Summary of Hearings on Global Earth Observations
- September 29, 2006: House Committee on
Science, Hearing on "GAO Report on NOAA's Weather Satellite
- July 13, 2006: Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science, and Transportation Hearing on "Unmanned Aircraft
Systems in Alaska and the Pacific Region: A Framework for the
- June 21, 2006: House Armed Services
Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Hearing on "Space
and U.S. Power"
- June 8, 2006: House Committee on Science
Hearing on "The Future of NPOESS: Results of the Nunn-McCurdy
Review of NOAA's Weather Satellite Program"
- March 30, 2006: Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science, and Technology, Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention
and Prediction, Oversight Hearing on National Polar-Orbiting
Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)
- November 16, 2005: House Science
Committee, Hearing on Ongoing Problems and Future Plans for
NOAA's Weather Satellites
- April 28, 2005: House
Science Committee Hearing
on "How Severe Budget Cuts May Threaten the Vitality of
NASA Earth Science Programs"
- March 9, 2005: House
Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and
Investigations Hearing on "Implementing
the Global Earth Observation System of Systems"
Committee on Science
Hearing on "GAO Report on NOAA's Weather Satellite Program"
September 29, 2006
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. (Ret.), Under Secretary of
Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Mr. David Powner, Director, Information Technology Management Issues,
Government Accountability Office
Since the 1970s, NOAA has operated geostationary satellites that
provide images and data on atmospheric, oceanic, and climatic conditions
over continental US and Hawaii from 22,000 miles above the equator.
Recently, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite
System (NPOESS) needed complete restructuring due to major cost overruns
which led to delays and limited capabilities. A next generation Geostationary
Operational Environmental Satellite, designated GOES-R, is near completion
of its preliminary design. The House Committee on Science met on September
29, 2006 to assess progress on the GOES-R satellite program and ensure
that GOES-R does not face any obstacles like NPOESS.
Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-NY) said, "Early on in the
procurement process, we are going to inaugurate [an] open, continual
oversight approach for GOES-R. This should be the first of many hearings
on this critical weather satellite program." He applauded NOAA
on its efforts to put together independent cost review teams and a
sound senior management team. These steps had not been taken during
the early stages of NPOESS. However, he said he worried that budget
estimates for GOES-R doubled from an original $6.2 billion to as high
as $11.4 billion.
The original GOES-R plan included four satellites with five sensors
each. Recently, the plan has been modified to a minimum of two satellites
with four sensors each to address budget concerns. Rep. Vernon J.
Ehlers (R-MI) expressed concern that NOAA cancelled the Hyperspectral
Environmental Suite (HES) sensor. "The way NOAA fills the gap
left by this instrument will affect how our nation observes and forecasts
weather for the next two decades," he warned.
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. outlined the preliminary
GOES-R design plan, reasons for increased budget estimates, and steps
that the NOAA has taken to ensure efficient operation. He said, "We
are about five years ahead of where we were on NPOESS which gives
us the opportunity
to make sure it is the best system technologically
for the cost and money that the nation is willing to pay for it."
Five sensors, including an advanced baseline imager (ABI), HES, two
solar weather sensors, and a geostationary lightning mapper (GLM)
were originally planned for the GOES-R program. The new ABI fulfills
NOAA's critical mission requirements with the ability to take pictures
at five times the speed of current GOES imagers and zoom in to view
specific weather occurrences while giving a full picture of the rest
of the US. The HES would have provided water images to give atmospheric
temperature, moisture content and water quality and coastal hazard
assessment. The Solar Imaging Suite (SIS) will record images of the
Sun to detect solar flares, and the Space Environmental in-Situ Suite
(SEISS) will measure space radiation. Finally, the GLM will improve
lightning and severe weather detection.
