National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Issues on the Civilianization of the Commissioned Corps

T-GGD-98-22: Published: Oct 29, 1997. Publicly Released: Oct 29, 1997.

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GAO discussed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps, focusing on: (1) issues concerning the NOAA Corps as a uniformed service with military-like pay, allowances, and benefits; and (2) the comparative cost of using civilian employees, rather than uniformed officers, to carry out the NOAA Corps' functions.

GAO noted that: (1) in the 1800s, the Coast and Geodetic Survey--the organization that eventually became NOAA--relied on personnel from the Army and Navy to augment its civilian complement that was charged with surveying the then uncharted U.S. shoreline; (2) by World War I, both departments had withdrawn their detailed personnel; (3) however, ships and men qualified to operate them were needed immediately for the war effort; (4) Congress passed legislation authorizing the President to transfer the Coast and Geodetic Survey's ships and men to the Navy and War Departments for the duration of the war and to give military rank to those Survey field officers who served in the military; (5) in 1920, the Joint Service Pay Act extended the Navy's pay, allowances, and retirement system to members of the Survey who held Navy ranks; (6) NOAA Corps officers receive virtually the same pay and benefits as military personnel; (7) however, the Corps carries out civilian rather than military functions; (8) although NOAA describes the essential functions of the Corps to be deck officers aboard NOAA ships and a mobile cadre of professionals who can be assigned wherever needed, often in hazardous conditions, civilian employees in other agencies are often assigned to similar duties; (9) further, the Corps is not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which underlies military personnel management, and the Department of Defense's war mobilization plans did not envision a role for the Corps; (10) using the estimate of a contractor hired by NOAA to determine the comparative costs of using civilian employees rather than Corps officers to carry out NOAA Corps functions, and GAO's adjustment for a more complete comparison, GAO estimated that the cost to the government would have been about $661,000 lower from July 1994 through June 1995 if civilian employees had carried out the Corps' work; (11) GAO's estimate compared two alternative ways of staffing the existing NOAA Corps functions and did not factor in the costs of transitioning to civilian staff; and (12) no transition plan existed at the time of GAO's review, and the details of such a plan could materially affect such costs.

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