On January 10 the President announced his intention to nominate Bill Brennan, current acting director of the Climate Change Science Program, to fill the position previously held by James Mahoney as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. This is a Senate-confirmed political appointment and offers the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation an opportunity to get his answers to questions about the problems and direction of the program before voting on confirmation.

The White House press office announced on January 10:

The President intends to nominate William J. Brennan of Maine, to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. Dr. Brennan currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs and Acting Director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Prior to this, he served as a Professor at the Maine Maritime Academy’s Corning School of Ocean Studies. Earlier in his career, he served as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Dr. Brennan received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine, his master’s degree from the University of Rhode Island, and his PhD from the University of Maine.

Dr. Brennan, with due respect, should NOT be confirmed without making his responses to some key questions about the Climate Change Science Program part of the confirmation process. Brennan has learned something about the problems of the climate science program under this administration during his tenure as acting director and this is an opportunity to ask him to talk about it.

A brief recap of this position under the Bush administration:

The position of Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere—which doubles as the Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—was held by Dr. James Mahoney from 2002 until March 2006. In the spring of 2002 the administration announced a new management structure for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, under which the position held by Mahoney was designated as the director of the program. Mahoney’s position in the Commerce department structure was directly under that of Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator.

Mahoney, after 3+ years as CCSP director, announced his impending resignation in July 2005, to be effective “upon confirmation of a successor.”  In spite of the administration’s dilatory approach to replacing him, Mahoney finally retired from government at the end of March 2006 -­- more than eight months after announcing his resignation. This left a vacancy at the top leadership level as the $1.7 billion CCSP went 11 weeks without a director. 

On June 19, 2006, the secretaries of commerce and energy designated Dr. Bill Brennan as the “acting director” of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Brennan continued to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs. On September 26, 2006, the White House announced that the President intended to nominate corporate lawyer Jane Luxton to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and deputy administrator of NOAA. This appointment raised such critical questions on the Hill from both sides of the aisle that her nomination was withdrawn before a confirmation hearing was ever held.

To date, Brennan has served as acting director of the CCSP for 1 1/2 years. In March it will be 2 years since Mahoney’s retirement. The White House clearly has treated the directorship of the program as a low-priority position to fill with a non-“acting” director. In our judgment this is one of numerous indications that the White House has not wanted a climate science program with strong leadership and a strong voice.

On January 10, NOAA spokesman Anson Franklin was quoted in E&E News PM as saying it is not clear whether Brennan would be named director of the CCSP if the Senate confirms him for the Assistant Secretary of Commerce / NOAA Deputy Administrator job. “The chair of that group is designated separately,” Franklin said. “I think we would take a look at the status of that group once the Senate has acted.”

Well, actually, since 2002 the administration has had a formal, published Climate Change Science and Technology management chart that specifies that the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere holds the position of CCSP Director. Of course, the administration could change its management chart, but we cannot believe that the White House would expect the Senate to approve Brennan’s confirmation without: (1) having it first be clear whether he will be the CCSP Director or not; (2) if someone else is going to be designated as the Director (a potentially legitimate option, if the program Director position were to be made a full-time job), who that someone will be; and (3) in any case, having him prepared to answer some serious questions about the conduct of the program.