Content

Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information

NAO 216-112: Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information

Policy

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information strengthens the partnership among government, academia and the private sector which provides the nation with high quality environmental information.

History

The policy responds to recommendations contained in both the National Research Council's (NRC) study, "Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services," (National Academy Press, 2003) [http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10610.html] and extensive public comments on a proposed policy. The NRC study identified the need for a policy that would recognize advances in technology, as well as the enactment of relevant laws and implementing guidance, particularly the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, 44 USC Part 45, and OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources," 61 FR 6428 (February 20, 1996), [http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/a130/a130trans4.html], which were promulgated subsequent to a previous National Weather Service (NWS) policy issued in 1991. (56 FR 1984, (January 18, 1991))

During the period January 12 through June 30, 2004, NOAA sought and received 1,473 comments on a proposed policy. On December 1, 2004, NOAA promulgated a policy responding to recommendations from the NRC study, incorporating applicable law and government-wide information policies, and responding to comments on the proposed policy.

During the period August 4 through November 2, 2005, NOAA sought and received 139 comments on proposed clarifying language to more clearly express NOAA's views of the critical role played by the private sector in the environmental information enterprise as a whole. This document responds to these comments and promulgates final language for the Policy.

Introduction

Environmental information services about weather, water, and climate are expanding to include chemical, biological, and ecological parameters. This policy uses the term "environmental information services" to capture this reality and convey the intended scope: This policy concerns provision of environmental information by all of NOAA's programs, which are organized by the NOAA strategic plan into NOAA's four mission goals:

  • Protect, Restore, and Manage the Use of Coastal and Ocean Resources Through an Ecosystem Approach to Management
  • Understand Climate Variability and Change to Enhance Society's Ability to Plan and Respond
  • Serve Society's Needs for Weather and Water Information
  • Support the Nation's Commerce with Information for Safe, Efficient, and Environmentally Sound Transportation

Similarly, the broad enterprise providing these services and composed of government, private sector, and academic/research institutions is expanding the scope of the types of information services provided. The term "environmental information enterprise" is used throughout to refer to this growing and vigorous enterprise — both traditional and emerging elements.

The nation's environmental information enterprise is conducted by many parties whose contributions are complementary and at times overlapping. NOAA has specific mission responsibilities as part of this enterprise, and NOAA also has a responsibility to foster the growth of this complex and diverse enterprise as a whole to serve the public interest and the nation's economy. The nation benefits from government information disseminated both by Federal agencies and by diverse nonfederal parties, including commercial and not-for-profit entities. This policy commits NOAA to give due consideration to these abilities, and to consider the effects of its decisions on the activities of these entities in accordance with applicable law and government-wide policy. NOAA will not haphazardly institute significant changes in existing information dissemination activities, or introduce new services, without first carefully considering the full range of views and capabilities of all parties as well as the public's interest in the environmental information enterprise.

The NRC study examined the respective roles of the government, academic, and private sectors, and provided recommendations regarding how the partnership can effectively move forward in an era of rapid advances in science and technology. This three-sector system has led to an extensive and flourishing set of services that are of great benefit to the public and the economy. The NRC also found that some level of tension is an inevitable but acceptable price to pay for the excellent array of weather and climate products and services our nation enjoys. The NRC study challenged the community to reduce the frictions and inefficiencies of the existing system, permitting the three sectors to live in greater harmony. This policy will help advance that goal.

The policy directs all NOAA offices to "establish and publish procedures to implement this policy" and identifies the NOAA Assistant Administrators and Chief Information Officer as responsible officials for implementation within the policy and management context of each office. It applies to all NOAA activities concerned with provision of environmental information services.

The policy recognizes external parties may disagree with decisions made at the program level and provides these parties recourse to cognizant leadership when they do. The policy also recognizes responsible NOAA officials may need access to independent advice to exercise their oversight of NOAA's information services.

Scope and application

The nation's environmental information enterprise is conducted by many parties. For convenience, these parties are typically grouped into three sectors  —government, private sector entities, and the academic and research community — although the enterprise as a whole also includes non-governmental organizations, private citizens, and others. Activities of NOAA, other government agencies, the private sector, and the academic / research community include, but are not limited to:

  • NOAA's mission is to provide information to understand and predict changes in Earth's environment and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet the nation's economic, social, and environmental needs. To carry out this mission, it conducts research, produces various assessments and information products, and develops and maintains an infrastructure of observation, communications, and prediction systems that support the entire enterprise. NOAA also has specific obligations to provide information services to other government agencies.
  • Other government agencies at all levels — federal (civilian and military), regional, state, local, and tribal — carry out activities that support the enterprise.
  • The private sector includes weather companies, practitioners working for private companies or as consultants, broadcasters, risk managers, and others. The private sector uses NOAA information and also develops and maintains an infrastructure of observation, communication, and prediction systems to create products and services tailored to the needs of their company or clients. A critical private sector role is working with NOAA to communicate forecasts and warnings that may affect public safety.
  • Academia educates future generations of participants in the enterprise, advances the science, and develops new technologies and services. These activities contribute to advances in the public and private sectors and spin off new private sector entities.

