GAO Upholds Port of Bellingham Protest of NOAA's Home Port Decision

Ruling Casts Doubt on Home Port Move from Puget Sound to Oregon; Requires Further Review

SEATTLE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), praised the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for ordering a review of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) decision to move its Marine Operations Center-Pacific from Puget Sound to Newport, Oregon. The decision sustains a protest lodged by the Port of Bellingham, one of the bidders in the competition for the Marine Operations Center. The GAO determined that NOAA failed to take into account that the location of the proposed pier in Newport, OR, lies within a 100-year floodplain.  Locating the NOAA facility in a floodplain is prohibited under both the competition’s rules and a presidential executive order.


“The GAO has made the right call in sustaining the Port of Bellingham’s protest,” said Cantwell, who has been actively engaged in seeking a review of NOAA’s decision.  “Throughout the process, Bellingham has made a strong case against NOAA’s decision and pursued its protest with tenacity and strong leadership.”


Cantwell said the award to Newport should be immediately revoked and the Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA, should follow the GAO’s recommendations and also make sure to incorporate the many policy factors neglected in the previous competition. 


“NOAA should keep its Marine Operations Center in Puget Sound. The proximity of employees and oceans research centers makes Puget Sound the logical choice,” Cantwell said. “With today’s announcement, Bellingham’s case for keeping NOAA’s Pacific fleet in Puget Sound can now get a full and fair hearing.” 

“As I have said all along, NOAA’s decision was a mistake.  And apparently the GAO agrees,” said Senator Murray.  “For decades NOAA has called the Puget Sound home because it provides the people, resources, and setting that help the agency best carry out its important scientific mission.”

Port Commission President Scott Walker said: “We are very pleased with this decision and we believe it validates our concern that this was not a fair site selection process. We appreciate the support we have received from Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Congressman Rick Larsen. We anticipate continuing to work with them as the final NOAA location is determined."


Since NOAA announced its proposal to move NOAA’s fleet of scientific ships to Oregon in August, Senator Cantwell has raised numerous policy concerns about the agency’s decision.  Cantwell, Murray, and several other members of the Washington delegation have asked: whether moving NOAA’s fleet outside Puget Sound would damage NOAA’s scientific missions; whether it would hurt NOAA’s capacity to hire and retain qualified mariners; whether NOAA fully understood the consequences of moving its ships away from a major maritime center; and whether NOAA ignored crucial weather factors in the Pacific Northwest.  As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, Senator Cantwell has principle oversight over NOAA.