Lautenbacher explained that because the HES is a large and complex
satellite that incorporates high-risk technologies, NOAA has decided
to cancel the implementation of HES in the GOES-R program. However,
a HES preliminary design and risk reduction assessment will continue
to completion, so that the satellite can be considered for future
Currently, three contractor teams are working on preliminary designs
and risk assessments for the project. At their completion, NOAA and
the Department of Commerce will examine each system design and award
a contract. Lautenbacher noted that during this process, NASA provides
management and oversight on all GOES-R contracts. The ABI and SEISS
have already been contracted and the ABI has begun development.
Lautenbacher attributed the rise in budget estimates to revised inflation
assumptions, adding $2.6 billion, increased management based on recommendations,
adding $800 million, increased equipment costs, adding $1.5 billion,
and added launch, operation and support segments to the satellites,
contributing to the rest of the increase. He informed members that
NOAA's program office created a team of cost and technical experts
to address the increase and provide recommendations on cost saving
In addition to this cost review team, Lautenbacher assembled a NOAA
Program Management Council (PMC), "a backstop to normal NOAA
chain of command," made up of senior NOAA and NASA personnel
that evaluates GOES-R activities monthly. A group of satellite data
users from NOAA also provide feedback, as well as a team of independent
satellite experts that provide periodic reviews and address specific
concerns from the PMC.
David A. Powner, director of Information Technology Management Issues
at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), testified on the GAO's
recent report entitled "Additional Action Needed to Incorporate
Lessons Learned from Other Satellite Programs." The report dictated
that GOES programs must consider four lessons - NOAA's need to establish
realistic cost and schedule estimates, confirm that technologies are
ready before key decisions are made, manage the program more effectively,
and use senior oversight to ensure program success. Powner said that
since the report has been issued, NOAA has narrowed the scope of the
project to a minimum of two satellites, cancelled one of the sensors,
and put together a number of teams to evaluate the program and meet
While Powner acknowledged NOAA's efforts to incorporate lessons into
their plan, he said that more remains to be done. "Accurate independent
, a comprehensive view of [ABI] to fully
understand the level of technological complexity and an independent
review team to assess key resources are needed to adequately assess
program performance," said Powner.
To view the written testimony submitted for this hearing, click here.
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
"Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Alaska and the Pacific Region:
A Framework for the Nation"
July 13, 2006
Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Administrator, National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
John Madden, Director, State of Alaska Department of Homeland Security
Nicholas Sabatini, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA)
Rear Admiral Wayne Justice, Assistant Commandant for Response, United
States Coast Guard
On July 13, 2006, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
held a hearing on the potential uses of unmanned aircraft systems
(UAS) in Alaska and the Pacific Region. Committee members by and large
expressed support for prospective non-military UAS development, and
conveyed excitement regarding the myriad potential uses of the aircraft.
Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) praised the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Coast Guard for beginning
to incorporate UAS technology into their scientific and operational
missions and pointed out that Alaska is an ideal location for the
agencies to test UAS applications.
Although unmanned aircraft have been widely used for military purposes
since World War II, only recently has the possibility of using UAS
for scientific endeavors begun to be explored. UAS are extremely versatile,
ranging in size from that of a model airplane to a Boeing 737. Unmanned
aircraft may fly up to 30 hours at a time, can reach altitudes of
almost 65,000 feet, and can carry as much as 3,000 pounds of scientific
equipment. Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, NOAA's administrator,
testified that UAS can provide an intermediate source of data collection
that will supplement existing surface-based and space-based observing
systems. "NOAA is interested in UAS as a tool to explore and
gather data to help us reach new heights in our ability to understand
and predict the world in which we live," he said.
According to Lautenbacher, UAS could potentially be used to monitor
climate, weather, ecosystems, fisheries and marine mammal populations,
flooding, wildfires, Arctic ice and volcanic activity. John Madden,
the Director of Alaska's Department of Homeland Security, also suggested
that unmanned aircraft could monitor the critical infrastructure of
the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, the oil production fields of the
North Slope, refineries, oil storage facilities, and the Alaska Railroad.