This policy only applies to the provision of environmental information services by NOAA. It sets forth basic principles NOAA will apply in making decisions regarding these information services for the purpose of advancing the nation's environmental information enterprise. It does not apply to NOAA acquisition or use of information. Other NOAA policies apply to NOAA's acquisition and use of information in carrying out its mission responsibilities, and to publication of reports, journal articles, and the like. And in particular, this policy does not apply to NOAA's acquisition, use, or provision of information in connection with performing its regulatory responsibilities carried out under applicable law, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act.

Policy

  1. NOAA will adhere to the policies contained in the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources," and other relevant laws. These policies are based on the premise that government information is a valuable national resource, and the benefits to society are maximized when government information is available in a timely and equitable manner to all.
  2. In furtherance of these policies, NOAA will carry out activities that contribute to its mission, including conducting research; providing environmental assessments; collecting and archiving data; ensuring their quality; issuing forecasts, warnings, and advisories; and providing open and unrestricted access to publicly-funded observations, analyses, model results, forecasts, and related information products in a timely manner and at the lowest possible cost to users.
  3. To advance the environmental information enterprise, NOAA will provide information in forms accessible to the public as well as underlying data in forms convenient to additional processing, to the extent practicable and within resource constraints. NOAA will make its data and products available in internet-accessible, vendor-neutral form and will use other dissemination technologies, e.g., satellite broadcast, NOAA Weather Radio, and wireless, as appropriate. Information will comply with recognized standards, formats, and metadata descriptions to ensure data from different observing platforms, databases, and models can be integrated and used by all interested parties.
  4. The nation benefits from government information disseminated both by Federal agencies and by diverse nonfederal parties, including commercial and not-for-profit entities. NOAA recognizes cooperation, not competition, with private sector and academic and research entities best serves the public interest and best meets the varied needs of specific individuals, organizations, and economic entities. NOAA will take advantage of existing capabilities and services of commercial and academic sectors to support efficient performance of NOAA's mission and avoid duplication and competition in areas not related to the NOAA mission. NOAA will give due consideration to these abilities and consider the effects of its decisions on the activities of these entities, in accordance with its responsibilities as an agency of the U.S. Government, to serve the public interest and advance the nation's environmental information enterprise as a whole.
  5. NOAA is committed to open consultation with all who are affected by NOAA's environmental information services and will use appropriate mechanisms to encourage the maximum practicable and timely input from and collaboration with interested persons and entities on decisions affecting the environmental information enterprise. These mechanisms include:
    • Establishing orderly processes for seeking input and suggestions to create, modify, or discontinue products and services;
    • Cooperating with, and as necessary establishing, open processes concerned with advancing the environmental information enterprise; and
    • Seeking advice on matters of concern in accord with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
  6. NOAA will promote the open and unrestricted exchange of environmental information worldwide, and seek to improve global opportunities for developing the enterprise.
  7. NOAA's participation in the environmental information enterprise will be founded on the following principles:
    • Mission connection: NOAA's information services will support the NOAA mission. As a government agency, NOAA recognizes its core responsibility to protect life and property.
    • Consultation: Unless public safety or national security concerns dictate otherwise, NOAA will provide interested persons and entities adequate notice and opportunity for input into decisions regarding the development, dissemination, and discontinuance of significant products and services.
    • Open information dissemination: NOAA recognizes that open and unrestricted dissemination of high quality publicly funded information, as appropriate and within resource constraints, is good policy and is the law.
    • Equity: NOAA will be equitable in dealings with various classes of entities and will not show favoritism toward any particular entity within a class. NOAA recognizes it has special responsibilities to some users (e.g., public safety officials) and different legal requirements for its interactions with entities of different types (e.g., other federal agencies). NOAA will not provide an information service to one entity unless it can also be provided to other similar entities.
    • Recognition of Roles of Others: When faced with requests for information services, NOAA will explain existing NOAA services, including their uses and limitations, and inform the requester that others in the environmental information enterprise may be able to meet the requester's needs.
  8. Implementation. NOAA offices will establish and publish procedures to implement this policy. Responsible officials include the NOAA Assistant Administrators and Chief Information Officer.
  9. Complaints. Persons who believe NOAA offices' information services are being provided in a manner contrary to this policy may bring the matter to the attention of the responsible officials (see above) who will ascertain the facts and advise the complainant of their conclusions.
  10. Administrative Review Mechanism. NOAA will establish discretionary administrative review processes that responsible officials may use, as appropriate, to assist in making decisions regarding the creation, modification or termination of significant environmental information services.
  11. Periodic Review. NOAA will review the effectiveness of this policy every five years beginning five years after the implementation date.

