Commerce Committee passes Sullivan bill to modernize the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, update Arctic mapping, and bring Fairweather back to Ketchikan

WASHINGTON, DC – This week bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) unanimously passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.  S. 171, the NOAA Commissioned Office Corps Amendments and Hydrographic Services Improvement Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act, will update operations and procedures for the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, reauthorizes funding to update and maintain the nation’s nautical charts—with an emphasis on the Arctic – as well as facilitates the construction of a viable homeport for the NOAA research vessel Fairweather in Ketchikan, Alaska. 

S.171 builds upon the success of S.2206, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Act, a portion of which was enacted into law in 2016. S.171 boasts a bipartisan group of cosponsors, which includes U.S. Senators John Thune (R-SD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Roger Wicker (R-MS). 

NOAA Officers Corps: 

“Building off the reforms we made to NOAA’s personnel policies last Congress, S.171 would update necessary operations and procedures of the NOAA Corps, and authorize new recruiting and retention tools necessary in today’s modern world,” said Senator Sullivan. 

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is the smallest branch of the nation’s uniformed services. They fly aircraft, operate ships, conduct diving operations and critical research, and – in times of war – support U.S. military operations across the world.

Hydrographic Surveying:

“With each passing year, the Arctic is growing in its strategic and economic importance as its waterways become a more viable means of transportation for commercial, recreational, and military vessels,” said Senator Sullivan. “As it currently stands, many regions in the Arctic rely on nautical charts that were last updated after World War II, over 70 years ago. Not only is this out-of-date information a hindrance to our nation’s ability to expand our presence in the region and utilize its economic potential, but also poses a significant safety risk to nearly every vessel that enters its waters, which is why it is well past time to modernize this process.” 

This legislation reauthorizes funding for our nation’s hydrographic services activities through 2021 and includes set-asides for Arctic specific activities.  

NOAA Ship Fairweather:

“Ketchikan, Alaska is the homeport of the NOAA ship Fairweather, but since 2008, the vessel only passes through from time-to-time due to a dilapidated dock facility,” said Senator Sullivan. “This legislation requires NOAA to draft a Strategic Plan to develop a viable homeport facility in Ketchikan and also provides new financing tools to allow NOAA to expedite the construction. Doing so will cut down on transit time and save precious resources, allowing the vessel to have a greater impact as it completes its important mission off Alaska’s coast.”

In addition to S. 171, the Commerce Committee also approved legislation cosponsored by Senator Sullivan, S. 19, the MOBILE Now Act. This legislation will make wireless spectrum available for commercial use by 2020, which is essential as technology continues to advance. MOBILE Now also includes language that lessens many of the burdensome federal regulations that make it difficult for companies to deploy broadband infrastructure on federal land.