U.S. House Spending Bill Adds Money for Civil Weather Satellites

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WASHINGTON — Most of the funding the White House requested for a new civilian weather satellite system is included in a 2011 spending bill that narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 8.

But the bill, which holds total discretionary spending to 2010 levels through September, would not allow the Defense Department to begin procurement of its next-generation GPS fleet.

With Congress so far failing to enact a 2011 budget, the federal government has been operating since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1 under a series of short duration, stopgap spending measures that have denied many federal agencies the budget boosts they have sought.

With the latest so-called continuing resolution, or CR, set to expire Dec. 18, the House voted 212-206 on Dec. 8 to pass a yearlong CR meant to fund the government through September. While total spending would remain flat at $1.09 trillion, House lawmakers carved out exceptions for certain agencies and programs, including the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which would receive $414 million more than was appropriated for the program in 2010.

The JPSS program was established after the White House dismantled the joint civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) in February. NASA was directed to build JPSS on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), while the U.S. Air Force is pursuing a military system separately.

NOAA requested $1.06 billion in 2011 for JPSS, which will utilize hardware developed under the NPOESS program. Without the funding exception included in the House bill, H.R. 3082, the JPSS program would be limited to spending the $382 million Congress appropriated for the now-dismantled NPOESS program in 2010.

In anticipation of lawmakers passing a full-year continuing resolution before Congress adjourns, the White House Office of Management and Budget on Dec. 2 sent Congress a list of proposed budget changes for high-priority programs. That so-called anomaly request did not ask for any additional money for JPSS, sources said. However, a revised request the White House gave lawmakers Dec. 6 asked for an extra $528 million, a sum that would give JPSS a $910 million budget for 2011.

In the end, the House lawmakers drafting H.R. 3082 gave JPSS $414 million of the $528 million the White House requested. The money, according to a congressional source familiar with the bill, was included as an unlabeled $414 million increase to NOAA’s procurement, acquisition and construction budget, the vast majority of which traditionally goes to NOAA’s weather satellite programs.

The same source also said H.R. 3082 allows NOAA to reallocate $117 million from other programs to be spent on the weather satellites. If these provisions make it through the Senate — which at press time Dec. 10 had yet to take up the House-approved CR — NOAA would be able to spend a total of $913 million on JPSS this year. The agency is still assessing how this level of funding would impact the program, NOAA spokesman John Leslie said Dec. 10.

Meanwhile, no such funding adjustments made it into H.R. 3082 for military satellite programs. Government agencies are not allowed to begin new procurement programs under a CR without explicit permission. The Air Force sought $194.8 million in 2011 to start buying long-lead parts for its GPS 3 constellation, and the White House specifically requested the continuing resolution greenlight the procurement, according to documents obtained by Space News. That permission, however, was not included in H.R. 3082.

Instead, the House bill gives the secretary of defense 60 days to submit reprogramming requests to shuffle money between programs. Several major Air Force space programs are likely to be the subject of such reprogramming requests:

  • $284.1 million was appropriated last year for the Wideband Global Satcom program, and the service requested $611.8 million for 2011 to purchase the seventh satellite in the series.
  • $988.2 million was appropriated last year for the Space Based Infrared System, and the service requested $1.5 billion for 2011 to purchase the fourth geosynchronous satellite in the series.
  • $2.3 billion was appropriated last year for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency program, which funded the purchase of the fourth satellite in the series. The service requested $598.4 million for 2011.