NOAA has conducted a series of successful unmanned aircraft test
missions over the past year, including a flight into Tropical Storm
Ophelia in September 2005. Additionally, both high altitude/long endurance
and low altitude/short endurance test missions have been carried out.
The high altitude/long endurance Altair aircraft was able to measure
variations in ocean and atmospheric parameters off the coast of California
for substantial periods of time, and the low altitude/short endurance
Silver Fox aircraft demonstrated the potential to closely monitor
marine mammal populations and unregulated fishing activities in Hawaii.
Monitoring, mapping and surveillance flights such as these will become
more frequent once the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finishes
evaluating the safety of each type of UAS, and is able to ensure that
they are in compliance with existing federal aviation regulations
and can be securely integrated into the national airspace system.
Lautenbacher concluded that "UAS-based missions are not likely
to replace traditional manned aircraft missions in the near future,
but will instead complement and enhance them by providing unique datasets.
UAS could allow NOAA to carry instruments to remote locations too
dangerous or impractical for manned flight."
For full text of hearing testimony, click here.
To learn more about NOAA's UAS test flights, click here.
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
"Space and U.S. National Power"
June 21, 2006
Lieutenant General C. Robert Kehler, U.S. Air Force, Deputy Commander,
U.S. Strategic Command
Ed Morris, Director, Office of Space Commercialization, U.S. Department
David Cavossa, Executive Director, Satellite Industries Association
Dr. Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings
The Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services committee
held a hearing on June 21, 2006 in order to increase committee members'
understanding of the military, civil and economic role played by U.S.
space assets. Subcommittee chair Terry Everett (R - AL) began by emphasizing
the importance of U.S. spaced-based systems to our military operations
as well as to our daily lives. He requested that the witnesses testify
as to the dependency on or use of space in military, civil and economic
systems and to describe the likelihood and consequences of losing
our space assets, either by natural or human causes. Ranking member
Silvestre Reyes (D - TX) further expounded on the military uses of
space assets and emphasized the fact that total military bandwidth
use is 80% commercial and that the space industry is an important
component of our national and global economy. Mr. Reyes requested
that the panel address ways in which those assets could or should
be protected from intentional and unintentional disruption.
Lt. Gen. Kehler began by describing the role that space technology
plays for the U.S. military. Satellite technology is used for everything
from mission planning to troop navigation, and is crucial to the overwhelming
military advantage that the U.S. currently enjoys. This advantage
may be threatened, however, by attacks either directed against the
satellites themselves or directed against the signal or ground operations.
Lt. Gen. Kehler advised that measures be taken to improve protection
of ground systems and improve the military's ability to get to and
operate in space, such that the space situational awareness is improved
and problems can be dealt with quickly.
Mr. Ed Morris spoke about the importance of space assets to the economy.
Space technology contributes in two broad ways: directly, through
the manufacturing and sales of satellite and related equipment (i.e.,
a global industry valued at about $90 billion); and indirectly, by
increasing productivity, by broadcasting television, cell phone and
wireless internet signals, by allowing the more accurate prediction
of weather and by contributing to climate models.
Dr. O'Hanlon emphasized that the decisive advantage that the U.S.
enjoys in space technology is ephemeral, and that there is no way
that the U.S. can ultimately prevent other countries from entering
space. This is particularly true for China, whose space program may
rival that of the U.S. in coming decades and whose intentions for
such a program are likely to be military. Furthermore, he argues,
although the U.S. is responsible for militarizing space, it is in
our best interests to prevent-for as long as possible-its weaponization
(which includes the development of anti-satellite systems). Dr. O'Hanlon
put forth several steps for the U.S.-particularly the U.S. military-to
take to mitigate some of the worst consequences of satellite systems
loss caused by an act of war or aggression. The steps included hardening
the systems themselves, working towards greater redundancy and replaceability
of the satellites, and consistently training military forces to operate
effectively without the benefit of space-related advantages. Mr. Cavossa,
representing SIA, expressed concern over the expense of hardening
systems, both to the government and to industry.
