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NOAA Administrator Spinrad Defends FY25 Budget Tradeoffs

JUN 07, 2024
NOAA wants to boost its weather satellite programs, potentially at the expense of research and ocean exploration programs.
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Science Policy Reporter, FYI American Institute of Physics
NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad providing testimony during a House Science Committee hearing.

NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad speaking about his agency’s FY25 budget request during a House Science Committee hearing on June 5, 2024.

(House Science Committee)

The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defended tradeoffs in the agency’s fiscal year 2025 budget request during a House Science Committee hearing on June 5.

The Biden administration is seeking to raise NOAA’s annual budget by 4% to $6.5 billion, but the tide would not rise evenly across the agency under current plans.

The administration’s proposed budget would increase funding for NOAA’s satellite observational capabilities and development of next-generation satellites by nearly 20% to $2.1 billion. NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said this money would lay the groundwork to replace NOAA’s existing Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites with a new Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) constellation in the 2030s.

Spinrad also told the committee the budget increase would support NOAA’s existing climate resilience and conservation efforts and enable the agency to repair existing infrastructure, among other objectives.

The administration’s FY25 proposal would, however, also cut funding for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the National Ocean Service. The NOS budget would drop nearly 14% to $591 million and the OAR budget would drop 11% to $646 million.

Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) expressed disappointment with the proposal, especially as the bipartisan weather policy legislation recently passed by the House called for an OAR budget increase.

“This budget takes the opposite approach and decreases funding for the OAR office and the weather and air chemistry research programs,” Lucas said. “Yes, the budget request is simply a request and, at the end of the day, Congress controls the purse strings. 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.”

Democratic committee members also criticized the proposed cuts to OAR and NOS. “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,” said Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Deborah Ross (D-NC).

Spinrad said the agency had to make “very difficult decisions” in part because of the constraints on spending set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, but also the agency’s desire to pursue next-generation satellites and “make sure our mission-essential functions were not compromised in any way.”

Democrat committee members expressed support for boosting the agency’s satellite capabilities to improve weather forecasting and tracking environmental changes, but Lucas questioned why the agency could not rely more on data collected by private companies.

In his opening statement, Lucas expressed disappointment in NOAA’s proposal to cut funding for the National Mesonet program and Commercial Data Purchase program.

“Recent supplemental appropriations bills have ensured NOAA’s coffers are well stocked,” Lucas said. “It would seem logical to annually bolster programs like the NMP and CDP and use one-time influxes for keeping large projects on budget and on schedule. Additionally, it seems prudent to test the usefulness of commercial data before NOAA tries to collect data on their own through expensive build-outs and federally owned instruments,” he added.

Environment Subcommittee Chair Max Miller (R-OH) was also critical of NOAA’s spending plans, advising the agency to shift from a “we need more” mindset to a “maximize what we’ve been given” approach.

Miller noted how NOAA received $2.6 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, $3.3 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, and more than $500 million from a recent disaster recovery measure.

“As is the case with so many other agencies, it’s been a difficult adjustment for NOAA to responsibly spend all this money, and exceedingly hard for us in Congress to determine how much of it has made it out the door,” Miller said.

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