FY17 Appropriations Bills: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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Publication date: 
7 June 2016
Number: 
68

NOAA would see a 3.2 percent funding cut under the House bill and a 1.3 percent cut under the Senate’s. Both would fund the president’s full request for flagship weather satellite programs and boost the National Weather Service slightly above the requested level. NOAA research, however, faces cuts to well below the president’s requested level.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the fiscal year 2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill that will fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) next year. While neither full chamber has yet considered the bill, both appropriations committees have approved committee reports that provide policy guidance and detailed spending proposals for the oceans, weather, and climate agency.

The NOAA section of the Senate CJS committee report begins on page 22, while the corresponding section of the draft House CJS committee report begins on page 12.

The below table compares the House and Senate spending proposals for NOAA, based on the figures in the committee reports. Additional details are available in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

FY17 NOAA Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
16-17
House Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
NOAA 5,766 5,848 1.4% 5,581 -3.2% 5,691 -1.3%
Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research 482 520 7.8% 462 -4.1% 480 -0.4%
Climate Research 158 190 20.2% 128 -19.0% 158 0.0%
Weather & Air Chemistry Research 103 102 -1.2% 118 14.5% 98 -4.6%
Ocean, Coastal & Great Lakes Research 189 179 -4.8% 177 -6.0% 181 -3.9%
Research Supercomputing 20 26 31.4% 26 31.4% 28 41.3%
National Weather Service 1,124 1,119 -0.4% 1,132 0.7% 1,135 1.0%
Observations 233 256 9.7% 256 9.7% 250 7.3%
Central Processing 157 155 -1.3% 165 5.1% 161 2.2%
Analyze, Forecast, & Support 496 486 -2.0% 486 -2.0% 498 0.4%
Dissemination 90 82 -9.5% 84 -6.9% 81 -10.0%
Science & Technology Integration 139 132 -4.9% 132 -4.9% 137 -1.6%
National Environmental Satellite, Data & Information Service 2,349 2,304 -1.9% 2,267 -3.5% 2,230 -5.1%
GOES-R Class 872 753 -13.7% 753 -13.7% 753 -13.7%
Joint Polar Satellite System 809 787 -2.7% 787 -2.7% 787 -2.7%
Polar Follow On 370 383 3.5% 370 0.0% 383 3.5%
COSMIC-2 10 16 60.4% 16 60.4% 8.1 -19.8%
Space Weather Follow On 1.2 2.5 108% 2.5 108% 7.5 525%
Commercial Weather Data Pilot 3 5 66.7% 6 100% 3 0.0%

* All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and all figures above $10 million are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures.

Research bears brunt of Congress’ proposed cuts to NOAA

As in recent years, the House and Senate are proposing a fiscal year 2017 research portfolio at NOAA at odds with the president’s eagerness to expand climate research, a longtime science and technology priority for the Obama Administration. In his budget request, the president proposed a 20.2 percent increase for NOAA climate research, which would represent a remarkable increase in a year in which overall discretionary spending is being held flat. In its committee report, the Senate rejects such a leap in spending, keeping climate research steady. The House’s committee report would cut the account by 19.0 percent, favoring weather and air chemistry research instead.

The right balance between climate and weather research at NOAA has been a matter of debate in recent years in both the appropriations committees and in the House Science Committee. While the administration has favored increased spending on climate research across the federal government, including at NOAA, congressional Republicans have pushed for more robust funding for weather research instead. The outcome has been that climate research at NOAA has fallen nearly 30 percent, from $225 million in fiscal year 2010 to $158 million in fiscal year 2016.

Bills fund full request for key weather satellites, National Weather Service

Two areas in which the administration and Congress appear to be aligned are the need for steady funding for the National Weather Service (NWS) and full funding for the nation’s flagship weather satellite programs, including the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R). As in past years, both House and Senate proposals would fully fund both of these weather satellites, as well as the new polar follow on satellite effort which will succeed JPSS. Both bills would also provide funding for a space weather follow on program to succeed DSCOVR and year two of a congressionally-directed commercial weather data pilot program for NOAA to explore the possibility of using weather data acquired using privately owned space-based platforms.

Overall, NOAA does not fare as well in the House and Senate bills as it did in the president’s request, with the House proposing a 3.2 percent cut to the agency and the Senate proposing a 1.3 percent cut.  As the Senate explains in its committee report, its proposed cuts for NOAA are in part explained by the falling costs of JPSS and GOES-R, as NOAA builds efficiencies into the satellite programs and the missions currently in development start to wind down for October 2016 (GOES-R) and early 2017 (JPSS-1) launches. The House’s and Senate’s proposed cuts to the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, by 4.1 percent in the House and 0.4 percent in the Senate, explain much of the remaining difference between the president’s request and congressional marks for NOAA.

