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Chief scientist: NOAA is '$12 billion agency trapped in a $5.5 billion budget'

Chief scientist: NOAA is '$12 billion agency trapped in a $5.5 billion budget'
© NOAA

Craig McLean, the acting chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on Monday lamented what he said was insufficient funding for the agency to achieve its mandate.

“NOAA is a $12 billion agency trapped in a $5-and-a-half billion budget,” McLean said Monday in testimony before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment. “When I compare [the agency's budget] to all of the obligations we have … when I stack all of those authorizations up and what we’re supposed to be doing, we just can’t afford to do them all.”

“We don’t work in isolation, we’re not a solo act as a federal agency,” he added. “To fill … gaps we need more resources than we have available.”

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McLean made the remarks during a hearing on a national “oceanshot,” or an acceleration of oceanic technology and science comparable to the U.S. landing on the moon. In her own opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillOvernight Energy: Climate emerges as infrastructure sticking point | US recovers millions in cryptocurrency paid to pipeline hackers | Chief scientist: NOAA is ' billion agency trapped in a .5 billion budget' Chief scientist: NOAA is ' billion agency trapped in a .5 billion budget' GOP lawmakers request briefing on Democrats' claims of 'suspicious' Capitol tours before Jan. 6 MORE (D-N.J.) also addressed the funding obstacles in the process, as well as lack of diversity in the field.

“Ocean science is the least diverse of all STEM fields, with Black students representing less than 2 percent of graduates. A March 2021 House Science Committee Majority Staff report found that less than 4 percent of NOAA scientists are Black, and only 1.3 percent are Black women,” she said.

McLean said the funding required to map the world's ocean would be about $3 billion, or “the rough approximate cost of a Mars mission,” compared to the current level and scale of spending on mapping, which is between $50 million and $80 million.

“There is no pot of money but at the interagency level we’re looking at prioritizing what may arise,” he said, citing cooperation between agencies such as NOAA, NASA and the National Science Foundation. “Now is a good time for us to be making investments at the federal level … to find some pot of money to fund, which could easily be distributed through the National Ocean Partnership Program … we have the vehicles, we have the methods, we can do this.”