Bush Still Trying to Cut Funding for Agencies That Deal With Hurricanes

Even after requesting $60 billion for Katrina relief, the White House is trying to trim the regular budgets of U.S. agencies that track hurricanes and perform flood control.

Instead, Congress is likely to add money for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Senate returns Monday to take up a funding bill that includes $4.5 billion for NOAA _ $895 million more than requested by Bush, who wanted to trim NOAA’s budget by more than $350 million.

Many of the White House’s cuts came out of research and coastal projects added by Congress. However, Bush did request an increase for the National Weather Service, from $780 million to $839 million.

On Thursday, the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement on the bill that the administration is “concerned” about the extra NOAA funding.

Not so the two principal authors of the spending bill, both from Katrina-hit states.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the subcommittee that wrote the spending bill, said there is “continued frustration among many of my Senate colleagues” about administration efforts to cut NOAA’s budget after the hurricanes last year and now Katrina.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., added $500,000 for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, including money to hire four new forecasters. The center now has six.

The administration also is still objecting to Senate efforts to add funding for Corps of Engineers flood-control projects, said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee.

Bush requested $4.5 billion for the Corps in his 2006 budget. The House approved $4.7 billion, the Senate $5.3 billion. For three major New Orleans flood-control projects, the House went along with Bush’s request for $41.4 million, but the Senate upped that to $70 million.

Some Louisiana lawmakers have charged that dwindling Corps budgets played a role in the Katrina disaster.

“Washington rolled the dice and Louisiana lost,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told the Senate on Thursday. “I cannot stand here today and tell you that if all the money we had asked for, if it would have kept the levees up, but I can tell you it that it would have given us more protection than we had.”

But Corps officials and Domenici say there was never any project or request for money for a project to raise the levees that broke. Nor would any of the other planned flood-control projects have prevented the flooding of the city, said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Corps commander.

Administration officials point out that Bush has requested $20.2 billion for the Corps in his first five budgets, compared with $18.2 billion requested by President Bill Clinton in his last five budgets.

(Contact James W. Brosnan at BrosnanJ(at)shns.com)