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The National Ocean Service (NOS) is one of five major line offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal scientific agency of the United States Department of Commerce. Other NOAA offices include The National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, The National Marine Fisheries Service, The National Weather Service, and The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. The NOS specifies 23 areas of focus relating to Oceans, Coasts, and Navigation/Charting. NOS areas of responsibility include coral reef conservation, oil and chemical spill response, coastal monitoring, global positioning mapping, and the management of 13 national marine sanctuaries. The NOS also maintains the National Geodetic Survey.


A primary objective of the NOS is the charting and mapping of the oceans and national coasts.   In this respect, the NOS has roots dating back to 1807, when President Thomas Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast, the first civilian scientific agency in the country. The original Survey, founded and run by Ferdinand Hassler, was soon expanded to include the mapping of the country’s interior, as the national borders migrated west. The Coast Survey would eventually become the first Government agency to develop mathematical models for predicting future states of geophysical phenomena, such as tides, currents, and geomagnetic declination. It was instrumental in the formation of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences and the establishment of their early policies. It was also the first Federal science agency to fight many of the political battles involving the place of science in a democratic society.
In 1871, a geodetic (defined as a measurement and representation of the Earth) connection between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was officially authorized; The Survey’s name was changed to the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) in 1878.
In 1970 President Nixon addressed Congress regarding the need “…for better protection of life and property from natural hazards…for a better understanding of the total environment … and for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources.” That same year, the NOAA was created and the National Ocean Survey became the line office responsible for the charting and mapping of coasts and waterways, absorbing the responsibilities of the C&GS. By 1982, the office’s responsibilities grew to include conservation and monitoring efforts, and it was renamed the National Ocean Service (NOS). Later that year, the importance of charting and geodetic research was again highlighted with the creation of the National Geodetic Survey as a special office within the NOS.

Early History of NOS


What it Does  

The NOS is described in the NOAA budget as having three “sub-activities”: Navigation Services, Ocean Resources Conservation and Assessment, and Ocean and Coastal Management. Historically, 80% of the NOS budget is used for environmental data collection and analysis purposes. The NOS strategic plan (PDF) details the agency’s goals from 2005-2010.
NOS’s National Marine Sanctuary program maintains 13 designated and protected areas throughout the country. The sanctuaries include California’s Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay; The Florida Keys; Washington’s Olympic Coast; The Hawaiian Island’s Humpback Whales; the Flower Garden Banks; Gray’s Reef in Georgia; Stellwagon Bank in Massachusetts; Michigan’s Thunder Bay; and the wreck of the USS Monitor off the coast of North Carolina. 
Five of these sanctuaries are home to coral reefs, another focal point of the NOS.   The NOS monitors and analyzes the condition of the reefs, and works to restore reef habitat. 
A complete overview of the NOS work in the field of coral reef conservation is highlighted in the 2007 report, The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems of The United States.
Another NOS responsibility is the response, assessment, and cleanup of oil and chemical spills. These tasks are managed through NOS’s Office of Response and Restoration. A recent example of NOS work in this area was the November 7, 2007, accident in which the container ship Cosco Busan struck the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Bay. The crash caused an estimated 53,000 gallons of fuel oil to leak into the water, and NOA officials took the lead in damage assessment and recovery. For each spill incident, the NOS launches and maintains a command center website for public information, for example Cosco Busan Command Center.
The NOS also provides a wealth of educational resources for teachers through their Discovery Classroom programs. Detailed lesson plans on a variety of NOS topics.
Direct Links to the major NOS offices:

Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS)
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)
National Geodetic Survey (NGS)
National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP)
NOAA Coastal Services Center (CSC)
Office of Coast Survey (OCS)
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM)
Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R)


Where Does the Money Go  

In a general sense, all United States citizens (and citizens of the world to some extent) are invested in the state of the Oceans and Coasts are NOS stakeholders. More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast. A Bush administration report predicts that 75% of Americans will live in coastal areas by 2025. More than 95 percent of U.S. overseas trade by volume is waterborne – contributing $740 billion annually to the gross domestic product and employing 13 million Americans. Coastal and marine waters support more than 28 million jobs, while providing tourist destinations for 189 million Americans each year. U.S. consumers spend more than $55 billion for fishery products annually. The Outer Continental Shelf generates 30 percent of the oil and 23 percent of the natural gas produced in this country. Oceans are the home of the majority of the world’s living organisms, and over the past two decades, thousands of marine biochemicals have been identified. One such compound, found in the blood of horseshoe crabs, is being used to test intravenous drugs for bacteria. (*all statistics found in President Bush’s US Ocean Action Plan (PDF)).

