House and Senate Find Common Ground on NOAA Budget

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on June 5 approved a budget bill that would give the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about $5.4 billion in 2015, including some $2.1 billion for its major weather satellite programs — a small increase over 2014 that is about even with the White House’s 2015 request and what House appropriators included in a competing bill approved in May.

Senate and House appropriators now seem to be more or less on the same page when it comes to the weather agency’s 2015 budget, even if they do not agree fully with the White House — or each other — on every detail.

The Senate committee broke with the House in directing NASA to take over full development responsibility for the Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite and the Deep Space Climate Observatory, stripping NOAA management of its role in the development process but keeping the weather agency in charge of on-orbit operations.

The House and Senate bills differ on funding levels for these two projects. Senate appropriators included $25.6 million for Jason-3, a little less than the $25.7 million the White House wanted but $10 million more than the House bill includes. The Deep Space Climate Observatory would get $24.8 million under the Senate bill — $4.8 million more than the House approved and $3.5 million more than the White House requested.

Senate appropriators, however, fell into step with House appropriators in denying the $15 million the White House requested for the newly proposed Solar Irradiance Data and Rescue effort — NOAA’s latest plan to find rides to space for scientific and search-and-rescue payloads once manifest for flight on a civil-military polar-orbiting satellite weather satellite program canceled in 2010.

Likewise, the Senate committee joined the House in recommending $6.8 million for NOAA to upgrade its ground systems to handle forecast-supplementing GPS radio occultation data that will be beamed back by the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate satellites. These satellites, jointly funded by the U.S. Air Force and the government of Taiwan, would launch in two tranches of six: the first in late 2015 and the second around 2018, according to the Boulder, Colorado-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the academic consortium leading the project.

The Senate committee also wants NOAA to produce a report on GPS radio occultation data, including a roadmap for building and launching the second half of the planned U.S.-Taiwan constellation, and “an analysis for acquiring radio occultation weather data from private sector providers.” PlanetIQ of Bethesda, Maryland, says it can provide GPS radio occultation data with its envisioned fleet of commercially operated satellites.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee reiterated its concerns about the potential gap in weather data from the polar orbit that might occur following the end of the Suomi NPP satellite’s five-year primary mission in 2016, and the scheduled launch of its successor, the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 spacecraft, in 2017. The Senate committee directed NOAA to provide a gap mitigation plan in the 2015 operating plan the agency would have to submit to Congress 45 days after the bill is signed.

Finally, Senate appropriators scolded NOAA for excluding the Commerce Department’s inspector general from portions of the monthly Program Management Council meetings — internal meetings in which the agency discusses its major weather satellite programs. The Senate’s bill report directs NOAA to ensure that the watchdog’s office is represented at these meetings.

 

<em>Sydney Mineer contributed to this story from Washington.</em>