Sen. Rockefeller ""Appalled"" at Obama Proposal to Move NOAA to Interior

Sen. Rockefeller ""Appalled"" at Obama Proposal to Move NOAA to Interior

Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was intended to focus on its FY2013 budget request, but Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) used it to voice his opposition to President Obama’s recent proposal to move NOAA to the Department of the Interior.

During his opening remarks, Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, said that he is “appalled” by the Obama Administration’s proposal to move NOAA from the Department of Commerce into the Department of the Interior.  He explained that his criticism had little to do with jurisdictional concerns, but stemmed from the fact that the proposal “simply does not make any sense.” “I can’t live with the thought of NOAA moved to the Department of Interior,” he emphasized.

The reorganization – part of a larger proposal announced by the White House in January to eliminate the Department of Commerce and create a new department focused on U.S. business and trade that would consolidate parts of Commerce with other federal agencies – was not mentioned again during the hearing.

The Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard hearing was convened to review the FY2013 budget requests for the Coast Guard and NOAA, and most of the Senators’ attention was focused on proposed cuts to the Coast Guard budget and on non-space-related NOAA programs.

During a brief discussion about satellites, several Senators expressed concern that increases to NOAA’s satellite programs – although critical – would have undue impact on smaller programs. Subcommittee Chairman Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) said, for example, that the launch and start of operations of the Suomi NPP satellite “could not come at a better time with a record number [of] billion dollar weather disasters last year.”  Suomi NPP was built and launched by NASA, but eventually will become part of NOAA’s operational polar-orbit weather satellite constellation.  

Nevertheless, with funding for satellites taking up more than 40 percent of the total NOAA budget, Begich said that he remains concerned about the growth in NOAA satellite requirements impacting key ocean science missions. As satellites continue to “crowd out other elements” in the budget, Begich asked NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco what long-term strategy NOAA is taking to control their costs. In her response, she used the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) as an example and reiterated the agency’s commitment to adhere to the program’s $12.9 billion life-cycle cost cap: “that is a reflection of our intent to…put a lid on the total amount” of the program, she said.



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