The roots of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) date back more than 200 years, to 1807, when the nation’s first scientific agency, the Survey of the Coast (later known as the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey), was established. NOAA itself was formed as part of the Department of Commerce in 1970—amid rising concerns about the environment—as a conglomeration of three existing agencies: the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey; the Weather Bureau, formed in 1870; and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, formed in 1871. Some environmentalists and others have long argued that NOAA would fit better within the Department of the Interior; just two weeks ago, President Obama proposed moving it there. Today, NOAA refers to itself as “the original whole earth agency” and “[possibly] the most important agency you’ve never heard of.”
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others; and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. From its 19th century beginnings, it has evolved into an operational science agency with conservation, management, and regulatory responsibilities. Its activities fall into five broad categories: fisheries, oceans and coasts, satellites, scientific research, and weather. With a staff of more than 12,000 and a presence in every state, NOAA had a budget of $4.9 billion in 2010—making it the largest agency within Commerce, with about 60% of the department’s total funding.
NOAA’s headquarters campus, located in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, houses the agency’s line offices, staff offices, and program groups, including the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service; the National Marine Fisheries Service; the National Ocean Service; the National Weather Service; the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; and the Office of Program Planning and Administration. The agency inhabits nearly all of the Silver Spring Metro Center (SSMC). NOAA owns SSMC 1 and it leases nearly all of SSMC buildings 2, 3 and 4, totaling almost 1.2 million square feet of government-occupied office space. In total, NOAA reports that the SSMC headquarters is home to 4,200 workers who make up 80 percent of NOAA’s Washington-area employees. NOAA has occupied the Silver Spring Metro Center complex for more than 20 years.