Washington Post: Trump Proposing 17 Percent Cut to NOAA

Washington Post: Trump Proposing 17 Percent Cut to NOAA

The Washington Post is reporting that the Trump Administration is proposing a 17 percent cut to NOAA’s budget for FY2018.  NOAA has a broad portfolio including building and operating the nation’s civil weather satellites. The Post report does not specify how the satellite programs would fare, but the National Environmental Data and Information Service (NESDIS), which includes most of the funding for satellites, would be cut by 22 percent.

The newspaper says that it obtained a copy of a four-page memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to NOAA laying out its proposal for FY2018, which begins on October 1.

Congress has not completed action on NOAA’s FY2017 budget.  Like other government agencies, it is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) at its FY2016 spending levels through April 28, by which time Congress must pass new legislation to keep the government operating.  The CR included an exemption, however, to allow NOAA to continue spending money at a rate to ensure that the launch schedule for its Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) remains on track.  JPSS Is one of two complementary weather satellite programs operated by NOAA.  The other is the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) System.

The Trump Administration is at the beginning of the process for formulating the FY2018 budget.  A broad “budget blueprint” will be released very soon, but the detailed request is not expected for several weeks. The numbers in the four-page memo are subject to change before the request is submitted to Congress, and, in any case, the President’s request is just that, a request.  Under the Constitution, only Congress has the “power of the purse,” deciding how much money the government will spend and on what.

The Post did not publish the memo itself.  Its report refers to changes compared to NOAA’s “current budget,” which presumably is the FY2016 budget as adjusted by the CR.  The exact figures are not public.  For comparison purposes, the FY2016 enacted budget as published in NOAA’s budget “blue book” will have to suffice.  It is $5.774 billion, which includes:

  • $602 million for the National Ocean Service;
  • $972 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service;
  • $482 million for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research;
  • $1,124 million for the National Weather Service;
  • $2,349 million for the National Environmental Data and Information Services (NESDIS);
  • $254 million for Mission Support;
  • $334 million for the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations; and
  • a reduction of $344 million in various adjustments.

The $2,349 million for NESDIS is split between “Operations, Research and Facilities” (ORF) and “Procurement, Acquisition and Construction” (PAC).  ORF is $189 million, PAC is $2,160 million. The majority of spending on satellites is in the PAC account.  (For more on NOAA’s satellite programs and the NESDIS PAC budget for FY2016 and request for FY2017, see SpacePolicyOnline.com’s NOAA Budget Fact Sheet.)

According to the Washington Post, NESDIS would be cut “$513 million, or 22 percent,” a percentage that roughly corresponds to the NESDIS FY2016 budget.  It cites the National Centers for Environmental Information, a repository for climate and environmental information, as a target for the NESDIS cuts, but it is a comparatively small office with a budget of about $60 million.

Responsibility for environmental satellites is split between NASA and NOAA.  Generally speaking, NASA funds research satellites while NOAA funds operational satellites.   The line between them has shifted back and forth throughout the decades.   Most recently, in the FY2016 budget process, President Obama proposed and Congress approved shifting some
of NOAA’s satellite activities to NASA.  The change designated NASA as
the nation’s  primary civil environmental satellite agency, with NOAA
retaining only terrestrial weather (including radio occultation satellites,
which help improve forecasts) and space weather satellite programs.

During the presidential campaign, two advisers to the Trump campaign, Bob Walker and Peter Navarro, wrote that NASA should focus on exploration, not earth science, arguing that other agencies, like NOAA, can perform whatever research is needed.  Conversely, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, recently praised NASA’s earth science program and suggested that NASA take responsibility for NOAA’s satellite programs. The CJS subcommittee funds both NASA and NOAA, so much of the future of the nation’s environmental satellite programs rests with Culberson and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).  For many years, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a powerful member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was the chief champion for NASA and NOAA earth science activities, but she just retired, accentuating the sense of uncertainty the earth science community is facing right now.


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