Reading Trump’s NOAA Budget
It’s like hostages hid an escape plan inside their kidnapper’s manifesto.
This week I read the NOAA Budget Summary 2019. It’s NOAA’s version of the “blue book,” an annual document that describes how much money the Administration requests from Congress and what the agency would do with it.
Beginning in the Reagan Administration, U.S. Presidents have centralized their budget-making within the Office of Management and Budget. “Budget is policy,” as the Washington truism goes, so the OMB has become one of the most important, if obscure, offices in the executive branch. OMB sets the numbers for each line item in an agency’s budget, and then passes those numbers down to agency heads, who in turn ask their administrators to briefly explain what effects those numbers will have on the activities of each program.
As you may have heard, the Trump administration proposes to cut NOAA’s budget 20% overall in fiscal year 2019, with especially large cuts to Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (-37%) and the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (-26%).
Blue books are supposed to sell the Administration’s plan, so I knew there’d be efforts to put lipstick on a pig. Boilerplate like: “The FY 2019 budget supports the broad Administration goals of promoting national security, public safety, economic growth and job creation.” Or tragicomic claims that the budget would “prioritize[e] core functions” and “increase flexibility within NWS’ model,” by eliminating almost 250 weather forecasting staff positions.
But I was astonished by how few words try to make this budget sound like a good idea. Instead our public servants smuggled out a statement about the lifesaving work they do, inside the warrant for their elimination.
- "Close the Air Resources Laboratory: NOAA requests a decrease of $4,377,000 to close the Air Resources Laboratory (ARL). ARL’s research on air chemistry, mercury deposition, and atmospheric dispersion of harmful materials will be terminated … NOAA will also no longer support upgrades to the Hybrid Single Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model, a particle model that has emergency response applications, including tracking mercury deposition and anthrax bioterrorism." (p. 34-35)
- "End Vortex-Southeast: NOAA requests a decrease of $4,966,000 to terminate Vortex-Southeast, a program used to detect, respond to, and warn against tornadoes in the Southeastern United States." (p. 35)
- "Reduce Tsunami Warning Program: NOAA requests a decrease of $11,000,000to reduce or eliminate components of NOAA’s Tsunami Research and Operational Warning program. This reduction will affect monitoring, reporting, modeling research, and support to partners. NOAA will retain limited forecast and warning capacity through one operational Tsunami Warning Center. Support for preparedness education, outreach, and innovation research will cease." (p. 44)
- "Reduce Investment in Numerical Weather Prediction Modeling: NOAA requests a reduction of $5,000,000 to slow the transition of advanced modeling research into operations for improved warnings and forecasts." (p. 46)
Now it's on us to make sure Congress doesn't hurt the country like this.
- Alexis Wolfe, “FY19 Budget Request: 20% NOAA Cut Targets Research, Forecasters,” FYI: Science Policy News From the American Institute of Physics, Feb 21, 2019. [AIP’s analysis and reporting is fantastic. You should subscribe—it’s free!]
- NOAA Budget Summary 2019, from NOAA’s Corporate Services Server. (Or here on Picturing Meteorology, if it disappears from government servers.)
- Roger Turner, “The Weather Scientists who can Forecast a National Security Threat,” Zocalo Public Square, July 12, 2017. (Explaining the importance of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, from when the Trump Administration proposed eliminating it last year.)