Senate CJS Appropriators Want to Transfer NOAA Satellites to NASA, Increase NASA Budget Accordingly

Senate CJS Appropriators Want to Transfer NOAA Satellites to NASA, Increase NASA Budget Accordingly

Senate Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee appropriators had a surprise for everyone when they marked up the FY2013 appropriations bill today.  They want to transfer NOAA’s satellite activities other than operations to NASA, increasing NASA’s budget accordingly.   NASA would get $19.4 billion for FY2013 compared to the $17.7 billion request.  NOAA would get $3.4 billion for FY2013, compared to the $5.1 billion requested.

CJS subcommittee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) complained that they had told NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce, “time and time and time again” that they need to “get their act together.”   The subcommittee is weary of cost overruns on NOAA satellite programs.  She particularly mentioned that the projected life-cycle cost for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) went up $1 billion in the last year, from $11.9 billion to $12.9 billion.

Mary Kicza, head of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) said at a FY2013 budget briefing in February that the $1 billion increase was due to lengthening by four years (from 2024 to 2028) the operational time frame for the system. 

Mikulski invoked what she called the Marine rule — be best at what you do best.  She and other subcommittee members clearly believe that NASA is better at building and launching satellites than NOAA.   In fact, NASA is already NOAA’s procurement agent for satellites.  NOAA sets the requirements and reimburses NASA for procuring and launching them.  NOAA then operates the satellites once they are in orbit.

If the subcommittee’s recommendation becomes law, NOAA would still operate the satellites, but NASA would in charge of everything else and the money would be in NASA’s budget.  Mikulski estimated that the government would save $100 million per year by having NASA manage the programs directly instead of through the current reimburseable arrangement.

As for NASA’s other programs, a summary provided by the committee and statements by Mikulski and ranking member Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) asserted that NASA is fully funded to pursue the balanced program laid out in the 2010 NASA authorization act.   Funds are provided for science, the Orion and Space Launch System programs for human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit, and for a commercial crew capability to exist by 2017 to take crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS).   The following paragraph and bullet points are from the committee’s summary:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. The large increase results from a reorganization of operational weather satellite procurement from NOAA into NASA. Without the funds for weather satellite procurement, this level represents a $41.5 million cut from the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.

  • The bill preserves a NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments.
  • Funding for the development of the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle is $1.2 billion, the same as fiscal year 2012. Heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS) development is funded at $1.5 billion, $21 million less than fiscal year 2012. The bill also provides $244 million for construction needed to build, test, and operate Orion and SLS. Commercial crew development is provided $525 million, an increase of $119 million above fiscal year 2012.
  • The bill provides $5 bilion for Science which is $69 billion less than fiscal year 2012.  Within Science, the bill restores $100 million of a proposed cut to robotic Mars science programs, resulting in a total of $461 million for Mars robotic science.

At the beginning of the markup, Miksulski asked her colleagues to refrain from introducing amendments because they will be considered during full committee markup, which she said would be on Thursday.  The time and location are not yet posted on the committee’s website. 

One place where Mikulski and Hutchison publicly disagreed was whether the funding for commercial crew supports only two competitors or more.   Hutchison said “our priority for NASA is to select two competitors” so the commercial crew program can be “robust” but also saves taypayers from funding more companies than necessary.  Mikulski rejoined that that was Hutchison’s view, not the subcommittee’s.   Mikulski said she did not know how many companies would be funded, maybe four (the number NASA is currently funding), but that she and Hutchison were in agreement that NASA needs a balanced program including Orion/SLS, commercial crew, and science.

Hutchison is retiring from the Senate this year and several Senators lauded her work over many years and noted this was her last subcommittee markup.  She will, however, remain a powerful presence in the Senate on NASA programs for the rest of this year.

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