Date: January 19, 2006
VADM (Ret) Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.
Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere

For further information

Contact John Sokich (john.sokich@noaa.gov) 301-713-0258

 

Background:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information

 

1. Proposed Clarification

Responding to concerns by some private sector participants in the environmental information enterprise, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed, on August 4, 2005, clarifying language for the NOAA Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information to more clearly express NOAA's views of the critical role played by the private sector in the environmental information enterprise as a whole.

The proposed clarification affected only section 4 of the Policy. The proposed replacement language for section 4 was as follows:

4. The nation benefits from government information disseminated both by Federal agencies and by diverse nonfederal parties, including commercial and not-for-profit entities. NOAA recognizes the government best serves the public interest by cooperating with private sector and academic and research entities to meet the varied needs of specific individuals, organizations, and economic entities. NOAA will take advantage of existing capabilities and services of commercial and academic sectors to avoid duplication and competition in areas not related to the NOAA mission. NOAA will give due consideration to these abilities and consider the effects of its decisions on the activities of these entities, in accordance with its responsibilities as an agency of the U.S. Government, to serve the public interest and advance the nation's environmental information enterprise as a whole.

All other language in the Policy remained untouched by the August 2005 proposed clarification, i.e. all other parts of the policy were proposed to remain as NOAA promulgated them on December 1, 2004, when the Policy was signed.

2. Comments on the Proposed Policy

During the period August 4 through November 2, 2005, NOAA sought and received 139 comments on the proposed clarification. The complete text of these comments is available at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/partnershippolicy/clarification-1/index.htm. References to specific comments in the text below refer to the comment numbers in this file.

Comments were classified¹ as summarized below:

Fifty four (54) of the comments addressed the proposed clarification either by direct reference or by reference to the proposed language. These comments fall into the following categories:

  • 7 Support the proposed clarification
  • 4 Oppose the proposed clarification on the grounds that its protection for private sector interests should be stronger.
  • 43 Oppose the proposed clarification in favor of the status quo for a variety of reasons including:
    • The proposed clarification restricts NOAA's information services too much and/or favors private sector interests too much (33)
    • There is no need to change the current policy (5)
    • The proposed clarification is poorly worded (3)
    • The proposed clarification is a threat to public safety (1)
    • The proposed clarification will cost taxpayers more money (1)

Many commenters expressed their views on appropriate relationships between NOAA and the private sector. The most commonly expressed view was opposition to restricting and/or privatizing NOAA's information services. 119 commenters (86 percent) expressed this view in some form.

None of the comments could be identified as coming from federal officials in NOAA or in Congress. One commenter identified himself as an employee of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and one as a contractor for the Department of Energy.

Three associations representing participants in the environmental information enterprise provided comments: the Commercial Weather Services Association (comment #51), the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists (comment #91), and the Weather Coalition (comment #139).

Five commenters (included in above counts) offer alternative language.

All comments received have been considered in developing this policy.

1Classifications represent consensus of three government analysts

3. "Clarification" not "Change"

Despite NOAA's representation of its proposal as a clarification of the Policy, rather than a change, many commenters failed to view the proposed clarification in the context of the remainder of the policy, which the proposed clarification did not change. In particular, the large number of commenters who expressed general opposition to restricting and/or privatizing NOAA failed to note NOAA's continued commitment to open and unrestricted access to NOAA information embodied in section 3 of the Policy:

3. To advance the environmental information enterprise, NOAA will provide information in forms accessible to the public as well as underlying data in forms convenient to additional processing, to the extent practicable and within resource constraints. NOAA will make its data and products available in internet-accessible, vendor-neutral form and will use other dissemination technologies, e.g., satellite broadcast, NOAA Weather Radio, and wireless, as appropriate. Information will comply with recognized standards, formats, and metadata descriptions to ensure data from different observing platforms, databases, and models can be integrated and used by all interested parties.