The subcommittee questioned the witnesses about the vulnerabilities
of the U.S. space systems as well as the level of hardship that would
be imposed if those systems failed. Lt. Gen. Kehler, though unable
for security reasons to go into great detail, stated that, while some
components of the overall system were not adequately protected, there
were other components that were very well protected. He listed three
existing types of threats to the system, including terrestrial jamming,
physical security (for ground and space infrastructure), and the proliferation
of space-bound materials. Dr. O'Hanlon replied that the effects of
a system failure could range from mild to catastrophic, instantaneous
to chronic, depending on the situation. The subcommittee discussed
the possibility of drafting treaties to control weaponization, dumping
and other uses of space, demonstrating a tacit understanding that
space will not be a U.S. "sanctuary" forever.
Committee on Science
"The Future of NPOESS: Results of the Nunn-McCurdy Review
of NOAA's Weather Satellite Program"
June 8, 2006
Dr. Ronald Sega, Undersecretary of the United States Air Force
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for
Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator
Dr. Michael Griffin, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space
The House Committee on Science held a hearing on June 8, 2006 to
discuss the results of the Nunn-McCurdy review of the National Polar-orbiting
Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The program,
which will build new weather satellites for military and civilian
use, has just been reviewed under the Nunn-McCurdy provision*, because
it was more than 25 percent over budget. NPOESS is jointly managed
by the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The review has determined that the NPOESS program should be continued,
but recommended that the number of satellites be reduced from six
to four and that some of the satellites' climate-monitoring capabilities
be scaled back. The estimated budget for this revised satellite system
has increased from $7 billion to $11.5 billion, and the launching
of the first satellite has been pushed back to 2013, five years later
than originally planned.
Witnesses testified that the satellite program is finally on a realistic
track, but members of the House Committee on Science remain skeptical.
"We need to be convinced that these cost estimates are more reliable
than those we have received in the past
and that the proposed
configuration of satellites is the best way to meet U.S. weather and
climate needs," said Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY).
"So far, the Department of Defense, which controls the Nun-McCurdy
documents, has not exactly been a model of cooperation," he said.
Ranking member Bart Gordon (D-TN) echoed Boehlert's concerns. "I
simply cannot endorse this program on the basis of assurances alone,"
he said. "I need information
and I want to see documentation
that confirms the validity of the budget estimates and the risk assessments."
Up to this point, requests to the DOD for the Nunn-McCurdy documents
have gone unanswered. "At this point, I have only a bare-bones,
heavily censored description of the redesigned polar satellite program.
That is simply not sufficient," said Gordon.
Boehlert was also worried about the loss of climate data sensors
on the satellites, which were originally planned to monitor aerosols,
ozone, solar irradiance, ocean wind speed, soil moisture and the Earth's
radiation budget - among other data related to the weather, atmosphere,
oceans, land and near-space environment. However, NOAA Administrator
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, assured Boehlert that the current configuration
of sensors would be able to monitor all of the intended weather and
environmental conditions with the exception of total solar irradiance.
He explained that Nunn-McCurdy reviewers based their decisions for
the revised program mainly on science priorities, rather than on dollar
Lautenbacher, as well as Dr. Ronald Sega, Undersecretary of the United
States Air Force, and Dr. Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator, testified
that their primary objectives were to ensure that the satellites would
be ready when promised and that the weather-observing capabilities
of the sensors would be improved. Lautenbacher explained that he has
been working to "ensure continuity of polar satellite data by
minimizing any potential gaps in coverage."
In the end, Boehlert agreed that the program must be supported, regardless
of its increased price-tag. "The success of NPOESS is critically
important for both military and civilian weather forecasting, [in
effect] for both national security and public health and safety."
He concluded that "too much has been expended to start over from
scratch. We have to make this work."
