By Guest Author Erica Felins, 2017 Knauss Sea Grant Executive Fellow
Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this guest post reflect solely those of the Guest Author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Fisheries Blog, any of its members, or their affiliated organizations.
On Friday night, the Trump Administration released a memo to the Washington Post that shed light on what the future federal budget might look like. The focus of the memo was The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which thus far has avoided the recent political limelight. The federal agency has a mission heavily grounded in climate science and could face a budget cut of 17 percent, nearly $990 million.
Unfortunately, NOAA’s leadership and mission are not commonly included the political conversation. Former head administrators include leading scientists, a Navy admiral, and an astronaut. However, NOAA’s work directly affects millions of Americans—and not just those who live on the coast.
Perhaps the enigma of NOAA can be contributed to where it resides within the federal government. This science-based agency is housed under the Department of Commerce. This organizational decision is said to have been a political jab from President Nixon (a republican) to a political foe at the Department of Interior when he signed the agency’s founding legislation in 1970. However, ever since its inception, NOAA’s science and data has supported the economic strength and viability of the United States.
Both the public and business sectors can thank NOAA for providing daily weather forecasts and accurately predicting hurricanes and tornados. The agency is also responsible for rebuilding collapsed fishing grounds and directly supporting American fishing fleets with manpower, gear, and information. Additionally, it provides the charts required to safely navigate US waterways, and launches and maintains satellites that provide critical data to national security. NOAA’s mission helps to maintain the United States’ position as a global leader in technology and science, while also providing publicly accessible information services.
A NOAA program specifically named in the budget memo is the Sea Grant Program, an initiative that predates NOAA itself. Lyndon B. Johnson signed its designating legislation in 1966. Fifty years later, the program supports 33 college programs, funds and provides manpower to community-based science and last year alone, created and sustained over 20,000 jobs. The economic impact of the program is an estimated $575 million. Former Sea Grant fellows hold some of the highest non-politically appointed positions in several federal agencies. This type of leadership is particularly important during years of presidential transition to appropriately brief new political appointees as well as to keep everything operational between bosses (which can sometimes take years).
For now, this budget memo is merely a document that will be passed around DC for comment, with Congress having a final say on its roll-out. However, it shows that the Trump Administration’s priorities could leave behind a skeleton crew to operation some of the country’s and arguably the world’s, most expensive infrastructure (satellites). As a current Sea Grant fellow, with roots dug in coastal communities, I can only hope that we can convey the importance of NOAA to the new administration and the 115th Congress. The bottom line is that strength in NOAA, means strength for America. Science and technology are what make America great and NOAA and its federal partners have been leading the charge for decades.