Healthy Oceans Blog

Coordinate, Collaborate, Engage

These three words make up the National Ocean Policy’s most important principles. Some have said that the policy is too “wonky” for general consumption, but in reality, just by reading some of the NOP’s implementing documents, we can come to understand the commonsense and logical nature of this policy’s principles and implementation. The 10+ years that went into ultimately crafting the policy and its implementation reflects the notion that our nation can become better stewards for our ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources.


Arguably one of most important of the National Ocean Policy’s nine priority objectives is to “[b]etter coordinate and support Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional management of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes”[i]and “[i]mprove coordination and integration across the Federal Government[.]”[ii] The Final Recommendations of the Ocean Policy Task Force elaborates that by implementing this objective across the federal government can lead to:

  • Identifying gaps, inconsistencies and duplications in our nation’s laws, policies and regulations regarding how we manage the ocean, coasts and the Great Lakes. Meaning? Reduce inefficiencies and streamline governance.
  • Create ways to identify and align agency objectives and actions that are mutual and consistent across jurisdictions. Meaning? Find where synergies exist in agencies with management authority and capitalize on them.
  • Create tangible tools and procedures to reduce conflicts where we as a nation jointly manage ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources. Meaning? Figure out ways to move past our cultural norm of fighting over resources, even within agencies, and create a clear way to figure out solutions before there are fights.
  • Engage the international community to further the objectives of this policy. Meaning? Working with our partners to transfer the benefits of the policy beyond our borders.

While “wordy”, these concepts are fairly easy to understand.[iii] That does not necessarily make them easy to accomplish, but the point is that the policy consists of commonsense, logical ways for our federal government to reduce their own internal conflicts in management, reduce inefficiencies in overlapping management objectives and find common ground in becoming better stewards of our natural resources.

Nothing in this explanation hints at a power grab by the federal government or a way to reduce local and regional authorities. The National Ocean Policy Final Implementation Plan says it best:

“Fundamentally, the National Ocean Policy coordinates, through establishment of the National Ocean Council, the ocean-related activities of Federal agencies to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness, with a focus on reduced bureaucracy, improved coordination and integration, and fiscal responsibility”[iv]

What does this “coordination” actually look like? Well by looking at aquaculture as a case study, it means[v]:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Interior are charged with developing and implementing permitting regulatory efficiencies for aquaculture.
  • The National Ocean Council is charged with identifying pilot projects, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, to streamline permitting processes and reduce duplicative efforts, while ensuring appropriate environmental and other required safeguards.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are again teamed up to identify and make available best management practices to inform and improve Federal permitting processes for aquaculture.

Not rocket science, but incredibly important in terms of partnering agencies together to developing regulatory efficiencies, especially in new and emerging ocean and coastal uses that do not yet have a strong regulatory structure in place, and then creating best management practices together, which actually brings us to our next concept: collaboration.


Collaboration is sometimes seen as the next step after coordination. So to coordinate, you and a partner work on something to make sure everyone is on the same page with his or her own responsibilities, but in collaboration you work closely together toward a shared outcome. Your efforts are one and the same. The Task Force Recommendations envisioned the need for collaboration among all stakeholders to ensure its success:

“The effective implementation of this far-reaching and comprehensive National Policy would require active collaboration of the Federal Government with State, tribal, and local authorities, regional governance structures, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, recreational interests, and private enterprise.”[vi]

Collaboration within the context of the National Ocean Policy can refer to internal federal agency collaboration or external collaboration between a federal agency and its non-federal partners (state government, tribal government, local government, industry or non-profits, etc).

In the case agency to agency Ralls_Texas_Grain_Silos_2010collaboration, it is easy to see where it is a step in the right direction for each federal agency charged with a piece of responsibility over climate change adaptation to understand what every other agency is doing, and how to find efficiencies, but while coordination is not to be undervalued as a very important step for federal agencies to take in becoming better stewards, it is not enough to learn what others are doing and finding efficiencies and duplication. To make lasting difference in outcomes, agencies need to be able to reach out to other agencies or partnerships to say, hey, what you are doing sounds interesting and in line with something we work on. Why don’t we collaborate on your plan to do X and our plan to do Y to end up with a better outcome? That would seem to be the best scenario, at least in terms of enhanced products and decision-making, truly honest and sometimes tough conversations about outcomes, and assisting in the breaking down of agency silos.