In a similar vein, some commenters expressed views on the entire partnership policy, sometimes in addition to and other times instead of their views on the proposed clarification. Some of those who expressed opposition to the original proposed policy in comments sent in 2004 expressed similar views in response to the proposed clarification in 2005. For example:

We urge the "Proposed Clarification" be withdrawn, and that a true rework of the existing "Policy on Partnerships" be undertaken. (Comment #51)

4. Specific changes in final language - Introduction

The introductory sections of the policy have been reorganized for clarity into a "History" section, which documents the development of the policy, and a separate "Introduction" section, which creates the foundation for the policy itself. This reorganization moved some text from the previous policy language "Introduction" section to the revised policy's "History" section and added text to describe the proposed clarification and associated comment process.

In addition to these editorial changes in the introductory sections, one wording change has been adopted: The sentence beginning "NOAA intends to allay fears that it will haphazardly institute significant changes in existing information dissemination activities…" has been simplified to read "NOAA will not haphazardly institute significant changes in existing information dissemination activities…" This change is made for consistency with the stated intent of the clarification. It is also reflected in one of the comments on the clarification, which reads, in part:

"Remove the following sentence: 'NOAA will take advantage of existing capabilities and services of commercial and academic sectors to avoid duplication and competition in areas not related to the NOAA mission.'

AND REPLACE IT WITH THIS:

'NOAA will not haphazardly institute significant changes in existing information dissemination activities without first carefully considering the impact it would have on the private sector.'" (Comment #126)

The more direct language ("NOAA will not …") recommended by this commenter reflects NOAA's intent more accurately, and has been adopted in the Introduction.

5. Specific changes in final language - Section 4

The most significant change in NOAA's proposed clarification is embodied in the following sentence proposed for section 4:

"NOAA will take advantage of existing capabilities and services of commercial and academic sectors to avoid duplication and competition in areas not related to the NOAA mission."

Many of the comments which made specific reference to the proposed clarification focused on this sentence. Several commenters faulted the underlying logic and/or the construction of this sentence. For example:

"This wording is bizarre at best, and confusing at least, and hardly clarifies anything." (Comment #51)

"How can any information NOAA collects be determined to be 'not related to the NOAA mission'? … With the proposed new wording, the policy would be contradicting itself." (Comment #76)

In addition to these complaints regarding the underlying logic of the proposed sentence, others expressed a view that duplication by the private sector of services available from NOAA should be viewed in a positive light. For example:

"When you say 'NOAA will take advantage of existing capabilities and services of commercial and academic sectors to avoid duplication and competition in areas not related to the NOAA mission' you are saying you don't believe competition is healthy. The Post Office has had to compete with many other carriers over the years and their service has vastly improved because of it." (Comment #15)

The National Research Council (NRC) has also expressed the view that there may be situations where duplication of services between the public and private sectors can serve a valid public need2

In contrast to these sentiments favoring and/or recognizing the need for duplication of services under some circumstances, others seek a return to the approach taken in the 1991 National Weather Service (NWS) policy, with its simple statement that "NWS will not compete with the private sector when the service is currently provided or can be provided by commercial enterprises unless otherwise directed by applicable law"3 in spite of the fact that the National Research Council described such an approach as "untenable."4

These disparate views over terms such as "duplication" and "competition" led NRC to recommend, and NOAA to adopt, the approach taken in the NOAA partnership policy  — an approach based on improved processes for interaction not "rigid boundaries for each sector outlining who can do what and with which tools." 5 The NOAA partnership policy recognizes the roles of others in the environmental information enterprise and commits NOAA to improved dialogue within the enterprise over every significant change in the environmental information services NOAA provides. The periodic review provisions of the NOAA partnership policy (section 11) also commit NOAA to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach every 5 years. The proposed clarifying language was intended to make this approach as clear as possible, not change it.

Another view expressed regarding the key sentence in the proposed clarification is focused on its lack of language expressing the importance of private sector contributions to NOAA's ability to accomplish NOAA's mission. For example:

"However, this does NOT encourage NOAA to contract for products/services from commercial or academic suppliers (i.e., via COTS sources)." (Comment #48)

NOAA's silence on this matter reflects the scope of the partnership policy which is limited to provision not acquisition or use of environmental information. The partnership policy was silent on these matters because extensive government procurement policies cover NOAA's use of private sector capabilities in accomplishing the NOAA mission. This "technical" distinction in policy formulation appears to be contributing to the lack of clarity in stating the partnership policy which NOAA's proposed clarification was intended to address. The final language adds a statement regarding NOAA's use of capabilities from other sectors to carry out the NOAA mission efficiently.