Congressional districts that are directly affected by the shipping and marine economy are also primary stakeholders. Senator Joseph Lieberman has been actively involved in legislature pertaining to ocean activities. Other stakeholders include commercial and recreational fishermen, ocean tourism business, and the shipping industry.


Inaccurate Navigation Charts
As a predominantly research-focused agency, the NOS has managed to avoid a great deal of controversy. The few instances of controversy within the NOS seem to center around the accuracy of their marine navigation charts. As the primary source of nautical maps, most commercial and recreational boaters depend on the NOS for safe navigational maps, yet they sometimes find those charts inaccurate, outdated, and unsafe. For example, the owners of the Oregon-based vessel the New Carissa named the NOA as one of the defendants in a $96 million dollar negligence claim filed in 2001. The complaint alleges that navigation chart published by the NOS incorrectly identified an area as safe for anchorage, leading to the grounding and eventual sinking of the New Carissa. The vessel broke anchor in strong winds, damaging the ship and spilling 70,000 gallons of fuel oil onto the shoreline and into the water. The government filed a counter complaint and the matter was settled privately, with the Government conceding $4 million of the faulty charts claim.
The government began using Sonar mapping in 1945. The prior “lead-lining” method resulted in charting gaps, which can lead to accidents. Complaints about inaccurate maps have been ongoing since the NOS’s creation, although the exact number or related accidents is unclear. As stated in the New York Times in 1992, this is partially because Federal law only requires that commercial liners report accidents that cause $25,000 in damages, and recreational boaters do not have to report groundings. 

Many Outdated Nautical Charts Pose a Threat

(New York Times)


According to Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, “If ever there was a bipartisan issue, this is it. We need to save our oceans. We can say all the things we want to say, but if we don't really show that we mean it by investing the resources … then it is useless."   President Bush called for increased oceanic leadership, research and protection in his US Ocean Action Plan (PDF), yet many argue that he has since failed to provide the NOS with necessary funding to complete the plan goals. Total NOAA funding for 2008 was cut by about $96 million. While the President’s budget does enhance funding in some areas, it cuts research and development money by $44 million. The NOS would see an increase in hurricane support tools, but that would balance a cut in funding for coral reef conservation and navigation services. The Senate’s reaction to President Bush’s NOS funding plan is outlined in this article (PDF) from the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.



Suggested Reforms  

The official Ocean policy of the United States can be found at the government website for the Committee on Ocean Policy.
The NOS has been criticized for a slow response to the need for updated, modernized navigational charts. The need for reform in charting practices is voiced by both political advocates and the nautical crews who depend on accurate mapping. In particular, many recreational boaters feel overlooked by the NOS. A summary of reforms suggested by the nautical community was presented in the 2001 Boat/US Magazine article, Charts Lag Behind Technology (by Elaine Dickinson, BNET).  This need for reform was reiterated with the recent Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, which passed the House in July of 2007. The bill calls for $260 million between 2008 and 2015 to develop a federal ocean and coasting mapping plan. The bill was introduced by Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), who told Government Computer News Magazine, “Much of the world’s oceans are imprecisely mapped and that there exists opportunity for improvement in updating incomplete and outdated nautical charts, for example, through greater coordination and an integrated mapping program.” 
Many also feel that NOS needs to reform its business relationships with the public sector. The Federal Register published comments on the NOS’s contracting policies and stated that a “clear commitment to the private sector, in order to assure continued private investment in such new technologies, must be articulated by NOS.” The report encourages several reforms to utilize private research and labor - Federal Register Comments (PDF).
Another source of suggested NOS policy reform comes from the Gerard J. Mangone Center for Marine Policy at the University of Delaware. The Mangone Center conducts studies and hosts a variety of workshop sand roundtable discussions. NOS policy analysis and reform suggestions can be found on the Mangone Center website.

