Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on the President's FY 2013 Budget Proposals for the Coast Guard and NOAA

March 7, 2012

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—The importance of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in helping Americans and West Virginians prepare for and respond to dangerous weather was on display during last week’s weather events.  News reports indicate that agencies had nearly perfect predictions and issued timely warnings about the path of storms. 

This is an example of the valuable role NOAA plays.  In my state, we did not lose any lives, and I credit that in part to the fact that we were warned that severe weather was on the way.  Yet, the storms caused tremendous property damage, and I am working with the Administration to secure federal aid to facilitate speedy restoration for my state.  Other areas of the country weren’t as lucky.  In the South and Midwest, a deadly rash of tornadoes ripped through communities.  I offer my sorrowful condolences to the families who have been impacted.

A few weeks ago, a bill I authored was signed into law that will build a nationwide, wireless communications network designed to connect West Virginia’s and our nation’s first responders during emergencies.  After the recent weather events, I know we can all appreciate how critical it is to make sure our firefighters, police officers, and EMS workers have the tools they need to get the job done in times of emergency.  I intend to work with NOAA to make sure this law is implemented with as few costly implications to their current satellites and radio operations as possible. 

Last year, deadly weather killed more than a thousand people across the nation and caused over $53 billion in property damage.  These events demonstrate the need to further improve our weather and warning systems that help Americans make better decisions during emergencies.  

I’m pleased the Administration is now working more aggressively to keep weather satellites on track and on budget, but I’m troubled by the proposed cuts to local forecasting jobs across the country, as well as the decision to forego several cost-effective weather technology innovations that would significantly improve storm predictions.  The FY 2013 budget request for NOAA is $5.1 billion.  I have questions about several of the proposed program terminations, particularly with regard to weather services and restoration programs.  

We are also here today to discuss the President’s request of $9.97 billion to fund the Coast Guard’s operating expenses, ongoing surface and air asset fleet recapitalization, and other needs.  The Coast Guard has served this nation with distinction and honor throughout its nearly 220 year history.  I love baseball, so I’m big on stats.  Here are a few Coast Guard stats from 2011: Lives saved by Coast Guard Search and Rescue: 3,804; pounds of narcotics interdicted: 205,000; and number of crewmembers and passengers screened prior to arrival in U.S. ports: 28.7 million.

As evidenced by the stats I mentioned, Americans have largely come to expect an unmatched level of excellence and professionalism from the Coast Guard both at home and abroad.  They deserve all the support we can give them. 

Both the Coast Guard and NOAA are agencies that Americans depend on in times of need, they are crucial to our safety, and I look forward to our witnesses’ testimony so we can learn more about their funding needs for the coming fiscal year.