Side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate committee reports

Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports for NOAA that accompany the House and Senate bills.

Controlling Costs of Procurement, Acquisition and Construction

Senate: “The Committee commends the Department for its work to bring down the costs of NOAA’s Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction accounts, which have continuously consumed nearly half of NOAA’s budget. These costs were driven primarily by budget overruns and schedule slips in NOAA’s flagship weather satellite programs, which limited the resources available for NOAA’s other mission areas. The decrease in PAC resource needs in fiscal year 2017 reflects the Department’s and the Committee’s concerted efforts to rein in costs of NOAA’s satellite programs and put them on a sustainable path. While overall funding for NOAA is below the fiscal year 2016 level, the reduction in PAC resource needs alleviates the strain on other operations and research areas critical to NOAA’s core mission. This allowed for an increase above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level in NOAA’s Operations, Research, and Facilities accounts.”

Environmental Security Computing Center

House: “The Committee supports the NOAA Environmental Security Computing Center and expects it to be adequately funded within the amounts provided.”

Private Sector Partnerships

House: “The Committee encourages NOAA to purchase services from the private sector when such services are available, cost effective, and practicable.”

Extramural Research

House: “The Committee believes that NOAA benefits from collaboration with academia and the private sector through cooperative institutes and competitive research. These relationships build broad community engagement, leverage external funding for mission-oriented research, strengthen the science within NOAA, and advance scientific knowledge.”

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)

National Integrated Drought Information System

House: “Within amounts provided for Regional Climate Data and Information, the recommendation includes $13,500,000 for the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) to support competitive research grants, maintain existing NIDIS activities, and develop and expand the Regional Drought Early Warning Information System.”

Senate: “The Committee provides the requested level for supporting and expanding the National Integrated Drought Information System, including the Regional Drought Early Warning Information System.”

Independent Analysis of Climate Models

House: “NOAA is encouraged to increase funding for academia to perform independent climate model evaluation studies and to enable the production of atmospheric data sets from satellite observations for such studies. Satellite observations of the atmosphere provide information that is critical in the interpretation of Earth-based observations and in the evaluation and improvement of climate model simulations.”

Weather and Air Chemistry Research

House: “The Committee includes $118,158,000 for Weather and Air Chemistry Research, an increase of $15,000,000 above fiscal year 2016, and encourages NOAA to continue research efforts that lead to near-term, affordable, and attainable advances in observational, computing, and modeling capabilities to deliver substantial improvements in weather forecasting for the protection of life and property. NOAA shall substantially accelerate the transition of its research to operations in ways easily adopted by the operational forecasting community.”

Joint Technology Transfer Initiative

House: “The recommendation includes $17,000,000 to expand the Joint Technology Transfer Initiative established in fiscal year 2016. These activities should be coordinated with the activities of OAR’s U.S. Weather Research Program and the National Weather Service’s Science and Technology Integration Program.”

Multi-Function Phased Array Radar (MPAR)

House: “The Committee recognizes the importance of the MPAR program in the development and implementation of the next generation weather and aircraft radar network. The Committee directs NOAA to maintain its role in the MPAR research and development effort and encourages the continued work on a memorandum of understanding between NOAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security that delineates each agency’s needs regarding function and timeline of a joint MPAR system.”

Senate: “The Committee recognizes the importance of the MPAR program in the development and implementation of the next generation weather and aircraft radar surveillance network. The Committee directs NOAA to maintain its leadership in the MPAR research and development effort and encourages continued work on a Memorandum of Understanding between NOAA, the Federal Aviation  Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security that delineates each agency’s or Department’s needs regarding the function and timeline of a joint MPAR system.”

Vortex-SE

House: “The Southeastern United States commonly experiences devastating tornadoes under variables and conditions that differ considerably from the conditions in other areas. OAR shall continue, at no less than the current year level, the Vortex-SE initiative to better understand how environmental factors that are characteristic of the Southeast United States affect the formation, intensity and storm path of tornadoes for this region.”

Senate: “The southeast United States commonly experiences devastating tornadoes under variables and conditions that differ considerably from the Midwest, where tornado research has historically been focused. Within funds provided for Weather and Air Chemistry Research Programs, up to $5,000,000 is provided for OAR to continue collaborating with the National Science Foundation’s Vortex-SE initiative to better understand how environmental factors that are characteristic of the southeast United States affect the formation, intensity, and storm path of tornadoes for this region.”

