Issues on the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Commissioned Corps

GGD-98-35R: Published: Dec 2, 1997. Publicly Released: Dec 2, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided further information regarding the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Corps plans to civilianize its Commissioned Corps.

GAO noted that: (1) Since no further work was done after its 1996 report, GAO does not know whether any updated Department of Defense (DOD) mobilization plans envision a role for the NOAA Corps; (2) GAO did not discuss whether DOD had war mobilization plans prior to World Wars I or II; (3) However, the Corps participation in World War I did not occur without congressional action; (4) it is highly unlikely that the NOAA Corps would be called upon during a war, however, if that were to occur, GAO noted that civilians have been used in wartime to carry out military duties; (5) the Hay/Huggins cost analysis done for NOAA was a methodologically sound comparison of the costs of the NOAA Corps retirement benefits and the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS) benefits that would apply under civilianization; (6) not only was the approach that Hay/Huggins used the most appropriate approach for assessing retirement system costs, but the analysis used the same assumptions, information, and methodologies that are currently used to measure these costs in the NOAA Corps and FERS programs; (7) the transition plans accompanying downsizing efforts in other federal agencies are not comparable with the Department of Commerce's plan for the NOAA Corps; (8) Commerce's plan contemplates the elimination of the military-like personnel system and Corps officers becoming federal civilian employees, who would be placed in FERS; (9) GAO did not indicate that NOAA would have any difficulty finding qualified and interested civilian replacements for the NOAA Corps Officers; (10) civilians already carry out similar work for other military services and federal agencies; (11) in reviewing the activities of the NOAA Corps, GAO found that the Office of Naval Research managed research with a military goal, primarily using civilian-operated commercial vessels or ships operated by universities; and (12) likewise, NOAA's research was found to be nonmilitary and was primarily carried out using NOAA ships.

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