*The law, known as the Nunn-McCurdy provision, requires the Pentagon
to notify Congress when costs on a program reaches 15 percent more
than budgeted. If the cost overruns reach 25 percent, Nunn-McCurdy
requires the Pentagon to justify continuing the program based on three
criteria: its importance to national security, the lack of an alternative,
and evidence that the problems that led to the cost overrun are under
For the hearing charter and full text of witness testimony, click
To learn more about NPOESS, click here.
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology
Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction
"National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite
System (NPOESS) Oversight Hearing"
March 30, 2006
David Ryan, NPOESS Program Director, Northrop Grumman Corporation
The Honorable Gary Payton, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force
for Space Programs
David Powner, Director of Technology Management Issues, Government
Greg Withee, Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information
Services, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The Senate Disaster Prevention and Prediction Subcommittee met on
March 30, 2006 to determine whether delays and cost increases in the
National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
(NPOESS) could lead to gaps in critical weather-prediction data. Subcommittee
Chair Jim DeMint (R-SC) commended the goals of the program, which
was created in 1994 to combine the military satellite system at the
Department of Defense (DOD) with the civilian system managed by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). When NPOESS
is fully operational, he said, "it will provide a better forecast
for our coastal communities for hurricanes and other weather events
and crucial information for war fighters." But he voiced
concern that the project is billions of dollars over-budget and months
behind schedule. Senator Ted Stevens, Chair of the Senate Commerce,
Science, and Transportation Committee, added "I don't understand
how the price tag of this system has gone up to $10 billion."
Witnesses from NOAA and DOD blamed program delays and cost increases
on technical problems and poor management by the project contractor,
Northrup Grumman Space Technology. In turn, David Ryan, NPOESS Program
Director at Northrop Grumman, blamed the problems primarily on the
subcontractors responsible for sensor development.
As a result of the sensor and management problems, NPOESS costs grew
from $6.5 billion in 1994 to $10 billion in 2006. In January, program
officials were required under the Nunn-McCurdy Act to notify Congress
that costs had increased by more than 25 percent of the initial estimate.
NPOESS is now undergoing an official Nunn-McCurdy evaluation to determine
whether the program should continue. The results of the review process
will be reported to Congress on June 6.
David Powner of the Government Accountability Office told senators
that one possible outcome of the review would be cancellation of the
program. "NOAA and the Defense Department need to seriously consider
contingency plans," he said. Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary
of the Air Force for space programs, acknowledged that cancellation
is a possibility but deemed such an outcome unlikely. "Going
without a polar-orbiting environmental satellite is unacceptable,"
he said. Other possible outcomes of the review process, Powner noted,
include reducing the number and function of NPOESS satellites and
using data from European satellites.
The key concern of Senators DeMint and Stevens was whether the delays
would be enough to cause a gap in satellite data, and how soon a potential
gap would occur. NOAA representative Greg Withee told the senators
that NOAA currently has one orbiting polar satellite that should last
until 2009 and one replacement that should keep data flowing through
2013. DOD, Payton said, currently has four launch-ready satellites
that should allow coverage through 2014. But Powner pointed out that
satellites can fail at launch, and that without back-ups ready, the
U.S. could face a significant data gap. Nonetheless, Payton, Withee,
and Ryan all maintained that their organizations are fully committed
to the program, and that their highest priority is to prevent a gap
For witness testimony and a video of the hearing, click
"Ongoing Problems and Future Plans for NOAA's Weather Satellites"
November 16, 2005
Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans
Ronald M. Sega, Undersecretary of the Air Force
Alexis Livanos, President, Northrop Grumman Space Technology
David Powner, Information Technology Management Issues, General Accountability
On November 16, 2005 the House Science Committee met to address the
continuing delays and budget problems with the development of the
National Polar-orbiting Observing Satellite System (NPOESS). Committee
Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) opened the hearing with a fiery
statement castigating the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) for its mishandling of the project. "You would think that,
given how much is riding on NPOESS, that this would be an especially
closely supervised, well managed program. You would think, given the
cost and prominence of NPOESS, that this would be a program in which
Congress was given clear, accurate and timely information to help
keep the program adequately funded and on track. But none of this
has been the case," Boehlert said. Ranking member Bart Gordon
(D-TN) was impressed by Boehlert's ardor, saying "that's the
most direct and toughest opening statement I've ever heard you make."
