Program Update: Advocacy – September 2012
During the month of September, much of the efforts of Congress have focused on budgetary measures for the 2013 Fiscal Year. A six month stopgap funding measure (H J Res 117) was passed to fund federal government and agencies at current funding levels with a 0.6 percent increase across the board expiring on March 27, 2013. The White House has also recently issued a report detailing the impacts of looming sequestration on federal agencies. The report assumed 8.2 percent budget cuts of non-defense programs, including science, and 9.4 percent cuts to defense programs, which includes research.
In addition to budgetary measures, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received attention on the Hill, with both an investigation into the reprogramming of funds by the National Weather Service (NWS) as well as the publication of an independent review regarding the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program. The House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight convened a hearing to address the reprogramming of tens of millions of dollars
within NWS without Congressional authorization. A 2011 NOAA report and a 2012 NOAA and Department of Commerce (DoC) report concluded that although the reprogramming was unauthorized, no employee achieved personal monetary gain through these actions. NOAA has also been the subject of criticism in an independent review regarding the JPSS program. The review noted inefficiency and untimeliness in decision-making as well as an inappropriate level of involvement on behalf of NOAA and DoC. Furthermore, the orbit failure of JPSS-1 could lead to a five-year gap in data collection. The review supported the decision to transfer the ocean surface vector winds mission and sea surface topography mission to NASA.
The House Natural Resources Committee also held a full committee oversight hearing to question officials involved in the editing of the 2010 drilling moratorium report following the Deepwater Horizon spill. The Committee questioned witnesses regarding the timeline of the report edits and chastised them for refusing to appear at a prior hearing, as well as noncompliance with the subpoena request for documents. The same week, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing for a five-year review of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272) to discuss progress in STEM education and developing further infrastructure for innovation. The panel urged Congress to follow the doubling of funding recommended for its appropriations actions as well as emphasizing that science and technology education should be viewed as long term investments.
There was also a large amount of legislation passed through the House and Senate as they approached recess. The Endangered Fish Recovery Program Extension Act of 2012 (H.R. 6060) passed the House and was received in the Senate and hearings were held in the House for the California Coastal Monument Extension Act (H.R. 4969) to extend coastal protected areas. The Conservation of Billfish Act (H.R. 2706) was passed in the House and the Senate, as well as presented to the President. Major Congressional activity has concluded until after the November elections. In November, Congress will reconvene for a few weeks to conclude the remaining legislative business for the 112th Congress. The 113th Congress will begin in mid-January.