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FYI Number 129: November 9, 2006

NOAA Authorization Passes House

"We in Congress need to provide NOAA and its employees clear direction and the tools they require to perform critical missions and functions that affect the everyday lives of all Americans. This bill provides that direction, strengthens science at the agency, and improves Congressional oversight of NOAA." - Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been in existence since its establishment in1970 by President Nixon, but it has never been authorized by Congress. On September 20, the House passed, by voice vote, authorizing legislation for NOAA. However, no companion bill was introduced in the Senate. It is not likely that Congress will take up this issue when it returns this fall. The authorization of NOAA will have to wait for a new Congress to be convened next year, for similar legislation to be introduced in the House again, and for the Senate to take action.

The House bill, H.R. 5450, was introduced by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), and cosponsored by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD).

H.R. 5450 would authorize NOAA within the Department of Commerce, with the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere serving as the NOAA Administrator. Its mission would be to "understand the systems of the Earth's oceans and atmosphere and predict changes in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere and the effects of such changes on the land environment, to conserve and manage coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes ecosystems to meet national economic, social, and environmental needs, and to educate the public about these topics."

Among the job titles authorized, the bill would create the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Education, to coordinate science and education activities within the agency. It would also establish a Science Advisory Board for NOAA.

The authorizing legislation would maintain, within NOAA, the National Weather Service; programs to collect and disseminate oceanic, atmospheric, coastal and lake information; and programs to educate, support research, and develop technologies related to weather, climate, oceans and coasts. It would require the Administrator to submit to Congress, among other documents, a reorganization plan and a strategic plan for science and technology R&D.

"NOAA reaches into the lives of nearly every citizen in this country, from the daily weather forecasts and critical storm warnings, to the safety of our seafood, to drought predictions that affect the way we grow our food," said Rep. Ehlers in a press release. "It will," he added, "make NOAA stronger and more capable of doing its job."

H.R. 5450 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Legislation authorizing NOAA, if signed into law, would fulfill recommendations made by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (see FYI #90, 2004) and the Pew Oceans Commission.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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