Subcommittees Review Looming Gap in Weather Satellite Coverage

Sep 19, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Subcommittees on Oversight and Environment today held a hearing to examine the status of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellites.

Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Broun (R-Ga.): “Data from these satellites not only help one decide whether or not to leave the house with an umbrella, they allow meteorologists to more accurately predict extreme weather, military planners to more intelligently deploy troops around the world, and emergency managers to better respond to wildfires and other natural disasters.

“Unfortunately, the programs have been plagued with problems. If money is so tight and our weather satellite programs so vulnerable, then perhaps the administration needs to evaluate its priorities and determine which is more important – near-term weather monitoring, which can save lives and property today, or beefing up NASA’s climate portfolio in an effort to guess what the weather might be decades from now.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified a high probability in degraded weather satellite coverage starting as early as next year, and has designated this data gap as a new high-risk area in a report earlier this year. Given this potential gap in weather satellite coverage, today’s hearing addressed questions about the administration’s priorities in funding weather satellites and research as compared to climate change-monitoring satellites and research.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-Utah): “It has taken the administration several years and the prodding of this Committee and GAO to fully acknowledge the very real risk of a data gap, and we need to look at all options to mitigate potential breakdowns in our forecasting ability. A potential gap in polar-orbiting or geostationary satellite data, combined with continuing issues with how NOAA develops, analyzes, procures and integrates other satellite and observational information, risks the permanent loss of U.S. leadership in weather forecasting. The writing is on the wall, and our current trajectory is unacceptable.”

Over the last decade, the Science Committee has closely monitored the development of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and its predecessor program, which provide vital data to weather forecasters. However, extreme weather events in the United States during the past year,

have raised questions about whether America’s weather monitoring and forecasting ability is as reliable as compared to other countries. Witnesses confirmed today that without better prioritization of funding, costly delays make it more likely that the new satellites won’t be ready before the existing satellites reach the end of their projected operational life.

The following witnesses testified today:

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

Ms. Mary Kicza, Assistant Administrator, Satellite and Information Services, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mr. Marcus Watkins, Director, Joint Agency Satellite Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

For more information about today’s hearing, including witness testimony, please visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.