Confirmation Hearing Scheduled for New NOAA Assistant Secretary To Oversee NPOESS, Other Satellite Programs

Confirmation Hearing Scheduled for New NOAA Assistant Secretary To Oversee NPOESS, Other Satellite Programs

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce) reorganized its headquarters leadership structure in October, creating a new Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation and Prediction whose responsibilities encompass NOAA’s satellite programs, including the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee for this position, Timothy McGee, on January 26 at 2:30 p.m.

The new Assistant Secretary will “drive policy and program direction for weather and water, integrated mapping, and observing architecture, including satellites” according to NOAA’s announcement of the realignment. In that press release, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said that it was the first NOAA headquarters management restructuring since 1970 when NOAA’s budget was $250 million, compared to its $4.5 billion budget today.

President Obama announced that he would nominate Rear Admiral Timothy McGee (Ret.) to the Assistant Secretary position on December 17, 2009. McGee most recently served as Commander of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command in Stennis, Mississippi. A Naval Academy graduate, he has a Master’s degree in Meteorology and Oceanography from the Naval Postgraduate School.

The hearing is in Room 253 Russell Senate Office Building.

The long-troubled NPOESS program could be well-served by getting more high level attention at NOAA, although everyone is still waiting for the Obama White House to make a decision on whether the current NPOESS management structure should be changed. NPOESS is jointly managed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and NOAA through an integrated program office (IPO), with DOD as the acquisition agent. The beleaguered history of the program’s schedule slips and cost growth has been the subject of many congressional hearings and reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Research Council (NRC).

A blue ribbon “independent review team” (IRT) chaired by A. Thomas Young reported to the White House last spring that the program needed urgent attention or it had “a very low probability of success.” The IRT recommended that “responsibility for NPOESS execution be assigned to NOAA with NASA acting as NOAA’s acquisition organization.” The White House’s response was to set up another task force to determine what to do. The NPOESS program executive officer, Dan Stockton, stepped down from his position on January 8, 2010, fueling expectations that a White House decision is imminent.

NASA is participating in the NPOESS program by building the NPOESS Preparatory Program (NPP) satellite to test new technologies, but NPOESS itself is funded by DOD and NOAA.

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