Draft legislation authored by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Frank Lucas would separate NOAA from the Commerce Department, where it’s been authorized under executive order since 1970.
At the draft’s first hearing last week, Democrats questioned whether the bill would impact NOAA’s clout within the federal government, as well as potentially slowing offshore wind permits, and boosting the likelihood of political interference in agency science.
NOAA makes up more than half of the Commerce Department’s budget. But if it was made its own agency, its spending would be far smaller than better-known independent agencies like NASA.
Key labor and conservation groups want more done to ensure the agency’s mission and staff are protected from future political disruptions.
The American Federation of Government Employees said it has told the committee it wants made explicit that NOAA employees will receive civil-service protections.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chair Maria Cantwell plans to pursue her own bill codifying NOAA. The legislation, which hasn’t been introduced yet, would keep NOAA within the Department of Commerce and seek ways to strengthen the agency’s authority, which may enjoy more bipartisan support in the upper chamber.
Marine protection group Oceana said the bill fails to adequately address conservation and that it would “provide the NOAA Administrator with vast authority to reorganize the agency with virtually no guidance on what changes are needed, and a meager 60-day public comment period.”