The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal agency within the Department of Commerce, provides vital services and management related to our nation’s oceans, coasts, and atmosphere. NOAA is responsible for managing our federal fisheries, protecting living marine resources, mapping the ocean floor, and conducting climate change research. NOAA also serves as the home of the National Weather Service. The hearing will examine NOAA’s existing programs, proposed initiatives, and review NOAA’s fiscal year 2008 budget request.
Daniel K. InouyeSenatorThis year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the creation of its U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, or the “Survey of the Coast” as it was called when created by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807. As our nation’s first scientific agency provided nautical charts to the maritime community, and laid the foundation for the standard set today for safe navigation of our waterways. Ironically, for the past several years, the budget for hydrographic services has been insufficient, and at the current rate, the backlog of surveying critical areas will not be complete until 2020. This year’s budget proves no different. Unfortunately, the budget for hydrographic services is simply a reflection of the systemic underfunding of NOAA’s critical programs during the past several years.Senator Stevens and I have been longtime supporters of NOAA and have spent our careers working to improve its capabilities and advance its service to the nation. NOAA is a remarkable, national resource, particularly when one compares the accomplishments of its missions against the agency’s budget. Whether it is accurate forecasting for landfall of a hurricane, or weather forecasting of early freezes, all of which have significant impact on personal safety and the economy, or fisheries management, or climate research, these are all missions that have an impact on society today and for future generations. Meanwhile, NOAA’s budget has remained stagnant; specifically, this is the third year in a row that the NOAA budget reflects level funding.The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative released a report card earlier this year to assess how well we are collectively doing to implement the recommendations of the U.S. and Pew Ocean Commissions. They once again rated progress in increasing ocean funding as an ‘F’.It is clear that we are at a crossroad. The growing number and severity of problems compromising the health of our coats and oceans is obvious. The science of global warming is clear. They delays and cost overruns of our satellites are unacceptable. I look forward to hearing Admiral Latenbacher assessment of how all of these developing needs can be addressed given current budgetary trends.
Maria CantwellSenatorI’d like to welcome you all to today’s hearing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s [NOAA] Fiscal Year 2008 budget.Thank you, Admiral Lautenbacher, for being here today.NOAA has been in the spotlight over the last several years as the nation has paid increased attention to our oceans and atmosphere:Events such as the tragic Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have shown that better understanding of our oceans and atmosphere saves lives;NOAA scientists have played a key role in understanding climate change and measuring ocean acidification, two key environmental challenges facing our globe; andWe have had two national commissions on ocean policy make recommendations for transforming the way we manage, study, and govern our oceans and marine resources.More than half of all Americans live in coastal counties.An increasingly dense coastal population requires a better understanding of how people, the oceans, and the atmosphere interact.Tsunamis, sea level rise, more intense hurricanes, and rising demand for seafood all require a strong federal investment in research and new approaches to ocean governance.Budget OverviewQuite frankly, in light of these challenges, I’m concerned to see a flat budget request for NOAA for the third year in a row.NOAA’s FY 2008 budget request of $3.8 billion is 2 percent below FY 2007 enacted levels of $3.9 billion. The National Ocean Service took an especially large cut, down 21 percent to $468 million compared to $590 million in 2006.In contrast to the Administration’s request, The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative recommended funding levels of $4.5 billion.And I understand that the Senate appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice and Science reported a bill this week with $4.2 billion in funding for NOAA.I hope that this signals an end to flat NOAA budgets and that NOAA will receive the money it deserves as the nation’s lead oceans agency.We need to recognize the challenges in improving understanding and management of our oceans and atmosphere and make investments that reflect that.Satellite CrisisAdmiral, as you know, there has been a lot of attention of late to our rapidly aging system of weather, hurricane, climate, and ocean monitoring satellites.We rely on this technology for accurate weather predictions, which is especially important as we enter hurricane season.But these satellites are reaching or have surpassed their expected service lives.While I understand that NOAA has made replacing these satellites a priority, I’m concerned that it does not have the funds or a plan in place to resolve this situation.Cuts to Climate ChangeDespite the growing threat caused by climate change, I see that funding for climate change research took a 9 percent cut this year. I’m particularly troubled to see the abrupt climate change research program again zeroed out in this year’s request.I was pleased to work with Senators Collins and Snowe on an amendment to this year’s energy bill that would direct increased funds to NOAA to research the pressing issue of abrupt climate change.I hope that this amendment will ensure that in the future, Admiral, the administration will stop blocking this vital research.Other CutsThis year, again, the President’s request for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund was disappointingly low at $67 million dollars.Between its establishment in 2000 to 2005, average appropriations to the fund were $87 million per fiscal year. This funding goes to states and tribes on the front lines of salmon recovery.I was also disappointed to see funding for NOAA’s Education Program take a 50 percent cut from 2006 levels, from $37.5 million to $19.5 million.And finally, I’m concerned to see the Marine Mammal Initiative, Non-Point Pollution Grants, and the marine debris removal program zeroed out in this year’s budget.I look forward to working with you and my colleagues to restore funding to these critical programs.Ocean Observing Budget LineAdmiral, I understand that you operate in tight budget times.I was pleased to see for the first time a specific budget line for NOAA’s ocean observing activities. As you know, just yesterday, the full committee reported out Senator Snowe’s Coastal and Ocean Observing Act of 2007.A true nationally coordinated ocean observing system will provide the information we need to solve many of the problems we face today in improving management of our oceans and coasts.NOAA and Washington StateFinally, Admiral, I would like to note my appreciation for all of the hard work that your agency has carried out in my home state.As just a few examples:The National Marine Fisheries Service conducts critical fisheries research up and down the West Coast. And the Northwest Regional Office is charged with coordinating recovery plans for species such as endangered salmon and the Puget Sound Southern Resident orca.NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, located in Seattle, leads the nation in research on ocean acidification and tsunami detection technology.NOAA’s presence and support is also strong in our universities and communities, through programs like the Sea Grant Program and the Community Based Restoration Program.And finally, my state’s rugged outer coast is blessed with a National Marine Sanctuary, which highlights the beauty of the region and protects critical resources.ConclusionSo thank you again, Admiral for your testimony and for appearing here today to discuss NOAA’s budget.I also appreciate your sharing your thoughts with us at this time about the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act Amendments of 2007.At this time I would like to hand it over to Senator Snowe for her opening remarks.
Witness Panel 1
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.)Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and AtmosphereAdministrator, National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration