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House Subcommittees Review Weather Satellite Systems Progress

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2015

(Washington, DC)  Today the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittees on Environment and Oversight held a joint hearing to discuss problems and concerns associated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) weather satellite systems, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satellite (GOES).

JPSS and GOES acquisitions have been marked by schedule delays, significant cost growth, the repeated down-sizing of the array of sensors expected to fly on the satellites, and technical performance concerns. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) added these programs to their "high risk" list in 2013. A recent GAO report showed that though NOAA has made significant progress, there are still concerns that the cost may continue to grow, schedule delays could increase the potential for a near-term gap, and that NOAA's mitigation projects have not been properly prioritized.

Ranking Member of the Environment Subcommittee, Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said, "Any loss of coverage from the polar satellites or the geostationary satellites would have very serious consequences regarding the accuracy and timeliness of our weather forecasts and the capabilities of the Weather Service. Unfortunately, years of trouble and mismanagement in the polar satellite program mean that we will have a gap in coverage within the next decade, with the worst case scenario being a gap lasting more than five years. In addition, there remains a chance that we face a gap in geostationary satellite coverage as well. I am certain that we will hear from today's witnesses about the significant progress that's been made in this area, and I am pleased that NOAA and NASA are working to get these programs back on track. I applaud you for your efforts, but we are here today to emphasize the importance of maintaining focus on getting these programs where they need to be to protect American people and our economy."

Members discussed how a data gap will impact the economy, public safety, and research; strategies for mitigating the data gap, including extending the life of legacy satellites, improving data assimilation and modeling, and incorporating new sources of data; among other issues.

"For all the lessons that can be learned from the JPSS and GOES acquisitions, the most important immediate challenge has to be to complete both projects as expeditiously as possible.  We must get working satellites on orbit, checked out, and bring their data on-line as quickly as possible.  After years of truly worrisome reports, it appears that NOAA and NASA have good management teams in place and the contractors are now delivering as promised," said Ranking Member of the Oversight Subcommittee Don Beyer (D-VA).  "The Committee wants to be helpful and supportive as we reach the last stretch going into launch.  At the same time, the news from GAO that NOAA is not well positioned with data-gap mitigation plans in place is disappointing.   This is an issue I want to hear more about and I hope we can leave this hearing with a clear commitment to preparing for what to do should the worst happen."

Witnesses

Mr. David Powner, Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office

Dr. Stephen Volz, Assistant Administrator, National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Services, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Steven Clarke, Director, Joint Agency Satellite Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Dr. Alexander McDonald*, President, American Meteorological Society; Director, Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Chief Science Advisor, Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. John Murphy*, Director, Office of Science and Technology, National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

*Witnesses did not provide testimony, but were available for questions.

 

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