In one area of NOP implementation, the idea of external collaboration (federal to non-federal) stands out: coastal and marine spatial planning. This is not surprising given the entire concept of marine planning is meant to be a collaboration among federal, state and tribal governments and stakeholders. To this very point, enhanced interagency, intergovernmental and international collaboration (and communication) is one of the seven national goals of coastal and marine spatial planning.[vii]

In support of the collaborative efforts of regions, the very Executive Order establishing the National Ocean Policy contemplates:

“These regional plans will enable a more integrated, comprehensive, ecosystem-based, flexible, and proactive approach to planning and managing sustainable multiple uses across sectors and improve the conservation of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.[viii]

In addition, the National Ocean Council’s Marine Planning Handbook, a guidance document for regions undertaking a regional marine planning effort, encourages regions to envision:

  • Collaborative development of the regional vision, goals and objectives that reflect the region’s unique issues, needs, and capacities and meant to shape and focus the planning process and achieve desired outcomes;[ix] and
  • Collaborative decision-making by Regional Planning Body members.[x]

These supporting documents make it clear that marine planning, this new model for better ocean, coastal and Great Lakes management, is built upon proactive planning the requires coordination, collaboration andengagement, easily leading us into how engagement ties directly to efforts to coordinate and collaborate, especially when discussing federal to non-federal entities.


While not a specific priority objective, every document produced in support of the National Ocean Policy, from the Ocean Policy Task Force Final Recommendations to the Marine Planning Handbook recognize and stress the importance of “engagement” to ensure better stewardship of our ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources.

There are two types of engagement discussed by the National Ocean Policy and its implementing documents. First, is the need for high-level engagement by our federal agencies as to the matter of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes health. The Task Force recognized no one agency can resolve the issues surrounding these resources, and to be “successful” stewards, the federal government would have to modify its governance by:

  1. Establishing a new National Ocean Council (NOC) which consolidates and strengthens the Principal- and Deputy-level components of the existing Committee on Ocean Policy within a single structure;
  2. Strengthening the decision-making and dispute-resolution processes by defining clear roles for the NOC and the NOC leadership;
  3. Formally engaging with State, tribal, and local authorities to address relevant issues through the creation of a new committee comprised of their designated representatives;
  4. Strengthening the link between science and management through a new NOC Steering Committee; and
  5. Strengthening coordination between the NOC, the National Security Council, the National Economic Council, the Office of Energy and Climate Change, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and other White House entities.[xi]

The second type of engagement envisioned, and necessary based on the collaboration discussion above, is engagement of stakeholders in the marine planning context.

“The participation of stakeholders, tribes and indigenous groups, and the public is fundamental to marine planning. Federal and State agencies, tribes and indigenous groups, local governments, academic and research institutions, user communities, industry, non-governmental organizations, and the public all have environmental, economic, security, social, and cultural information relevant to marine planning.”[xii]

The recognition that stakeholders hold knowledge important to planning purposes is an critical one, as many stakeholders have long advocated for more inclusion in local management decisions given their knowledge of the environment, ecological conditions, traditional or cultural uses, etc. Engagement with tribes and indigenous populations are highlighted in the National Ocean Policy’s implementation documents. The Marine Planning Handbook also sets out seven principles for how regional planning bodies interact with stakeholders[xiii]:

  1. Clear Goals and Avenues for Stakeholder and Public Participation: Clear communication to/from stakeholders on how and when to engage.
  2. Inclusiveness and Accessibility: address barriers to engagement for stakeholders, value the differing types of engagement depending on stakeholder interest level
  3. Transparency and Openness: Access to information and decision-makers, decision-makers value input and provide feedback
  4. Informed Engagement: Stakeholders have the information necessary to be informed participants in marine planning
  5. Timeliness: engagement occurs in a manner that their information can be used in the process
  6. Process Integrity: stakeholders have confidence in the value of the process
  7. Adaptability and Flexibility: when things change, and they do, stakeholder engagement can change with it to reflect the needs of stakeholders

Clearly, stakeholder engagement and Federal agency leadership and sustained engagement are vital to the success of the National Ocean Policy and like coordination and collaboration require the willingness of agencies and stakeholders alike to come together in new ways to ensure the health of our nation’s ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources. Tune back later this week for insights on how these concepts are being implemented today.

End Notes:

[i] Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, 35 (July 2010) (Final Recommendations).

[ii] Id.

[iii] These bullets are condensed from the discussion found in the Final Recommendations on the Coordinate and Support priority objective, pages 35-6.

[iv] National Ocean Council, Final National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan, 2 (April 2013) (Implementation Plan).

[v] Implementation Plan at 7-8.

[vi] Final Recommendations at 31.

[vii] Id. at 7.

[viii] Exec. Order No. 13,547,75 Fed. Reg. 43023 (July 22, 2010)

[ix] National Ocean Council, Marine Planning Handbook, 14 (July 2013) (Handbook).

[x] Handbook at 20.

[xi] Final Recommendations at 4.

[xii] Handbook at 8.

[xiii] Handbook at 8-10.