the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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NSTC to Coordinate Certain Arctic Research Policy Committee Activities

Summary: 
On July 22nd the President signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to coordinate certain activities assigned to the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), created by Congress 25 years ago. Taking that oversight mandate to heart, the NSTC—administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy—has already begun organizing a number of activities to fulfill these important duties.

On July 22nd the President signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to coordinate certain activities assigned to the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), created by Congress 25 years ago. Taking that oversight mandate to heart, the NSTC—administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy—has already begun organizing a number of activities to fulfill these important duties.

The Arctic’s importance to the Nation has grown considerably since IARPC was formed by Arctic Research Policy Act of 1984. Today the Arctic is a focal point for such wide-ranging issues as global climate change, national security, military preparedness, transportation, and energy. As Capt. John E. Lowell, Jr., Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Coast Survey, stated earlier this year, the Nation needs to “strengthen arctic science and stewardship to improve our understanding of changing climate and environmental conditions and better inform policy options and management responses to the unique challenges in the Arctic region.”

Adding to the evidence that the Arctic is a growing National priority, the Navy last year established a Task Force on Climate Change with a special focus on Arctic policy, strategy, missions and plans. In November that task force produced an “Arctic Roadmap,” which among other things focuses on U.S. strategic interests in the changing Arctic environment, potential climate-related increases in resource extraction and shipping, and fleet capabilities in the region.

This growth in the Arctic’s importance has resulted in a growing number of agencies working in and focused on the Arctic, requiring much greater interagency collaboration and coordination than in the past. The new Presidential Memorandum supports the growing National focus on the Arctic by enabling this increased collaboration and coordination under the auspices of the NSTC. All told, this change will help increase efficiency and reduce redundancy with regard to Arctic programs while ensuring that agency Arctic programs evolve in alignment with Administration priorities.

To accomplish these goals, the IARPC is now a designated interagency subcommittee under the NSTC’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR). Some of the new subcommittee’s duties include:

  • Coordinating arctic research, technology, and observation programs;
  • Developing interagency plans for expansion of knowledge about the Arctic and its interactions with other components of the Earth system, including ocean, atmosphere, land, and living resources, and about the societal impacts of arctic climate change;
  • Developing plans for predicting and forecasting arctic climate change;
  • Providing advice relating to ecosystem-based management and stewardship of arctic resources;

Dr. John P. Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and a co-chair of NSTC, has begun coordinating the selection of participating agencies’ principal representatives to the IARPC and has directed Shere Abbott—OSTP‘s Associate Director for Energy and Environment and co-chair of CENR—to hold the first NSTC IARPC Principals meeting this fall.

As in the past, IARPC will be chaired by the Director of the National Science Foundation. And it will work with the Arctic Research Commission—the Federal agency created by that Act—to, among other things, establish an integrated national arctic research policy; facilitate cooperation between the Federal Government and State and local governments in arctic research; and coordinate and promote cooperative arctic scientific research programs with other nations, subject to the foreign policy guidance of the Secretary of State.

Kate Moran is a Senior Policy Analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy