The historical answer is that Nixon placed it in Commerce because he was miffed at the Interior Secretary Walter Hickel. But why is it still in Commerce? Because environmental activists say that climate change is so important, we need another agency outside Interior, so it won't get lost in the shuffle.
The fact that NOAA’s $4.9 billion budget is about 60 percent of Commerce’s overall funding provides it with clout within the department, according to its advocates. Some fear the agency could lose that in a larger department. “NOAA will be less prominent as one small part of Interior than it is in Commerce,” David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in a recent blog post, adding that “having NOAA as a separate agency also brings more of a federal focus and voice to ocean issues, which are critically important to health, the economy and the environment yet are all too easy to overlook.”Here is another article about NOAA:
The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) interfaces with virtually every surveying and mapping practitioner. All the prime contractors (and some subcontractors) on NOAA’s shoreline mapping program are MAPPS member firms. Virtually every prime contractor (and numerous subcontractors) in NOAA’s hydrographic survey program is a MAPPS member firm. The work done at NOAA’s Coastal Services Center in Charleston, South Carolina, is also accomplished through MAPPS member firms as prime and sub contractors. The Office of Space Commercialization, once a separate entity in Commerce, was merged into NOAA during the Bush administration. Firms that operate high-resolution, commercial, remote sensing satellites are licensed by NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service through NOAA's Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office, and it is the home of the Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing.NOAA even has its own Coast Guard with its own two-star rank of Rear Admiral. What a joke.
If NOAA is moved to the Department of the Interior, should it be part of USGS or be a distinct entity within the department? Should all the mapping, charting, geodesy, remote sensing, and geospatial activities of NOAA be integrated with and currently spread among various agencies (USGS, BLM, NPS, FWS, and others) into a consolidated geospatial bureau reporting directly to the Secretary of the Interior?
NOAA operates the NOAA Corps, a uniformed military-like workforce with officers and a personnel system that differs from regular civil service. The largest portion of the NOAA Corps officers is in the mapping, charting, and geodesy activities of NOAA. Will the NOAA Corps be dismantled under the reorganization plan?
Terminating the NOAA Corps was proposed by then-Vice President Al Gore in his “Reinventing Government” program, but opposition by NOAA Corps officers and their families forced the idea to be dropped. Imposing the NOAA Corps on the Interior Department would be a difficult personnel transition, either by dismantling the Corps and ingesting it into the civilian personnel system or asking Interior to simply assume responsibility for management of the NOAA Corps.
I haven't given this more than 5 minutes thought, but here is my proposal for dismantling NOAA:
1. NOAA Corps. Merge with the Coast Guard, which is part of DHS.
2. National Weather Service. Leave it in Commerce.
3. National Ocean Service. A. The surveying parts (i.e. National Geodetic Survey) should be moved to USGS. B. The National Marine Sanctuaries should be put under the National Park Service. C. The remaining functions should be moved to the Army Corps of Engineers.
4. NESDIS. Leave it in Commerce.
4. National Marine Fisheries Service. Move to Fish and Wildlife.
5. Remaining parts. Move to USGS.
On a related note, did you know that there are two Federal law enforcement agencies dealing with fish?
1. In the Department of the Interior, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. "The Office of Law Enforcement focuses on potentially devastating threats to wildlife resource-illegal trade, unlawful commercial exploitation, habitat destruction, and environmental contaminants. The Office of Law Enforcement investigates wildlife crimes, regulates wildlife trade, helps Americans understand and obey wildlife protections laws, and works in partnership with international, state, and tribal counterparts to conserve wildlife resources."
2. In the Department of Commerce, the NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement.
In addition to these, the EPA (an independent agency) has its own Criminal Investigation Division. And the US Coast Guard (under DHS) has a unit investigation environmental crimes.