As many of you know, my home and family are on the West Coast. I’m deeply grateful for the support and love of my family, but as wonderful as Skype is for staying in touch, it is not a viable long-term arrangement!”

Lubchenco’s retirement adds another top job to the list of key NOAA vacancies. That list includes the director of the National Weather Service (NWS). In May, NWS director Jack Hayes resigned suddenly after it was revealed that the agency had redirected millions of dollars in funds without congressional authorization. Laura Furgione has been serving as acting director, and has seen the agency come under criticism for its performance during and following Hurricane Sandy, and the poor performance of its computer models compared to the Europeans.

After an aborted first attempt, the NWS established a review team to examine its performance during Hurricane Sandy, which is scheduled to report back to the agency in the spring.

One of Lubchenco’s top priorities was the creation of a National Climate Service, which would have reorganized NOAA to provide the public with a one-stop shop for climate information, from monthly climate forecasts to global warming research. Congressional opposition stopped that plan from moving forward. However, she was able to pursue a number of climate programs, raising the public profile of the agency. In her email to employees,  she cited, “Creating a new generation of climate services to promote public understanding, support mitigation and adaptation efforts, enable smart planning, and promote regional climate partnerships,” as one of the agency's accomplishments of which she is especially proud.

NOAA also faced the possibility of a much larger reorganization, when the White House proposed moving the agency to the Interior Department and combining it with the U.S. Geological Service. Formed in 1970, NOAA is located within the Commerce Department, and the Obama administration proposal received a tepid reception on Capitol Hill.

NOTE: Jane Lubchenco served as a founding board member of Climate Central, but resigned that position when she was appointed NOAA director in 2008.

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