Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

New Plan Revives Obama's Salmon Joke

Ecotrope | Jan. 25, 2012 4:24 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:32 p.m.

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Is Obama's proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration really designed to rectify the problem of salmon management that he joked about in last year's State of the Union address?

Is Obama's proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration really designed to rectify the problem of salmon management that he joked about in last year's State of the Union address?

Remember that salmon joke Obama made in last year’s State of the Union address?

“The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

Well, I didn’t pick up on the connection between the joke and President Obama’s proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the Department of the Interior.

But President Obama did. So did Daniel Chasan at Crosscut.

The Washington Post recently reported that Obama revisited the joke earlier this month when announcing his plan to consolidate six federal agencies into one business department. The plan, which still needs approval from Congress, would also move NOAA out of the Commerce Department and into the Interior Department. As The Post reported:

“As the White House unveiled its new government reorganization plan with much fanfare Friday, Obama couldn’t help mentioning that in moving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from Commerce to the Interior Department, he was putting all salmon issues under one roof.

Obama referred to what he said was his “favorite example” of government duplication, mentioned in his most recent State of the Union address. “As it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in saltwater. Apparently, this all had something to do with President Nixon being unhappy with his Interior secretary for criticizing the Vietnam War.”

He added: “No business or nonprofit leader would allow this kind of duplication or unnecessary complexity in their operations. . . . So why is it okay for our government? It’s not. It has to change.”

The story goes on to quote White House officials saying “fresh and saltwater salmon will be together” under the new reorganization, and: “It’s good news for salmon.”

Of course, I’m dying to know how exactly moving NOAA to the Interior would actually change salmon management, but Justin Kenney, NOAA’s Director of Communications, said “it’s way to early to know how any of this would play out.”

EarthFix reporter Ashley Ahearn talked with Chris Mann at the Pew Environment Group about the possibility of moving NOAA. His take was that the idea was really more of an after-thought in a much larger push to reorganize business-related agencies.

“I don’t think this is motivated by what happens to NOAA at all. In other words, this idea that NOAA in this reorganization would go to Department of Interior seems to be almost an after thought. The main purpose seemed to be to reorganize the business and trade functions of the federal government to bring the trade reps office closer together with some of the department of commerce functions and bring those together. Obviously a huge concern in this election, not just for President Obama but the Republican candidates, is going to be the economy. So that’s the primary motivation in my view but then if you’re going to do that you have to figure out what to do with NOAA.”

So, moving NOAA might not be all about simplifying salmon management. But what a happy coincidence for Obama that his proposal just happens to resolve last year’s most prominent example of government inefficiency. Now, while Congress contemplates Obama’s new plan, maybe we can move on to topics from this year’s State of the Union … like not crying over spilled milk:

“We’ve already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years. We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill – because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.”

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