Indian American climate expert nominated to play a key role at NOAA


An Indian American expert on climate change has been nominated to a top leadership position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by the Biden administration.

Jainey Bavishi, will serve as one of the two top deputies to NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, an ocean scientist, who was confirmed by the Senate last month after being nominated by President Biden in April.

The Biden administration has made confronting climate change one of its top priorities, and the appointment of Bavishi is fitting at an agency responsible for environmental prediction and monitoring and protecting the nation’s coasts, oceans, and fisheries.

Bavishi most recently served as the director of the New York Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency, where she led a team that prepares the city for impacts of climate change. The office is working on several initiatives to protect the city’s structures and inhabitants, including installing a 2.4-mile flood protection system consisting of floodwalls and floodgates and improving underground interior drainage systems in Manhattan.

“The Biden administration has picked a tremendous climate champion to serve the American people,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an emailed statement. “Jainey’s leadership and vision has transformed New York City’s coastline and has helped to protect New Yorkers from destructive flooding and deadly heatwaves.”

If confirmed by the Senate, her official title within the administration will be assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere at the Commerce Department. But in practice, she will work at NOAA, which is housed in the Commerce Department, and serve as assistant secretary for conservation and management.

Bavishi “brings to the post a powerful combination of top-notch management skills, knowledge of Federal government and on-the-ground experience with environmental conservation and resilience,” Kathy Sullivan, who served as NOAA administrator under President Barack Obama, wrote in an email.

Before Bavishi’s post in the New York mayor’s office, she served in the Obama administration as associate director for climate preparedness at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and as director of external affairs and senior policy adviser at NOAA. While at the Council on Environmental Quality, she was responsible for institutionalizing climate resilience considerations across federal programs and policies.

Her background in working across organizations will probably be relied on by Spinrad, who listed developing services to support climate change work within NOAA and with its partners as one of his top priorities.

Bavishi may also get pulled into efforts to explore the development of a “National Climate Service,” which makes climate data, forecasts and decision support tools available to the public akin to the National Weather Service’s efforts with weather information.

Bavishi also served as the Executive Director of R3ADY Asia-Pacific, focused on enhancing disaster risk reduction and resilience in the Asia-Pacific region, based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Previously, she was the Founding Director of the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, a coalition of community-based leaders in the Gulf Coast region that focused on recovery from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, at the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.

Bavishi has a Master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor’s degree in public policy and cultural anthropology from Duke University.