The final language modifies two sentences in section 4. The proposed sentences are repeated here for clarity:

NOAA recognizes the government best serves the public interest by cooperating with private sector and academic and research entities to meet the varied needs of specific individuals, organizations, and economic entities. NOAA will take advantage of existing capabilities and services of commercial and academic sectors to avoid duplication and competition in areas not related to the NOAA mission.

The final language for these two sentences is as follows:

NOAA recognizes cooperation, not competition, with private sector and academic and research entities best serves the public interest and best meets the varied needs of specific individuals, organizations, and economic entities. NOAA will take advantage of existing capabilities and services of commercial and academic sectors to support efficient performance of NOAA's mission and avoid duplication and competition in areas not related to the NOAA mission.

2 “ … there may be good public policy reasons for the NWS to carry out certain activities, even if the private sector does or could do them." from “Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services," (National Academy Press, 2003) [http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10610.html] page 3.

3 Comment #51.

4 Fair Weather, page 3.

5 Complete quote from Fair Weather, page 3: “Therefore, the committee’s primary conclusion is that it is counterproductive and diversionary to establish detailed and rigid boundaries for each sector outlining who can do what and with which tools. Instead, efforts should focus on improving the processes by which the public and private providers of weather services interact.” (emphasis in original)

6. Specific changes in final language - Section 5

Section 5 of the policy addresses NOAA's commitment to collaboration with others and the mechanisms NOAA will use for collaboration. One commenter noted language used to introduce NOAA's proposed clarification and proposed using this language in the body of the policy itself:

"This is excellent, but could be strengthened by adding the paragraph within the clarification explanation into the body of Section 4. That paragraph reads:

"NOAA is committed to open consultation with all who are affected by NOAA's services including the private sector. the american meteorological society has established a new commission to foster constructive discussion within the enterprise as a whole. NOAA will use this and other appropriate mechanisms to consult openly on the matters as we move forward."

(Comment #47)

Although this comment recommends using this language in Section 4, it is more appropriately placed in the first paragraph in Section 5. Final language for this paragraph is as follows:

NOAA is committed to open consultation with all who are affected by NOAA's environmental information services and will use appropriate mechanisms to encourage the maximum practicable and timely input from and collaboration with interested persons and entities on decisions affecting the environmental information enterprise.

Finally, NOAA has adopted a small change in wording in Section 5.c which enumerates one of the collaborative mechanisms NOAA will use to carry out the partnership policy - use of federal advisory committees:

c. Seeking advice on specific matters of concern in accord with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. (Original language)

c. Seeking advice on matters of concern in accord with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. (Final language)

Several commenters urged NOAA to take a more active approach to implementation of Recommendation 2 of the NRC's Fair Weather6 report by creating a standing advisory body instead of using existing advisory mechanisms, as described in the original partnership policy. Importantly, comments expressing this view come from two commercial weather industry associations - the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists (NCIM) and the Weather Coalition.

Although NCIM opposes the clarification, believing "additional modification of the policy is necessary," the NCIM comment closes with:

"Again, the steps initiated by NOAA to address private sector concerns regarding its recent Policy on Partnerships and the Provision of Environmental Information are to be commended. However this is an ongoing endeavor, which will require a sustained dialog between the federal and private constituents of our weather and climate enterprise. NCIM strongly urges NOAA to pursue those opportunities that would result in broader recognition of and increased cooperation with private sector meteorology - NOAA's key stakeholder and partner in the provision of this nation's weather and climate information and services." (emphasis added)

(Comment #91)

The Weather Coalition expresses support for the policy: "In general, the Coalition supports this policy, and applauds NOAA's spirit of working with the external community." Although NCIM and the Weather Coalition have taken different positions on the policy itself, both support formation of a standing advisory body. The Weather Coalition comment includes the following language:

"The Coalition believes that meaningful consultation is important for all of NOAA's activities - particularly those of the National Weather Service (NWS). As a result, the Weather Coalition believes strongly that, consistent with NOAA's newly revised partnership policy, the NWS should establish a federally chartered advisory committee.

"…This would allow for meaningful public-private coordination and cooperation with respect to the weather enterprise. The committee could help to coordinate federal and nongovernmental efforts in weather data gathering and dissemination with optimal efficiency. In turn, this would serve to reduce the current tensions between the external community and the agency, eventually leading to a more supportive NWS constituency. The end result will be a stronger and more effective NWS."

(Comment #139)

The small change in Section 5.c, i.e. deleting the word "specific," is intended to signal NOAA's willingness to consider creating a standing advisory body to support the NOAA partnership policy.

6 Complete text of Fair Weather recommendation 2 is on page 4 of the report.

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