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Our Ocean Network

Coming Together to Protect Our Ocean

Budget 101

How do our elected officials – the President and Congress – go about paying for the lights to stay on each year, and ensure important work continues that supports our ocean and coasts? They “appropriate” – or allocate – money to federal agencies and programs. The ‘appropriations process’ is a critical policy and decision-making process that occurs each year. This process follows a general timeline from February to September, with key opportunities for citizens to get involved, ultimately resulting in the President signing a bill into law. As with anything in Congress these days, timelines are flexible, and extensions on deadlines are common. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is our nation’s premier ocean and coastal agency. NOAA manages many programs across its mission areas that conduct scientific research on our ocean and coasts, forecast hurricanes, help build communities resilient to changing conditions, and so much more. Funding these programs is paramount to their continued success. Below we provide a summary of how the appropriations process works, providing a set of general guideposts to what happens, when and why. Most critically, we identify ways you, as an ocean user and taxpayer, can influence the process to ensure ocean and coastal programs continue to receive the funding necessary to protect our environment and economy. You can find much more detail on the appropriations process in this report from the Congressional Research Service.

The Timeline


The President

The President’s Budget Proposal

The President sends Congress the outlines of his or her budget priorities for the coming fiscal year. Usually released in mid-February, this proposal begins the appropriations process and is an agenda setting exercise that informs Congress of what the President would like to see funded. The release of the President’s budget proposal is a high-profile event, drawing coverage and response from both the media and elected officials.


Write an op-ed or letter to the editor (LTE) in response to the President’s proposal. Congress is paying attention to public reactions to the proposal to see where support (or disagreement) lays. The op-ed or LTE will be seen by elected officials, and they’ll also know that other constituents have seen it as well.


Congress holds budget hearings with Administration officials Icon

Congress holds budget hearings with Administration officials

Members of congressional “authorizing committees” – the committees that are in charge of managing agency actions and policies that dictate their work – get their chance to dig in to the President’s funding proposal by bringing the heads of each executive agency, like NOAA, to testify before the committee. Members often do not hold back when they are displeased with an aspect of the President’s proposal!


During these hearings, if one of your elected officials says something good about NOAA or an ocean program, use social media to thank them. Positive reinforcement makes Members of Congress feel good, and you are more likely to see positive messaging gain traction.


Committee Markup Icon

Committee Markup

Quickly after a subcommittee has drafted its appropriations proposal, members come together as a whole to review (and possibly amend) their package. This is called a “markup”. A few days later, the entire appropriations committee (members from all 12 subcommittees) will do the same thing.


If one of your elected officials is an appropriator, let them know what you think about their version of the funding package. Social media engagement, tagging members themselves, to bring both your appreciations and disapprovals to attention will get your voice out there!


Conference Committee Icon

Conference Committee

Usually, the House and Senate appropriations packages differ. Since only one bill can be sent to the President to sign, they must reconcile any differences, in a process known as ‘conference’. A lot of bartering goes on, as each chamber, as well as each individual appropriator, has differing priorities. They will ultimately emerge with a single funding package that both sides agree to.


If one of your elected officials is an appropriator, let them know what parts of the package you want them to fight for! If something has changed since the original bill – such as a policy rider or a changed funding level – it is very important to call your member and let them know what you think about this change.


Continuing Resolutions
Continuing Resolutions Icon

Continuing Resolutions

If the process slows down along the way (which it often does) and the President does not sign an appropriations bill into law, Congress can give themselves more time using a “Continuing Resolution” (CR). This keeps the government open, typically using the previous year’s funding levels. Congress will then use ‘borrowed time’ to continue the Conference process, ideally finding common ground and sending the bill to the President before their extension expires.


House and Senate Committees accept funding requests Icon

House and Senate Committees accept funding requests

After the President has proposed a budget, Congress reviews it and begins the process of creating what will be the final budget. To begin, the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations each provide an opportunity for every member of Congress to weigh in with their priorities for federal funding.


Call your members! Let them know specifically which programs, in NOAA or elsewhere, you want to see supported and why those programs are important to you and the community. Visit your members! Members of both the House and Senate have local, “in-district” offices. Set up a meeting with local staff, or the member themselves if they are around!


Appropriations Subcommittees draft their own appropriations proposals Icon

Appropriations Subcommittees draft their own appropriations proposals

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have 12 subcommittees – including the Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee that controls the NOAA budget. After the budget hearings, each subcommittee is responsible for the initial development of a proposed funding package for agencies under their purview. Subcommittee members are powerful advocates for the programs important to them and their constituents.


It is important to weigh in directly – such as by phone call, email, or a letter – with subcommittee appropriators at this time and let them know the value of NOAA programs to you and your community.


House and Senate Floor consideration Icon

House and Senate Floor consideration

After the 12 bills are passed through the appropriations committee, they are then sent to the Floor of the House and Senate, for the whole chamber to vote on. These funding packages are subject to further amendments by the Representatives and Senators, respectively.


All members (appropriators and non-appropriators) have influence over this step in the process. Ahead of Floor consideration, call your elected official and tell them what you support, or don’t, in the bills before they cast their vote.

Floor debates over amendments may offer members a chance to speak on the importance of NOAA and its programs. If one of your elected officials says something you support, use social media to thank them and spread the word.

October 1st

Statutory Fiscal Year Begins
Statutory Fiscal Year Begins Icon

Statutory Fiscal Year Begins

The official fiscal year for the federal government is October 1 to September 30. The President is supposed to have an appropriations bill on their desk before October 1 and sign it into law.

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