Airborne Phased Array Radar (APAR)

Senate: “Within funding for NOAA’s U.S. Weather Research Program, an increase of $4,642,000 is provided to research and develop aircraft-based hazardous weather observing systems, such as APAR. NOAA shall coordinate these research and development activities with the National Science Foundation.”

Infrasonic Weather Monitoring Research

Senate: “Within funding provided for the U.S. Weather Research Program, the Committee provides up to $500,000 to support external research opportunities with academic institutions in infrasonic monitoring methods of violent weather. The Committee believes that advanced infrasound signal processing methodologies and studies, deployed through a network of infrasound arrays to detect tornadoes and hurricanes, have the potential to improve forecast accuracy.”

Ocean Acidification

House: “The Committee encourages NOAA, in coordination with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to implement a program to competitively award prizes under the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 (15 U.S.C. 3719) to stimulate innovation to advance the understanding, research, or monitoring of ocean acidification or its impacts; or to develop management or adaptation options for responding to ocean acidification. In prize competitions, the Committee encourages NOAA to prioritize communities, environments, or industries that are in distress due to the impacts of ocean acidification.

The Committee encourages NOAA to continue to develop ocean monitoring and modeling capabilities, as well as vulnerability assessments, necessary to support research on innovative methods to mitigate and adapt to ocean acidification, such as biological uptake and iron fertilization. As GAO noted in its 2014 report on ocean acidification, the Federal Government has yet to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies as required by the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009. The Committee encourages NOAA to actively pursue the research necessary to develop these strategies.”

High Performance Computing

Senate: “The Committee recognizes NOAA’s high performance computing needs and its current limitations on providing high fidelity results in near real-time. Within funding provided for OAR Research Supercomputing, up to $8,000,000 shall be used to develop a dedicated high performance computing facility in collaboration with partners with existing high performance computing expertise and scientific synergies. This facility shall be used in part to research improved weather modeling capabilities.”

National Weather Service (NWS)

Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD)

House: “Within amounts for Observations, the recommendation includes the planned increase to continue the Service Life Extension Program to extend the useful life of the NEXRAD weather radar infrastructure through 2030. The Committee notes that 85 percent of all tornado warnings are based on radar detections.

NOAA shall complete a study on gaps in NEXRAD coverage. Within this study, NOAA shall identify areas in the United States with limited or no NEXRAD coverage below 6,000 feet above ground level of the surrounding terrain. NOAA should identify the effects on prediction of improved radar detection, and identify additional sources of observations for high impact weather that are currently available and operational for such areas. NOAA shall assess the feasibility and advisability of efforts to integrate and upgrade Federal radar capabilities and incorporate other non-NOAA radars into NWS operations in such areas, and the cost and timeline for carrying out such radar improvements. NOAA shall submit the study findings to the Committee within 180 days of enactment of this Act. Not later than 30 days after the completion of the study, NOAA shall develop a plan to improve radar coverage in the identified areas.”

Senate: “The Committee provides NOAA’s…full requested increase for the Automated Surface Observing System and NEXRAD Service Life Extension Programs.”

NWS Facilities

House: “The recommendation includes $8,650,000, as requested, to construct and provide for major repairs to Forecast Offices and other government owned weather facilities, including Weather Forecast Offices, River Forecast Centers, Weather Service Offices, National Centers and Tsunami Warning Centers. NOAA shall brief the Committee, no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act, on the status of the NOAA Facilities Condition Assessment and the implementation of the Facilities Strategic Plan.”

Information Technology Officers

House: “The recommendation does not adopt the proposed reduction in information technology officers.”

Senate: “The Committee continues to support cost savings and steps to improve efficiency at NWS. However, NWS’s proposal to consolidate Information Technology Officer [ITO] positions at the agency’s regional weather forecast offices, including the plan laid out in the March 2016 report titled ‘‘Evolving
Information Technology Service Delivery at NWS Field Offices,’’ comes before a comprehensive review of NWS operations has been completed. While the March plan is helpful in clarifying both the intent and proposed execution of the ITO consolidation, any move to consolidate these positions at this time would be premature. However, the Committee is pleased that NWS is engaged in a comprehensive, third-party review of its long-term operations and workforce needs, and looks forward to the results of this full, NWS-wide workforce assessment. Although the proposal to consolidate 122 field ITO positions is not approved, NWS is invited to submit a proposal in its 2017 spending plan for a single pilot Regional Enterprise Application Development and Integration [READI] team comprised of volunteer ITOs. The successes and challenges of the pilot READI team project will assist the Committee in evaluating the larger consolidation proposal if resubmitted in future fiscal years.”

