Captain Weatherman


You wouldn't think the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration–responsible for such things as fisheries, charting the coast, and weather satellite data–would often need to call in the troops. But NOAA has its own commissioned corps with 332 uniformed officers paid full military compensation, including a full pension after 20 years of service, regardless of age.

This quasi-military system makes the NOAA corps cost around $661,000 a year more than it would if officers were paid as normal civilian employees. But that system might be on its way out. Downsizing in the Department of Commerce, responsible for the NOAA, has already eliminated more than 50 of these officers since 1994, and NOAA management is finally thinking about dumping its military corps altogether.

In World War II, NOAA's ancestor agency, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, had most of its officers and ships transferred to the control of the armed services. Although this control ended with the war, and the Department of Defense says the corps doesn't meet its criteria for military compensation, the NOAA officer corps has enjoyed military-style compensation ever since.