The Ocean Studies Board and the National Research Council collaborated on a report entitled “

Challenges in Ocean Policy

,” which can be read via the National Academies Press.

Congressional Oversight  
Former Directors  

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Table of Contents

Founded: 1970
Annual Budget: $437 Million (FY 2008)
Employees: 1,700

National Ocean Service
Kennedy, David
Assistant Secretary
A 20-year veteran of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, David M. Kennedy has served as the acting assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service since October 2009. He has specialized in dealing with oil and chemical spills.
A native of Oskaloosa, Iowa, Kennedy received his Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the University of Northern Colorado in 1969.
During the 1970s he served as director of the oil spill research team at the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute.
From 1978 to 1991, Kennedy was a scientific support coordinator, providing scientific advice to the U.S. Coast Guard during oil and chemical spills. During this time he coordinated federal scientific response to more than 100 oil and chemical spills, including the Argo Merchant, Amoco Cadiz, IXTOC I oil-well blowout, Presidente Rivera, World Prodigy, and Exxon Valdez.
In addition to his government work, Kennedy founded the non-profit Islands’ Oil Spill Association, an oil spill cooperative in Washington State.
Kennedy then served as the chief of NOAA’s hazardous materials response and assessment division from 1991 to 1998, working with local, state and federal agencies in coastal states to prepare for and respond to oil and chemical releases.
In 1998 he became director of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, leading a multi-disciplinary program to reduce risks to coastal and marine resources from environmental threats, including oil and chemical spills and hazardous waste sites. In this role he directed three divisions: the hazardous materials response division, the coastal protection and restoration division, and the damage assessment center, with 30 regional offices nationwide. His duties also included overseeing the Pribilof Islands Remediation and Land Transfer Project, NOAA’s Marine Debris, Coral Reef Conservation, and Emergency Response programs.
In May 2006, Kennedy was named director of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.
His other work and activities have included serving as a U.S. delegate to the International Maritime Organization’s Conference on Oil Pollution Preparation and Response; chairing the Washington State Legislative Committee on Oil Spill Response; and being a member of the 1990 Program Committee of the National Oil Spill Conference. 
David M. Kennedy (WhoRunsGov)

David Kennedy Named Director of NOAA Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (NOAA)

Dunnigan, John
Previous Assistant Secretary

John Dunnigan was named Assistant Administrator of the NOA in January 2006. He earned an undergraduate degree in communications from Cal State Fullerton, and J.D and L.L.M. degrees in law from the University of Washington.  Dunnigan began his career with the NOAA as a Congressional affairs intern in 1972. From 1984 through 1991 he served in a variety of NOAA positions including Congressional and constituent affairs and to promote the productivity and competitiveness of the U.S. fishing industry. His early career included a stint at the Office of General Counsel, as staff attorney and regional counsel in Gloucester, MA, St. Petersburg, FL and Seattle, WA. He also served as deputy executive director of the New England Fishery Management Council from 1981 to 1983, and was a self-employed business consultant for a year before returning to NOAA in 1984.

Between 1991 and 2002, Dunnigan served as the executive director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate organization responsible for cooperative planning for fisheries conservation, management, scientific research, habitat and sport fish restoration and law enforcement. Under his stewardship, the ASMFC and its state members forged a partnership for conserving and managing coastal fisheries, including the enactment and implementation of the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act.
Beginning in 2002, Dunnigan served as director of the NOAA’s Office of Sustainable Fisheries, leading efforts to promote fishery conservation and management programs aimed at achieving the optimum sustainable annual yield from U.S. fisheries. During this time, Dunnigan was also named as director of the NOAA Ecosystem Goal Team, one of the four mission goals in the agency.