Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE


Last Call for 106th Congress: NOAA Bill Completed

(12-22-00)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: Over two months into fiscal year (FY) 2001, five remaining appropriations bills were completed, sending the 106th Congress into the history books.  The last-minute negotiations proved to be fruitful for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which received a whopping 31 percent increase over FY 2000 levels for a total of $3.06 billion.

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Three weeks before the 107th Congress is to convene in January, the 106th Congress finally adjourned after passing the last of the appropriations bills for FY 2001, which began on October 1st. The annual appropriations end game was complicated further this year by the contentious presidential election.  Even as the courts were busy deciding the official president-elect, Congress and the Clinton Administration were negotiating five appropriations bills that had been set aside when Congress recessed a week before the election for a final campaign push. In the interim, the agencies covered by these bills were funded at FY 2000 levels under a string of continuing resolutions (21 at last count).

In what has become a Washington tradition, the last days of the appropriations process produced an omnibus bill that included the remaining bills -- Labor/HHS, Legislative Branch, and Treasury-Postal -- and a final version of the joint Commerce-District of Columbia bill. To further confuse matters, the District of Columbia language was taken out of the joint bill and passed as H.R. 5666, a stand-alone bill.  Despite the refined budget gimmicks, the omnibus bill (H.R. 4577) and the Commerce Appropriations bill (H.R. 4942) were presented to the President for his approval on December 15th.  He has indicated that he will sign.

Once all the smoke cleared, core funding for NOAA programs totaled $2.6 billion, a 4.2 percent decrease from the budget request but a 13 percent increase from last year’s allocation.  Similar to the Land and Water Conservation Fund money that helped boost funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, H.R.4577 provides NOAA with an additional $420 million in a new account for coastal and ocean activities.  Also, Congress provided $1 million for the Commission on Ocean Policy, a 16-member commission that will spend 18 months examining federal ocean policy in relation to environmental and economic trends, then recommend a long-term strategy to protect oceans.  When these additional funds are included in the NOAA allocation, the agency is marked to receive a total of $3.1 billion, an increase of close to 15 percent over the budget request and close to 35 percent over last year’s funding level.

Despite a decrease for overall agency core activities, several programs received large increases over the request -- the National Marine Fisheries Service received a 14.4 percent increase and the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) received a 15.7 percent increase.  The National Ocean Service (NOS) received a 28.4 percent decrease from the $406 million request in the president's budget, but funding for the program was well above FY2000 levels.  Within NOS some programs saw decrease of over 60 percent from the requested amounts.  The Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) program saw a 6.8 percent increase in funding from buget requests, receiving $323 million.  Presidential and congressional pressure for increased land and wildlife conservation helped boost the final NOAA numbers, but only a small fraction will go to OAR programs.  More detailed information about funding for NOAA programs is available from the AGI Update on FY2001 Commerce, Judiciary & State Appropriations at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/approps_commerce2001.html.

According to the conference report, the additional $420 million for ocean and coastal activities include $150 million for coastal impact assistance, $135 million for ocean, coastal, and conservation programs, and $135 million for agency programs (of which $5 million is directed to OAR).  The final consolidated appropriation bill also provided supplementary funds related to the Western Alaskan Steller sea lion, which had been a heated topic between Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and the Clinton Administration.


Special update prepared by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program, and AGI/AAPG Intern Mary Patterson

Sources: E&E News, House Appropriations Committee, House/Senate Conference Report, Library of Congress, NOAA website, Senate Appropriations Committee, USBudget.com, and White House website.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted December 22, 2000; technical corrections January 24, 2001


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