OR&R prepares for, evaluates, and responds to threats to coastal environments such as oil and chemical spills, releases from hazardous waste sites, and marine debris. The four divisions of OR&R are Emergency Response, Assessment and Restoration, Marine Debris, and the Disaster Preparedness Program. OR&R's history began with the 1976 grounding of the tanker Argo Merchant near Nantucket Shoals in Massachusetts. OR&R was established from a reorganization of its predecessor, ORCA, in the late 1990s.
ORCA was once one of four line organizations of the National Ocean Service, and synthesized conservation data, research environmental quality of US coastal areas, and coordinating research, evaluation, and planning on oil and hazardous material spills and hazardous waste sites. ORCA had four program offices: the Coastal Monitoring and Bioeffects Assessment Division (CMBAD), Damage Assessment Center (DAC), Hazardous Materials Response and Assessment (HAZMAT), and Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) Division.