House Panel Favors NOAA in 2010 Budget Proposal

Note: This item was updated at 5:15 p.m. to include the funding level for the National Climate Service.

A House of Representatives spending panel has topped (pdf) the president's request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the first tangible step by Congress to act upon the president's 2010 budget request.  

The subcommittee—which oversees NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the science agencies within the Commerce Department—added $129 million to NOAA's proposed $108 million boost, for a total of $4.6 billion. The panel fell $109 million short of meeting the president's proposed $555 million increase for NSF, allocating $6.94 billion, and gave $25 million less to the National Institute of Standards and Technology labs than its proposed $62 million boost, for a total of $510 million. It also trimmed the exploration portion of NASA's budget pending completion of a review of its human space program, giving NASA a total of $18.2 billion (a 2% hike) compared with the president's $18.7 billion request.

Facing a $1 billion cut in its $64 billion portfolio, the panel nonetheless decided that climate research deserves the same accelerated spending increases that the White House has requested for NSF, NIST, and the Department of Energy's science programs. "The subcommittee heard testimony that NOAA research is not markedly different or less important than other science disciplines … and there was little reason that NOAA research activities should not be considered in the context of the doubling path envisioned in the [2007] COMPETES Act," explained Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WVA), who chairs the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations subcommittee. Toward that goal, the subcommittee has provided $100 million of new funds for NOAA to launch the National Climate Service.

NSF's $845 million education account was boosted $5 million above the president's modest $13 million request, and its $5.2 billion research account received a $460 million increase rather than the $550 million boost that the White House had requested. While the $4.5 billion for NASA science remains unchanged from 2009 and the current request, the subcommittee sliced funding for NASA's human exploration program by $212 million, leaving it with less than the $3.5 billion set aside for this year and more than $600 million shy of what the White House wanted. Most of that money is for a new launcher to replace the space shuttle slated for retirement next year. But lawmakers did agree to increase funding for the space shuttle and space station operations in 2010 by 6%, close to what Obama requested.

This subcommittee is the first of 10 such panels to mark up the president's $3.5 trillion request for 2010. Congress is supposed to finish its work by 1 October, the start of the new fiscal year, but in recent years the process has dragged on for several more months.