GAO Urges White House To Develop and Implement Interagency Earth Observation Strategy

GAO Urges White House To Develop and Implement Interagency Earth Observation Strategy

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) wants the President’s Science and Technology Adviser to establish and implement an interagency strategy to ensure avialability of environmental satellite observations, including space weather, for the long term.

In a report released today, Environmental Satellites: Strategy Needed to Sustain Critical Climate and Space Weather Measurements, GAO called on the White House to expand and complete a report that was drafted last summer by an interagency group led by the White House on near-term earth observation opportunities. The report has not been approved by key Executive Branch entities and there is no timeline for doing so, according to GAO. In addition, that report falls short in many ways, including a lack of long-term planning.

Similarly, GAO found that an interagency space weather group had drafted two reports that were submitted to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP, headed by the President’s Science Adviser) in 2009, but there is no schedule for those to be completed either.

In short, GAO made the following conclusions:

  • Without a strategy for continuing environmental measurements over the coming decades and a means for implementing it, agencies will continue to independently pursue their immediate priorities on an ad hoc basis, the economic benefits of a coordinated approach to investments in earth observation may be lost, and our nation’s ability to understand climate change may be limited.
  • Until OSTP approves and releases the [space weather] reports, it will not be clear whether the reports provide a strategy to ensure the long-term provision of space weather data-or whether the current efforts are simply attempts to ensure short-term data continuity. Without a comprehensive long term strategy for the provision of space weather data, agencies may make ad hoc decisions to ensure continuity in the near term and risk making inefficient investment decisions.

The report was requested by two subcommittees of the House Science and Technology Committee — Energy and Environment, and Investigations and Oversight — because of the loss of capabilities that were to be aboard the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). In a press release, the committee said it would continue to press for “the development of an appropriate strategy.”

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