Gordon and other committee members also had harsh words for NOAA as
they expressed their frustration with NPOESS's slow and expensive
In his testimony NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher made the case
that most of the problems with the satellite program were technical
in nature. "Satellites are an inherently risky endeavor,"
he said. "Unlike many things in our lives, these are actually
rocket science." Lautenbacher claimed that most of the delays
and increased costs were due to problems with developing the Visible/Infrared
Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor, and that the Integrated Program
Office (IPO) was supervising the subcontractor responsible for this
sensor very closely. Lautenbacher estimated that the launch date for
NPOESS would be pushed back to 2012, and that program costs might
be as high as $3 billion over its budget. He also recognized that
there might be a gap in polar satellite coverage that would significantly
degrade weather forecasting capabilities, but he assured the panel
that NOAA would work with existing satellite resources to try and
avoid that problem. David Powner, of the General Accountability Office,
suggested that problems went beyond subcontractors to the program
office and executive leadership. Powner argued that poor information
flow was the biggest obstacle to developing the satellite. "NPOESS
is a program in crisis," he said. "We are nearing a point
where we need to stop studying and start managing this critical program."
Alexis Livanos, the vice-president of prime NPOESS contractor Northrop
Grumman, agreed with Lautenbacher that most of the delays were due
to problems with subcontractors. Livanos disagreed, however, with
Lautenbacher's assertion that NPOESS did not need additional funds
for FY 2006 and 2007. "As part of looking ahead and studying
alternatives, we have concluded that additional funds in FY06 and
FY07 would significantly lower the program risk," Livanos said,
directly contradicting an earlier statement by Lautenbacher that additional
funding would not make any difference for the program. Many committee
members also found NOAAs decision not to request additional funds
problematic. "It looks to me as if you are willing to play out
the clock so that you can get through your term at NOAA without having
to do the hard work of asking OMB [Office of Management and Budget]
and Congress to free up some more money now to save us money later,"
Gordon said. Chairman Boehlert was more diplomatic on this issue,
but said that NOAA had the burden of proof for showing why it did
not need extra funds.
By the end of the hearing little had been resolved, but Boehlert
and other committee members made it clear that they would continue
to scrutinize the program. "If it looks like you need to slow
things up to prevent further technical problems, then that decision
needs to be stated clearly, with a clear statement of the remaining
technical risks, and a clear statement of the costs and delays that
will result," Boehlert said. "We need to move forward as
partners with full explanations and sharing of information."
For more information on this hearing click
"How Severe Budget
Cuts May Threaten the Vitality of NASA Earth Science Programs"
April 28, 2005
Alphonso Diaz, Associate Administrator at NASA for the Science Mission
Dr. Berrien Moore, Co-Chairman, the National Academy of Sciences Decadal
Survey, "Earth Observations from Space: A Community Assessment
and Strategy for the
Future," and Director for the Institute for the Study of Earth,
Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire
Dr. Tim Killeen, Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research
in Boulder, Colorado.
Dr. Marcia McNutt, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Monterey
Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California.
