From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Friday, September 23, 2011
Today the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a joint hearing entitled, "From NPOESS to JPSS: An Update on the Nation's Restructured Polar Weather Satellite Program." Testifying before the Subcommittees were Dr. Kathryn Sullivan from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Mr. Christopher Scolese from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Mr. David A. Powner from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The National Polar Orbiting Satellite System (NPOESS) was to be the United States' next-generation satellite system to monitor the Earth's weather, atmosphere, oceans, land and near-space environment, replacing the Department of Defense's (DOD's) and NOAA's polar orbiting satellites. However, the polar orbiting satellite acquisition program was neglected and mismanaged. NPOESS was restructured by the Obama Administration in February 2010 tasking NOAA, with NASA's assistance, with the production of satellites for civilian weather forecasting. The NOAA program is now known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Despite the restructuring, there is expected to be a gap in polar weather data of approximately eight months, with an additional six to twelve months needed to validate the data before it can be relied upon. This gap will impact the ability of the National Weather Service to provide accurate long-term weather predictions.
Ranking Member of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Donna Edwards (D-MD) highlighted the funding issues that NOAA and NASA have faced in her statement for the record. She said, "Since February 2010, NOAA and NASA have had to set up a new program structure and renegotiate the instrument and satellite bus contracts with a half-dozen companies. Additionally, since October of 2010, the agencies have been crippled by a brutal budget environment.
She continued, "Seven continuing resolutions in the first six months of Fiscal Year 2011, which created uncertainty for the program and resulted in continuous replanning of the project, were replaced by a final funding level that represented just 36% of what the Administration had sought for this program. Instead of slightly more than $1 billion requested by the administration to ramp up contracts and get the next generation of polar satellites back on track, NOAA received just $382 million - a figure that all observers knew was insufficient to move the program forward at the pace it needs to move.
Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Brad Miller (D-NC) began, "We must do any and everything we possibly can to ensure that American taxpayers, American travelers, American businesses are all supplied with the short and long term weather forecasts that are critical for saving lives and property. This year alone, this country has witnessed in every region and on every coastline extreme, record-breaking weather events. . . The idea of not fully funding this satellite program is totally unacceptable." He continued, "Over a century ago, Galveston Texas was destroyed by a hurricane and 4,000 people were killed. They had no warning that a hurricane was coming until it was upon them, and then it was too late. Building a satellite with instruments to help us track storms and predict their tracks is not easy, but we need these satellites to avoid the kinds of tragedies that used to be routine on coastlines throughout the country."
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