The Strategic Sciences Group (SSG) was founded on the experience of the Strategic Sciences Working Group (SSWG), which was formed during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. As part of its response to the spill, DOI leadership temporarily created an interdisciplinary SSWG involving scientists from Federal, academic, and non-governmental organizations. Taking inspiration from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) predecessor of the CIA, SSWG participants were selected and their expertise applied during an intense period of national environmental crises (Machlis and Kooistra 2012).
The task of the SSWG was to develop science-based assessments of the long-term effects of the spill on the ecology, economy, and people of the Gulf of Mexico. SSWG products included a series of scenarios designed to provide information useful to decision makers, resource managers, and other professionals responsible for the response and recovery associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The SSWG was led by Dr. Gary Machlis, Science Advisor to the National Park Service (NPS) Director, and reported to Dr. Marcia McNutt, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Science Advisor to the Secretary.
The SSWG held several scenario-building sessions during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and produced two progress reports outlining impacts, cascading effects of those impacts, and recommendations to improve long-term recovery. The SSWG conducted multiple briefings for DOI leadership, Incident Command(s), and others. In turn, the scenarios developed by the SSWG were used by members of the Unified Command, DOI science planning teams, policy and decision makers, and the external scientific community.
The SSWG progress reports included the recommendation that the DOI create a standing capacity to conduct strategic science activities during future environmental crises. Machlis and McNutt, writing in Science, noted: “We believe there is a valuable role for this strategic approach to science and policy interaction as the Federal government learns from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, plans and implements Gulf of Mexico recovery, and prepares for future environmental crises” (Machlis and McNutt, 2010).
The SSWG was replaced by the Strategic Sciences Group established within the Office of the Secretary by Secretarial Order 3318 issued January 3, 2012. The order designated two Co-Leaders for the Group, one from the USGS and one from another DOI bureau. The Secretary selected Co-leaders Dr. Machlis, Science Advisor to the NPS Director, and Dr. David Applegate, USGS Associate Director for Natural Hazards, reporting to the Science Advisor to the Secretary. The Co-Leaders are responsible for organizing the SSG, developing necessary procedures and methods, managing SSG activities, leading operational groups during crises, providing results to the Secretary and DOI leadership as requested, and coordinating with other Federal agencies and the scientific community as necessary to meet the SSG’s mission.