Dr. Sean Solomon, Director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism
Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Dr. Ray Williamson,Research Professor in the Space Policy Institute
at The George
The House Science Committee initiated what may be a series of hearings
that question NASA's plans to cancel or delay a number of Earth Science
satellite missions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, NASA has proposed to
spend $1.37 billion for Earth Science research, an 8% cut from FY
2005 levels, and a 24% cut in real dollars from FY 2004, according
to Science Committee ranking member Bart Gordon. A day before the
hearing, the National Research Council (NRC) released a report,
which found that tight budgets at NASA and other agencies are threatening
the value and preeminence of U.S. earth observing systems. Concerned
with these findings, committee members called on senior U.S. scientists
to offer testimony regarding NASA's role in meeting future scientific
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, Representative Gordon, and
other members of Congress have been concerned that cuts to Earth observing
missions are due to NASA's strategic reorientation around the President's
"Vision for Space Exploration." In his opening remarks,
Chairman Boehlert challenged the apparent shift in priorities. "The
planet that has to matter most to us is the one we live on,"
he said. "You'd think that would go without saying." Gordon
added that under the proposal, Earth Science and Aeronautic Programs
would absorb 75% of the overall cuts that NASA must sustain to meet
tight budget demands. In comparison, exploration programs would only
account for 10% of the overall cuts.
Al Diaz, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate,
was first to testify at the hearing. He urged the public to interpret
the changes within NASA as part of a federal agenda to expand earth
science into a national program. He said NASA can benefit from the
space exploration initiative while contributing to stronger U.S. leadership
in earth-systems research by involving more stakeholders. "We
are in the midst of a transition in Earth science from a NASA-centric
approach to a national strategy that maximizes all of our national
capabilities," Diaz testified. "These changes have created
some anxiety, and I recognize that it can cause some to question our
commitment to Earth science."
Offering testimony on the NRC report was Berrien Moore, who co-chairs
the 18-member NRC panel in charge of completing a larger, comprehensive
decadal survey of all federal earth observing capabilities and their
priorities through 2020. The report released April 27th was a phase-1
summary of the panel's initial findings.
Moore reported the panel's major recommendations, which include the
immediate continuation or "urgent" reconsideration of several
threatened satellite missions, which are summarized in the table below,
which is taken directly from the NRC report. The delay or cancellation
of these missions, according to Moore, would jeopardize NASA's ability
to meet it's obligation to other Presidential initiatives, such as
the Climate Change Research Initiative and the Global Earth Observation
System of Systems.
||Reduce vulnerability to floods and droughts; improve forecasts
|Atmospheric Soundings from
|Temp. and water vapor
||Improved weather forecasts and severe storm warnings
|Ocean Vector Winds
||Wind speed and direction
||Improved warnings to ships at sea; near the ocean surface better
predictions of El Nino
|Landsat Data Continuity
||Monitor land-use changes; find mineral resources
||Optical properties of aerosols; solar irradiance
||improved understanding of climate change
|Wide Swath Ocean Altimeter
||Ocean Surface Topography
||Monitor changes that affect fisheries, navigation, and ocean
3.1 from National Research Council interim report Earth
Science and Applications from Space)
Among NASA's current strategies are plans to shift some of the agency's
climate data systems to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), a plan that Committee leaders argue is a poor rationale for
cutting NASA programs. "Having NASA claim that NOAA will take
over activities when there is no indication of that in NOAA's plans
or budget strains credulity," said Chairman Boehlert. "It's
the sound of one hand clapping, and it won't get any applause from
While the NRC panel would strongly support agency partnerships, Moore
further testified that in the near-term, the transfer of operations
from NASA to NOAA involves "technological and scientific issues
we don't understand." According to the American Geophysical Union's
weekly publication EOS, Moore had not even been aware of NASA's plans
to accelerate a "national program" as described by Diaz.
At the hearing, each scientist testifying before the committee agreed
that federal budget strategies must realize the fundamentally different
roles that NASA, NOAA, and USGS play in basic research, technological
development, deployment, and assessment. NASA, Moore explained, is
research and development-oriented, while NOAA is purely operational.
Therefore the long-term viability of NOAA to sustain a robust Earth
science program depends on NASA.
