Sullivan-Schatz-Cantwell Bill to Strengthen, Improve NOAA Corps Signed into Law

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) today welcomed the signing of S. 2981, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Commissioned Officer Corps Amendments Act of 2020, their bill to improve and modernize the management of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.

“The mission and work of NOAA and the NOAA Corps are incredibly important to Alaska, the state with our nation’s largest fishery, more coastline than the Lower 48 states combined, and America’s only Arctic territory,” said Senator Sullivan. “NOAA officers perform highly-specialized duties with the same sense of service and dedication as our other uniformed services, and I appreciate the President for signing our legislation to more fully embrace the NOAA Corps’ contributions to our country.” 

“NOAA Corps officers fly Hurricane Hunters into storms threatening Hawaii on a moment’s notice and at great risk to themselves to keep us safe. With our bill now law, we will finally recognize the critical work they do by providing them with the support they deserve,” said Senator Schatz.

“For over 100 years, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps has conducted the highest quality science missions to inform fisheries management and research, which is fundamental in supporting Washington’s maritime economy,” said Senator Cantwell. “In addition to investing in the NOAA Corps, this bill will pave the way for future innovative collaborations, as well as advance meaningful improvements in sexual assault and harassment policies to protect women serving in the NOAA Corps.” 

The NOAA Corps is one of the eight uniformed services of the United States. The 321 officers of the NOAA Corps operate NOAA’s ship and aircraft fleet, and are deployed for extended periods fulfilling NOAA’s missions. Officers also routinely support the missions of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard when necessary.

The legislation will improve personnel management and readiness of the Corps, strengthen recruitment and retention of Corps personnel by creating a mandatory service obligation and offering benefits and services to officers, and better integrate the Corps with NOAA by providing increased opportunities for officers to continue their federal service with the agency after leaving the Corps. 

The Military Coalition, an organization representing more than 5.5 million military service members, veterans and their families wrote a letter to congressional leaders in support of S. 2981.

“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,” wrote Jack Du Teil, president of TMC. “This important legislation addresses those authorities and benefits not granted to the Corps, whose officers consist of experts in varying fields, including but not limited to oceanography, meteorology, engineering, earth sciences, and fisheries science.”

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