Funding the future of our oceans

Given that the federal appropriations process is picking up steam, we here at Kraken thought it might be a good idea review the appropriations process, and to revisit the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget proposal and discuss what it could mean for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Before diving right in, let me take a quick second to review some background on the appropriations process. First, Congress passes laws that both authorize and appropriate. Laws that authorize are those enact programs, departments, reforms, etc into being. They will often also stipulate funding levels for whatever they’re enacting, but not actually hand out any money. Laws that appropriate allow money to actually flow from the Treasury out to the various executive agencies. Policymaking is not allowed in

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Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill from 2014 (Source: govtrack.us)

appropriations bills; only language that sets how much money each agency’s line items will get for the fiscal year is included.

The appropriations process typically begins in January with the goal of passing each of the 12 appropriations bills in the House and Senate by September 30th of each year (each fiscal year begins on October 1). All appropriations bills must originate in the House, be passed by each Chamber, and then signed into law by the President. But, before lawmakers begin to write the appropriations bills, the House Budget Committee sets the topline budget numbers for each executive agency. Once they have done this, the House Appropriations Committee will then determine how to allocate monies within the budget provided. If Congress cannot come to agreement and pass each of the 12 individual appropriations bills, then they will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) or Omnibus. A CR simply maintains funding levels at the previous fiscal year’s level. An Omnibus is a bill that includes all 12 appropriations bills rolled into a single bill.

The appropriations process get slightly thrown off schedule every four years when a new President takes office. Typically, Presidential budget proposals are released in early February; but, because new Presidents are sworn in just a couple weeks before, new Administrations release what is called a “skinny budget” in February. Skinny budgets provide very few details in terms of funding details, but serve to indicate the President’s priorities and allows Congress to begin the initial stages of appropriation bill writing knowing where the President wants to focus their energy. The President’s full budget proposal is then released sometime later in the spring. This year, the President released his budget in late May.

Due to a number of factors, including the late release of the full Presidential Budget and the fact that there’s no budget proposal yet from the House Budget Committee, the FY18 appropriations process has proven very difficult to follow, even for those who follow this every year!

But, despite confusion around the process, we think it’s extremely important to take some time to return to the President’s budget now that much of the shock of its release has worn off. Under his proposal, NOAA would see a 16 percent decrease in funding from the FY17 enacted levels – that’s a nearly $1 billion cut to NOAA’s top-line budget. Many programs that directly enhance our fisheries, our weather service, our coastal resiliency, and our understanding of climate change are slated for elimination or drastic reductions in funding. Below are some highlights from the NOAA budget that directly impact our coastal and ocean waters:

The U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS)$0. IOOS is a coordinated network

buoy-repair
IOOS buoy repair off the coast of North Carolina after Hurricane Arthur. (Source: nccoos.org)

of people and technology that work together to gather and distribute critical data on our coastal waters, Great Lakes, and oceans. A wide variety of stakeholders, including fishermen, weather states, researchers, marine businesses, shipping and maritime transportation, among others, have come to depend on IOOS to provide critical information regarding ocean conditions.

Coastal Zone Management Grants$0. Coastal Zone Management Grants provide critical funding for states to effectively manage their coastal waters to enhance coastal communities’ safety, resiliency, and economies.

Coastal Resilience Grants$0. Coastal Resilience Grants fund proactive, collaborative, community-based projects that improve ecosystem and community resilience to extreme weather, sea level rise, flooding, and other coastal hazards through science-based solutions.

FL reserve
Aerial view of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Florida. (Source: recreation.gov)

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS)$0. The NERRS is designed to provide scientists and managers the opportunity to study and understand estuary systems to better tailor management practices, enabling those communities to use estuarine habitat as a tool for resilience and adaptation.

Fisheries Data Collection and Survey$10.1M reduction. This budget line item allows NMFS to conduct timely, scientifically robust, and thorough stock surveys that feed directly into their stock assessments that dictate catch limits for various fisheries. Cutting funding for this work puts our fish stocks at risk of overfishing and harms the fisheries industry as they try to plan for their businesses.

Habitat Conservation and Restoration$10.7M reduction. NOAA’s Office of Habitat

regional_ecosystem_01
Chesapeake Bay Blue Heron (Source: noaa.gov)

Conservation (OHC) protects, restores, and promotes stewardship to coastal and marine habitat to support the future of commercial and recreational fisheries. Conservation and restoration activities executed by this office help ensure that all citizens can enjoy the benefits of healthy coastal and ocean habitats including robust fisheries, commercial and recreational opportunities, and community resilience to protect against extreme weather events.

Climate Competitive Research$21.5M reduction. NOAA’s Climate Program Office works to improve our understanding of our changing climate and improve our ability to plan and respond to these changes. This research funding goes towards high-priority climate science research, assessments, outreach, education, and capacity-building activities that foster the application of this knowledge in risk management and adaptation efforts.

National Sea Grant Program$0M. The Sea Grant Program funds thousands of coastal researchers nationwide to collaborate with a variety of local stakeholders and businesses to tackle coastal challenges and develop tailored solutions, like addressing sediment and nutrient pollution in the Great Lakes, improving oyster aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico, and reducing at-sea injuries in the West Coast crab fishery.

Ocean Exploration and Research$12.6M reduction. Currently, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is the only federal department dedicated to exploring the unknown depths of the ocean. And, considering that we’ve explored less than five percent of the ocean, the work of this department is critical to advance knowledge and understanding needed to help citizens, businesses, and governments make smart choices to protect lives, property, and economic wellbeing. This office coordinates, funds, and staffs exploration missions that ultimately deliver rigorous, systematic observations, and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean. In addition to exploration, OER designs, tests, and implements new deep-sea technologies. Below is a short video of an Okeanos mission that highlights the incredible creatures that are observed and discovered thanks to this budget line.

And here is a little bit longer video…

Federal funding is a critical piece of advancing science, research, discovery, and technology. Many researchers and students depend on this funding to conduct their research and indeed, the benefits of the research gets passed along to nearly every single citizen.

Make your voice and opinions known if you want to influence the appropriations process and what gets included (or not) in those bills. You can find your House Representatives here and your Senators here. They want to hear from you because they are in D.C. on your behalf representing you. So pick up the phone and give them a call!


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