Senior-Level Resilience Position

What is a Senior-level Resilience Position?

A senior-level, cabinet-rank climate change or resilience position in the federal government would provide the leadership from the executive branch necessary for efficient and effective adaptation, ensuring adaptation receives the attention, policy consistency, and funding needed to protect U.S. interests at home and abroad. Climate change adaptation is not simply an issue for the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. All departments and agencies whose actions may be affected by climate-related changes and effects need to consider resilience and adaptation. The scale of the problem and the interconnected nature of our society mean that many adaptation solutions require coordination across agencies, sectors, or geographies. A senior-level “adaptation czar” would oversee a strategic group that interacts with all sectors of government and support linkages between relevant groups as processes require. This would reduce costs and increase efficiency by creating synergies, limiting duplication of effort, and reducing the extent to which efforts are working at cross-purposes.

How does a Senior-level Resilience Position work?

The “adaptation czar” would be in charge of a strategic group requiring knowledge of climate change and adaptation science (physical, biological, societal, economic, regulatory, etc.) as well as sectoral knowledge (environment, industry, human health, education, national defense, infrastructure, etc.) so they can create cross-sector communication and robust integration. There is no single “right” way to build climate resilience across all sectors and contexts, so the group can be thought of as a shifting mosaic with different constituents leading on different decisions while receiving input from across the spectrum to make sure that key factors, interactions or conflicts are not ignored.

This strategic lead and group will also provide a monitoring function. It will be necessary to make sure that adaptation decisions taken by one agency or sector do not adversely impact another. One can envision innumerable events where climate change responses that seem beneficial to one group, such as a sea wall to mitigate sea level rise, adversely affect another group, such as sea turtle conservation or downshore communities. Without some connective oversight to consider these types of conflicts, adaptation efforts could work at cross-purposes.

Key design considerations

With what other cross-cutting entities should the adaptation czar collaborate in oversight processes? Should the adaptation czar advise and coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure climate risk is part of fiduciary evaluation? How will the adaptation czar interact with the Government Accountability Office?

Should all agencies have representatives on a “National Adaptation Council” analogous to the National Economic Council or as a group that confers regularly to advise and coordinate, such as the Federal Adaptation and Resilience Group?

What level of authority should this position hold? New agency or cross cutting oversight entity?

Creating a cabinet-level position has been used to address other cross-cutting challenges.

  • President Jimmy Carter recognized that the economic and military vulnerabilities created by reliance on imported energy also reflected fragmented U.S. energy policy and the fact that relevant regulatory authority was spread across multiple agencies. In response, he created the Department of Energy and a cabinet-level Secretary of Energy position.
  • Similarly, concern over the fragmented response to illegal drugs across local, state, federal, and international levels in the 1980s led to the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy with its director, known as the “drug czar,” elevated to a cabinet-level position in 1993.

Additional Resources

Fires, smoke, floods, droughts, storms, heat: America needs a climate resilience strategy.

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Related Policies

National Adaptation Service


Resilience Funding