President Biden’s administration has proposed a budget increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would be the biggest in the agency’s history if approved by Congress.

The proposed budget would provide $6.9 billion in funding for the agency, a $1.4 billion increase from the budget enacted for 2021 and nearly $2.3 billion above the amount proposed by Donald Trump’s administration, or roughly 50 percent more.

The increase would infuse a massive amount of resources to support the agency, whose responsibilities include weather forecasting, climate research and services, ocean research, the health of the nation’s fisheries and protection of endangered marine species.

“These additional funds would allow NOAA to expand its climate observation and forecasting work and provide better data and information to decision-makers, support coastal resilience programs that would help protect communities from the economic and environmental impacts of climate change, and invest in modern infrastructure to enable these critical efforts,” according to the Biden administration’s budget document, released Friday.

The agency’s involvement in efforts to fight climate change served as a primary motivation for the fund hikes.

“This increase includes $800 million to expand investments in climate research, support regional and local decision-making with climate data and tools, and improve community resilience to climate change,” the document says. “These investments would support an expanded and improved drought early-warning system, as well as competitive grants to build coastal resilience to help reduce the costly economic and environmental impacts of severe weather events on communities.”

Weather and climate forecasting are also highlighted as a key area of investment, specifically supporting NOAA’s weather satellite programs.

“Families, businesses, and state and local governments rely on NOAA’s weather satellites and forecasts every day,” the document says. “The discretionary request invests $2 billion, an approximately $500 million increase over the 2021 enacted level, in the next generation of satellites, incorporating a diverse array of new technologies, which would improve data for weather and climate forecasts and provide critical information to the public.”

The influx of funding would help an agency facing major challenges as it tries to improve its computer modeling systems, whose accuracy trails counterparts in Europe and Canada, and launch a new generation of weather satellites while determining how to take advantage of the growing capabilities of privately held space companies.

The National Weather Service, which falls under NOAA, has also had numerous problems with its information technology infrastructure, which have hampered its ability to issue mission-critical forecasts and warnings.

Proposed funding boost, but still no appointment to lead agency

The proposed funding increase comes as the Biden administration has yet to nominate someone to lead the agency. While several members of NOAA’s political team have been appointed, the administration has not unveiled its choice for administrator, which must be approved by the Senate.

Based on conversations with several people familiar with the situation, front-runners for the position include Dawn Wright, chief scientist at the Environmental Systems Research Institute, and Rick Spinrad, an oceans scientist and former NOAA official.

The Biden administration has been somewhat slow to pick a nominee to head the agency compared to several past administrations, especially Democrats.

The Barack Obama and Bill Clinton administrations had selected their choices for NOAA administrator by this point. Obama selected Jane Lubchenco to run the agency in December 2008, a month before he was inaugurated. Clinton nominated James Baker less than a month after taking office in February 1993.

But no administration was slower in selecting a NOAA administrator than Trump’s, which named Barry Myers as the nominee nearly nine months after his inauguration. Myers never received a Senate vote on his nomination before withdrawing due to health reasons. Neil Jacobs, who was subsequently nominated to head the agency, also never received a Senate vote. For the first time in NOAA’s history, there was no Senate-confirmed administrator during the Trump administration.

Positive reaction to funding proposal from weather, climate and ocean community

Trump’s first budget proposal for NOAA in 2017 called for a 17 percent cut and was met by shock and disappointment among leaders in the ocean and atmosphere community. By contrast, climate and ocean advocates reacted with jubilation to news of the Biden administration’s proposed funding hike for the agency.

If “you’re a fan of taking action on climate change, supporting our local ocean, coastal and Great Lakes communities and businesses, or if you just love marine mammals, this budget is as good as it gets,” wrote the Ocean Conversancy, a nonprofit that works to protect the ocean and its wildlife, in a news release.