What’s Next for NOAA Funding?

The beginning of October typically signifies the beginning of fall. Leaves change, the nights get cold, carved pumpkins begin to show up on doorsteps. But October also marks the beginning of a new fiscal year for our federal government, which has big implications for our ocean and the agency tasked with researching, understanding and protecting it: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Congress needed to pass funding legislation to keep our federal government—including NOAA—up and running by October 1. This means providing the necessary funds to combat marine debris, protect our shorelines from sea level rise and invest in our blue economy. It also means funds to provide the science needed to ensure our fisheries are harvested sustainably, vessels have up-to-date maps of our ocean and marine mammals get the care they need when they’re in danger.

However, when Congress cannot agree on full-year appropriations bills, they pass what is called a Continuing Resolution (CR), which carries forward current federal funding levels and averts a government shutdown. Earlier this month, Congress did just that and passed a CR that keeps the government funded at current levels through December 11, 2020. This means that Congress has additional time to negotiate the final fiscal year 2021 budget for NOAA. But how did we get here, what does a CR mean for NOAA and how can you get involved?

Earlier this year, President Trump released his budget for NOAA, which made millions of dollars’ worth of sweeping cuts to the agency, including the removal of some of the most successful and needed programs. Coastal management grants, the National Sea Grant program, and the Ocean and Coastal Security Fund would all be eliminated under the Trump administration’s budget.

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© Public Domain

Luckily, advocates like you took action and made your voices heard in Congress, resulting in the House of Representatives rejecting these egregious cuts. The House recognized the importance of NOAA to our ocean, ecosystems and blue economy, and passed a NOAA budget for the full year that would ensure the agency had the resources they needed to better our ocean and coasts, providing much-needed increases to the agency as a whole. Unfortunately, progress came to a halt in the Senate where funding bills were not passed, let alone introduced.

When progress came to a halt in the Senate, Congress was left two options: passing a CR or shutting down the government. As we’ve seen in the past, government shutdowns have had significant consequences for our oceans, blue economy and scientific research. In no way is a government shutdown beneficial for our ocean, and the passage of a CR is a welcome relief. Despite this, there are drawbacks to a CR when compared with full-year funding. These include:

  • New Programs: NOAA cannot start any new programs and must operate entirely under the programs of the last fiscal year.
  • Grant Funding: Because a CR was passed, Sea Grant—NOAA’s program for supporting coastal and Great Lakes communities through research, education and project assistance—may not be able to process and start projects.
  • A Slowed Agency: CR’s often result in uncertainty in funding levels and can delay hiring and contracts, and burdens the agency with increased paperwork.
  • No Funding Increases: A CR simply continues the funding of the last passed appropriations bill. No new funds are available to help the agency meet the needs of our ocean and coastal communities.

Luckily, it’s not too late to get involved. Tell your Senator to pass a full-year funding bill at the levels passed by the House earlier this year!

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