When Boehlert asked the panelists to offer further insight into NASA's
unique value, the scientists responded en force. Ray Williamson, Research
Professor of Space Policy at George Washington University, corroborated
the NRC report's findings that U.S. leadership in earth observing
systems could simply not survive without NASA. According to Tim Kileen,
Director of National Center for Atmospheric Research, NASA has been
known for the unique coupling of rapid technological advancement and
scientific analysis that has single-handedly positioned the U.S. "on
the brink of a new era in earth science research." Marcia McNutt
of the Monterey Bay Aquarium said that NASA is the only civilian agency
that has the "capacity, tradition, and track record" to
provide the necessary capital and leadership in earth science. If
transferred to NOAA, McNutt warned, the Earth Science program would
be "severed from the root of technology that feeds it,"
and "innovation within the program would wither and die."
According to representative CALVERT, the bottom line in the debate
was the need for better strategic interaction among agencies. Although
Calvert wished to defend Diaz's statement that NASA does not intend
to abandon Earth Sciences, he said "strategy should always come
before budget constraints in determining programs," implying
that the current status of partnerships among NASA, NOAA and the Department
of Defense is not condusvie to acheiving the national policy NASA
is aiming for in the FY 2006 budget proposal.
Click here to read a
press release from the House Science Committee on the Hearing
and the Hearing
Energy and Commerce Committee
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
"Implementing the Global Earth Observation System of Systems"
March 9, 2005
On March 9, 2005, a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee
held an oversight hearing on plans to implement U.S. contributions
to GEOSS, major challenges, and the benefits of GEOSS to U.S. public
health, energy use, and environmental protection. "This is the
first time we've had political interest in such an issue," said
NOAA Administrator Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, who is a key player
in the team that drafted the 10-year plan. Regarding opportunities
and challenges, Admiral Lautenbacher reported that the growing international
support is promising and the technological goals of GEOSS would be
easily attainable with sustained funding. However, certain geo-political
obstacles remain unresolved, including national security concerns
surrounding data access, and reconciling different business models
for the cost of information.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) and other members of the subcommittee
voiced strong concerns about the federal government's ability to maintain
the long-term political and financial commitment necessary to support
its own data assimilation, let alone the whole international effort.
"The nature and level of investments in this area will either
sustain or limit our ability to meet national and international needs
for effective earth observation," she cautioned, quoting written
testimony. Lautenbacher was optimistic that European investments and
new involvement of developing countries such as India would relieve
some of the U.S. cost burden. Regarding domestic efforts, witnesses
from academia and the private sector asserted that the federal government's
commitment must focus on articulating and quantifying the benefits
of GEOSS to the mainstream, through demonstrations and outreach efforts.
areas that are to benefit from GEOSS, such as resource management,
ecological monitoring, and the spread of infectious disease--depend
on important information that lies at many different levels, not only
in the federal agencies, but also in state and local agencies and
institutions. "The big challenge will be building the consensus
among the right groups of individuals," said Dr. Gregory Glass,
Professor of Immunology at Johns Hopkins University.
In their testimony, representatives from the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE), and National Institutes
of Health (NIH) were enthusiastic about the benefits of GEOSS, but
when pressed by Rep. DeGette, EPA appeared to be the only agency with
a line-item ($5.3 million) in their Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget request
to support their role in GEOSS. DeGette called federal support "a
little bit sketchy," adding, "We all think this is a great
we need some clear goals from all the agencies and
also some clear budget directives for Congress." A charter expected
from the Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations (IWGEO) is
expected to help expedite the institutionalization of GEOSS, but some
agencies are clearly ahead of others.
Visit the EPA website to view an interactive page on state-by-state
Sources: Hearing testimony, EOS, National Research Council, House
Science Committee, Environment & Energy Daily.
Contributed by Katie Ackerly, AGI Government Affairs Staff; Peter
Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern; Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring
Intern; Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Carrie Donnelly,
2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, and Rachel Bleshman, 2006 AGI/AAPG Fall
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on October 6, 2006.