Creating NOAA- The Coast Guard

How The Coast Guard Did Not Come Into The Department Of Commerce

U.S. Department of Commerce



For various very strong programmatic reasons largely having to do with the protection of natural resources, the Stratton Commission had recommended that NOAA include the Coast Guard., By our standards In 1970, this was a sizable agency, with a annual budget exceeding $300 million. It was then located within the recently created Department of Transportation (DOT).


I called John Volpe, Secretary of Transportation and former Governor of Massachusetts:


I: Governor, as you know, the President has determined that the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration- NOAA- should be located in the Department of Commerce. I have been given the job of representing Commerce in this. Now, one of the agencies recommended to be in NOAA is the Coast Guard. I would like to set up a meeting with someone in your office to work with me on this.


VOLPE (very pleasantly): Why, yes. Of course we fully support the President in this and will be glad to cooperate. Just one thing, Steve, you have the Maritime Administration in the Department of Commerce and it really should be over here.




(1)   When the Department of Transportation (DOT) was being established in the late 1960’s, both labor and management in the maritime industry pressured Congress successfully not to transfer MARAD out of Commerce. They were concerned with the possibility of losing out in the DOT’s development of a national transportation policy.


(2)   Presidential Candidate Richard M. Nixon had promised that, if elected, he would support a major expansion of our merchant marine. In fulfillment of that pledge, MARAD had developed such a program and we were actively developing Administration and Congressional support. In return, DOC had a strong, supportive constituency.



 (3) Most important of all: the Department of Commerce’s annual budget request was subject to the review of Congressman Rooney of Brooklyn, New York. Rooney justly had the reputation of being a very sharp, demanding overseer. Preparing for his budget review was a full-scale exercise. (One high-ranking Commerce bureaucrat was especially recognized for his ability to play the Rooney role.) It was essential to the entire department that we not offend Mr. Rooney unnecessarily. One way to do this was to maintain a construction program at the Brooklyn Naval Yards. In fact, there was no other single departmental activity in which the Congressman might have a personal, political interest.]


I: No deal, Governor.


VOLPE: Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Please let me know if there’s a change in position.


I: I certainly will.


Of course, our position didn’t, and couldn’t, change. I wasn’t particularly unhappy, since it seemed to me that there could be all sorts of problems in having a law-enforcement agency- that had real guns- within Commerce. In trying to learn why anyone would want to have the Coast Guard, the only departmental value I came across was that the Coast Guard had an airplane that was readily available to the secretary of whatever department it was in. I don’t think that I even mentioned this perk to Secretary Stans in reporting on Volpe’s offer. Why court danger?             


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Published in: on May 24, 2008 at 7:36 pm  Comments Off on Creating NOAA- The Coast Guard  
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