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Statement by Rep. Miller: Hearing on Polar Weather Satellite Program

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Friday, September 23, 2011


Good morning. I want to thank both Chairs for calling this hearing today. This is certainly a subject worthy of our time. I also want to join my colleague, Ms. Edwards, in congratulating NOAA and NASA on the good work they have done throughout this past year getting this project back on track.

The Science Committee has devoted years of oversight to this satellite program. During my tenure as Chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, I led much of the work on this--with bipartisan support from my Ranking Members, both Mr. Sensenbrenner and Mr. Broun. The relentless pressure from this Committee and from GAO helped create the environment in which the program could be restructured and NOAA and NASA put in charge of their own fates. Once in charge of their own fates however, our friends on Appropriations dropped the ball by failing to fully fund this program.

Decisions have consequences, and that one short-sighted choice means that there will be gaps in weather and climate furcating data. I hope we can build consensus support for this program so that we never again have to ask the NOAA and NASA to push back delivery of the first JPSS satellite.

The Committee's first hearing on this subject was in 2003, my first year in Congress. At that time, the launch date for the first NPOESS satellite was projected to be 2009. Here we are in 2011 and now the first JPSS satellite is not slated to launch until 2017. We are 8 years beyond our first hearing but remain six years away from the launch of the first next generation polar satellite. This pattern of delay is must change, and the decisions made by NOAA and NASA during the last year suggest that they understand this.

They have made smart choices, as far as we can tell, and they have us on a path that will prevent a data gap in the next few months.

However, the appropriations shortfall has ensured that a gap will occur-- now projected for 2016 and into 2017. That gap will mean that we will see a decline in the accuracy of forecasts beyond the 2 to 4 day window that our other satellites and weather sensors support.

We must do any and everything we can to ensure that American taxpayers, American travelers, and American business sectors are supplied the short - and long - term weather forecasts that are critical to saving lives and protecting property. This year alone, this country has witnessed in every region and on every coastline some of the most extreme, record-breaking weather events. The more warning we have the better decisions public officials can make about public safety and the better choices our businesses can make.

The idea of not fully funding this satellite program is totally unacceptable. The delays, lack of a baseline, and cost overruns we will hear about today are important; but the most important fact is that the budget shortfall delivered up in FY2011 is going to produce a weather data gap and any future shortfalls will create an even greater gap.

In failing to support this program, we are putting our lives, property, and critical infrastructure in danger. Without accurate and timely information, we would no longer see accurate advance warnings of extreme events. This will make it extremely difficult to conduct safe and strategic evacuations of American people. I hope we will spend our time today dealing with the needs of this program as it is, agreeing where we need to go, and determining to make sure we all work together to get there.

Finally, I want to encourage NOAA and NASA to take every step they can responsibly take to narrow the projected gap in data that we anticipate after March of 2016. If you need help in getting what you need, please ask us for that assistance.

Yield back...

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