Tough budget decisions for NOAA in focus at House hearing

Cuts to the agency’s ocean observation system, weather research programs, and the National Weather Service were among concerns from lawmakers.
MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 29: The logo of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seen at the Nation Hurricane Center on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images).

Cuts to programs for ocean observation, weather research, and staffing for the National Weather Service were a focus for House lawmakers at a hearing this week on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget request.

NOAA’s budget request seeks $6.6 billion in discretionary appropriations, an increase of $224.8 million from the enacted level for fiscal year 2024. But under that request, certain programs would still see decreases, which lawmakers on the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee called into question Tuesday.

In opening remarks, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who chairs the full committee, said he was “extremely disappointed” that NOAA’s proposed budget decreases funding for its Oceanic and Atmospheric Research division and weather and air chemistry research programs. Those programs were given additional responsibilities and increased authorizations under the bipartisan Weather Act Reauthorization passed in April.

“Yes the budget request is simply a request, and at the end of the day Congress controls the purse strings,” Lucas said. “But the budget request is also a message to all stakeholders and industry, and NOAA’s message is this: the need for improved early and accurate forecasting of severe weather is not a priority for this administration.”


Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., the subcommittee’s ranking member, expressed similar concerns in her opening remarks about cuts to programs within the OAR and the National Ocean Service. 

“These funding reductions would negatively impact NOAA’s capacity to execute coastal observations, ecosystem protection, ocean exploration, innovative research, educational outreach and many more important functions that advance the agency’s mission,” Ross said. “I hope we can discuss strategies to continue the essential work of these programs even under the constraints of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.”

The Fiscal Responsibility Act is a compromise deal that temporarily suspended the debt limit and set caps on defense and nondefense discretionary spending through fiscal years 2024 and 2025. That deal has an additional constraint to the budget process, causing agencies to make difficult choices about their investments.

The hearing also comes as science agencies and programs across the government experienced reductions in the fiscal year 2024 appropriations, including OAR. While the budget for 2025 would be an overall increase in discretionary spending for the agency, it would also decrease the agency’s National Ocean Service budget by 14% and the OAR budget by 11%, according to numbers provided by the subcommittee.

NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in his opening remarks that the budget request seeks funding for five areas: investing in the next generation of environmental satellites; addressing climate change through training professionals and expanding technology; providing science and data that informs economic development; improving knowledge-sharing and service delivery in tribal, urban, and rural communities; and reducing the agency’s maintenance backlog. 


Spinrad said NOAA is prioritizing funding for its satellite constellation. That includes development of its Geostationary Extended Observations satellite program, which the agency says aims to expand weather, climate and ocean observations. 

Notably, the National Weather Service also plans to begin transitioning the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System to a cloud framework. Spinrad said that work “will give forecasters secure remote access to provide in-person, impact-based decision support services to decision-makers anytime, anywhere.”

Another program that received attention for proposed cuts was the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System Program, known as IOOS, which uses data and technologies to provide information and forecasts for the ocean, coasts and Great Lakes.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., asked Spinrad how the fiscal year 2025 budget request proposes a $32.5 million cut, or 76% reduction, to that program’s funding, adding that she’s “concerned about some kind of budgetary cliff” when funds from the Inflation Reduction Act expire. That bill provided $3.3 billion to NOAA.

Spinrad said IOOS is one of several programs that reflects “the very difficult decisions that we had to make in this budget,” in part because of the constraints under the Fiscal Responsibility Act and the agency’s commitment to sustaining its current work, such as its investment in satellites and ensuring mission-essential functions don’t falter. 


While the IRA is providing some funding for the program, Spinrad said, it’s not one-for-one. He said he’s meeting with IOOS regional directors to understand what the reductions mean. “We’ve directed that data management [and] cyber infrastructure be the specific activity that is sustained,” he said.

Ross also told Spinrad she was concerned about staffing cuts at the National Weather Service, especially as the hurricane season “is predicted to be extremely active.” 

The fiscal year 2024 budget cut roughly 100 positions from the NWS, Ross said, adding that if the fiscal year 2025 budget doesn’t increase staffing to inflation levels, it “could increase the burden on an already strained workforce.” She asked Spinrad how an “austere” staffing budget would impact the service.

“Our ability to bring people on board is not where I want it to be,” Spinrad said, adding that the agency hired 1,700 people last year, but still needs to focus on retention. NWS Director Ken Graham, Spinrad noted, “is working aggressively to optimize the staffing plan” for weather forecast offices.

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