Program Update: Advocacy – June 2012
Despite this month’s Congressional action on the FY13 federal budget, the prognosis for the annual appropriations process is still up in the air. The House Appropriations Committee has reported out 11 of the 12 annual funding bills, including funding for the Department of Defense (House DoD Bill), and the full House has passed six of these bills, including the funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (House CJS Bill). The President has issued a blanket veto threat for all of the House appropriations bills as they collectively fall $19 billion below the spending limits established in the Budget Control Act last summer. The Senate Appropriations Committee has completed work on nine of its bills, including the Senate CJS Bill, but the full Senate has yet to consider any of the annual appropriations bills. The partisan differences on the overall spending levels and the lack of progress on bills in the Senate are increasing the likelihood of a massive omnibus spending bill, which likely won’t be completed until after the November elections.
If no legislation is passed to amend the Budget Control Act or reduce the deficit by the end of the fiscal year, automatic spending cuts to discretionary programs will begin in January 2013 with 10 percent across-the-board cuts to defense programs and 8 percent cuts to non-defense programs, including science, research and education programs. The Congressional Budget Office warned that this budget sequestration and the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts could lead to a double-dip recession next year. Business leaders, and in particular defense contractors, have indicated that they could begin laying off thousands of employees as early as this fall in anticipation of the budget cuts. Congress has been moving legislation in both bodies to require the Administration to outline how they would implement the budget sequester. Given that it appears unlikely that Congress will be able to negotiate a grand budget-debt-tax bargain before the election, the options are to fast-track a deal in the lame-duck session; punt the decision through a temporary extension of tax cuts and postponement of sequestration; or let the tax cuts expire, sequestration begin and negotiate from scratch with a new Congress.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the FY13 budget, Congress made a definite decision with regards to the long-awaited transportation bill HR.4348, Map-21. The bill was passed by Congress on June 29, one day before the 90-day extension expired. Along with reauthorizations of federal transportation and flood insurance programs, this bill included the RESTORE Act, which would allocate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act (CWA) penalties resulting for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to go to the Gulf States for restoration and economic recovery. The bipartisan bicameral conference committee assigned to negotiate the final language of HR.4348 worked for months to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation bill passed in each chamber. The RESTORE Act’s final language did not include two components of the Senate version (S.1400): the National Endowment for the Oceans, sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and the Land Water Conservation Fund. However, the dedication of 5 percent of the CWA penalties to research grants remained with 2.5 percent of the CWA funds directed to establish a Gulf Ecosystem Restoration, Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program within NOAA. The remaining 2.5 percent would be distributed by the Gulf States to establish Centers of Excellence research grants. Each Center of Excellence shall focus on science, technology and monitoring in at least one of the following disciplines: 1) coastal and deltaic sustainability, restoration and protection; 2) coastal fisheries and wildlife ecosystem research and monitoring; 3) offshore energy development; 4) sustainable and resilient growth and 5) comprehensive observation, monitoring and mapping of the Gulf of Mexico. The President is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.
Another bill that received forward momentum in June was H.R.1171, the Marine Debris Act Reauthorization Amendments of 2011. The House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure and Natural Resources held a hearing to markup the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The bill reauthorizes appropriations through FY16, and calls on the NOAA Administrator to take specific actions to reduce adverse impacts of marine debris on the marine environment, navigation safety and the economy.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee continued its focus on the U.S. accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty by conducting additional hearings with testimonies from leading U.S. military, federal government, business and industry officials in large support of acceding to the Law of the Sea Treaty. Opponents to the Treaty clung to issues of sovereignty, restrictions to naval activity, climate agendas and rules of engagement, which included a testimony from former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Senator Corker (R-TN), who is neutral on the issue, requested additional information on reasons why the Treaty enhances companies’ ability to make claims and why they cannot adjudicate issues through other countries who are signatories. Fundamentally, jobs may be most at stake if the U.S. does not accede to the Convention, according to Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Kerry (D-MA). Thomas J. Donohue, President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Jack N. Gerard, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Petroleum Institute, agreed that securing energy supplies for the next 50-100 years is top priority for ratifying the Treaty, which in turn would create jobs.
Also in June, Congressional appropriators reviewed the budget shortfalls and complications with the nation’s weather and satellite programs. First, the National Weather Service (NWS) was questioned over loss of funds and resulting impacts to NOAA’s weather prediction capabilities. The House Committee on Appropriations called into question Drs. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, and Kathryn Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation & Prediction, regarding the mismanagement of $36 million that were appropriated to NOAA and the NWS. The illegal transfer of funds by three weather service staffers resulted in internal investigations and cuts to core operations and spare parts programs. Senate Appropriations recently approved the reprogramming of more than $35 million to avoid a furlough of NWS employees. However, the Senate asked for further independent reviews from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Justice Department on any other possible misappropriations of funds. Secondly, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Deputy Administrator of NOAA Dr. Kathryn Sullivan and Director of the Joint Agency Satellite Division of NASA Marcus Watkins were questioned by the subcommittees on Investigations and Oversight and Energy and Environment regarding launch dates and looming coverage gaps in the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) programs. In addition to the potential for an overlapping gap in coverage that could last from 17 months to three years or longer, scheduled launch dates may be further threatened by the potential transfer of the weather satellite programs to NASA. Ocean Leadership wrote a supporting letter in response to the Senate’s proposal to transfer the design, procurement and data management responsibilities of earth observing satellites from NOAA to NASA.
Finally, the annual Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) was held from June 5-8 at the Reserve Officers Association Building and the Capital Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. Coordinated by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, CHOW brought together leading industry leaders, policymakers, scientists and concerned citizens to discuss the direction of future ocean policy and management of marine resources. Among the main themes in this year’s event included the ocean’s role in driving economic prosperity; smart multi-use planning and management; delegation of responsibilities across all levels of government in plan implementation; and greater ocean awareness through enhanced education and outreach on the interconnectedness between land-based actions and ocean processes. In light of changing population pressures and uncertain climate conditions, presenters promulgated a need for increased ocean awareness on the value of the oceans to American prosperity to ensure sustainable management of ocean resources into the future.