A MOAA-supported bill that would expand and strengthen the NOAA Commissioned Corps passed the House on Dec. 4 and will head to the president’s desk.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps Amendments Act of 2020, S. 2981, passed the Senate on Nov. 16. It would provide an obligated service requirement to the NOAA Corps, improving the service’s ability to retain skilled officers, as well as establishing an education loan repayment program and the creation of an aviation accession training program.
It also would increase the NOAA Corps' end strength to 500, up from 321.
MOAA and The Military Coalition (TMC) – a consortium of military and veterans advocacy groups representing more than 5.5 million current and former servicemembers, their families, and survivors – endorsed the legislation in both chambers in February.
“Even though members of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps often put themselves in harm’s way and are subject to the same deployment requirements as members of the armed forces, NOAA lacks some of the statutory authority to grow, maintain, and manage personnel — specifically their Officer Corps,” TMC wrote in a February letter to House and Senate leadership.
MOAA expressed support for a House version of the legislation in 2019.
Increasing Demand for NOAA Information
The NOAA Corps has faced increasing operational demands thanks to a jump in hurricane activity and challenges in the Arctic. The operational tempo of NOAA’s famed Hurricane Hunters and of ships that map the ocean floor has stretched the officer corps thin. In some cases, NOAA officers were unable to take leave because of mission demand.
[RELATED: Watch Hurricane Hunters Fly Into Action]
These increasing demands can hurt retention and administration of the small corps. The authorized increase in officer strength enables greater flexibility and breathing room for personnel management.
These demands show no signs of decreasing: On Dec. 2, lawmakers at a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness raised concerns over a recent 50-ship Russian Navy exercise that disrupted fishing commerce off the Alaskan coast in contested waters.
“The Arctic is now navigable 365 days a year,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said, stressing the importance of investing in Arctic capabilities.
[DOWNLOAD: More on the Legislation]
The need for NOAA’s trusted weather information and underwater mapping likely will continue to rise as DoD postures for great power competition in the Arctic.
“This is a promising new day for an overstretched NOAA Corps,” said MOAA Government Relations Director of Currently Serving and Retired Affairs Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret). “NOAA’s support to warfighters remains essential for operational planning and risk management. This modest growth of NOAA Corps increases the capability and resilience of this critical institution.”
MOAA and TMC will continue to support all eight uniformed services and maintain the strategic goal to ensure federal statutes apply equally across the services.