National Water Center

Senate: “The Committee provides no less than $14,750,000, which is equal to NOAA’s requested amount, for operations and staffing of the National Water Center [NWC] to develop and operate the Integrated Water Prediction [IWP] program. NWS shall leverage this funding with resources provided to NOS for IWP. The NWC will serve as the first ever clearinghouse for research and operational forecasting of all water-related issues facing our Nation, including: severe floods, storm surge, droughts, and water quality, among others. Given the importance of the NWC to better protect lives and property of our Nation’s citizens, NOAA is directed to expedite staffing and operations at the Center to achieve full operating capability as soon as possible. The Committee directs NOAA to provide a report no less than 45 days after enactment of this act with an updated staffing plan that includes an update on commitments from partner agencies and a timeline for accomplishing operational readiness in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017. … The Committee provides NOAA’s full request to procure operational high performance computing resources to enable modeling improvements associated with the IWP initiative.”

National Mesonet Program

Senate: “The Committee provides $19,000,000 for the continuation and expansion of the National
Mesonet Program. Funds should be made available through a competitive weather data procurement that sustains coverage of areas currently included within the national mesonet, as well as an expansion of coverage in high risk areas. NOAA is also encouraged to add new observations such as total lightning data, regional aircraft observations, and vertical column measurements in tornado-prone areas. Additionally, within funds provided, NOAA is encouraged to incorporate state mesonet data into the national mesonet network. NOAA should require that awardees provide mesonet data in formats that can be integrated by NWS for use in forecasts and severe weather alerts. Of the funds provided, up to $500,000 may be used for Meterological Assimilation Data Ingest System [MADIS] activities, and up to $500,000 may be used for costs associated with the National Mesonet Program Office. The Committee views the national mesonet as an important component of any effort to effectively develop a ‘‘Weather-Ready Nation’’ and expects that future NOAA budget requests will continue to reflect it as a priority.”

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS)

Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) / Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)

House: “The Committee recommendation continues to focus its limited resources on the JPSS and GOES programs in light of their role in ensuring accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings. The Committee continues to be concerned with the challenges that plague these programs, which have been identified by the GAO, OIG, and the NESDIS Independent Review Team (IRT). The Committee expects the Department of Commerce to ensure that these critical programs are proceeding within the cost estimates and meeting program milestones. The Committee expects to be notified promptly if any issues arise that could jeopardize the current launch schedules. The Department of Commerce and NOAA shall remain engaged in the overall management of JPSS, GOES and Polar Follow On (PFO) programs and efforts to develop solutions to mitigate any gaps in either JPSS or GOES programs and to address the fragility of the JPSS program. NOAA shall continue to provide quarterly briefings to the Committee regarding all NOAA satellite programs. These briefings shall include the status of obligations for each program, including spacecraft, launch, sensor, integration, and ground components, and proposed changes to the fly out charts. NOAA shall also include in these briefings updates on all of its operational satellite systems.”

Senate: “The Committee provides full funding for the continued procurement and acquisition of JPSS and GOES–R, NOAA’s flagship weather satellite programs. NOAA is directed to prioritize satellite programs directly related to weather forecasting and that result in the greatest reduction of risk to lives and property. Keeping JPSS and GOES–R programs on budget and on schedule is critical, as is maintaining their respective cost controls, particularly when NOAA’s satellite missions continue to dominate the agency’s annual budget requirements. The Committee reiterates its previous direction to NOAA to find savings from operating expenses and to reduce duplicative Government overhead shared with the NASA.”

Satellite Oversight

House: “The Committee reiterates its desire to ensure that OIG and GAO staff are permitted at NOAA’s monthly satellites meetings. To further aid the Committee in its oversight function, NOAA shall include biannual updates to the Committee regarding the status of implementing OIG, GAO, and IRT recommendations for NOAA’s satellite programs.”

Independent Review Team for Satellites

House: “The Committee supports NOAA’s plan to initiate another IRT review of NOAA’s satellite programs. With the submission of the fiscal year 2018 budget request, NOAA shall submit to the Committee the IRT’s independent assessment, which shall include a review of NOAA’s satellite enterprise, in addition to a review of NESDIS’ updated strategic plan.”

JPSS

House: “The recommendation includes $787,246,000 for JPSS, the requested amount. This level of funding will support the planned launch of JPSS–1 no later than the second quarter of fiscal year 2017. The Committee is concerned by ground system delays, which are increasing risk to the JPSS–1 launch readiness, and expects to be kept fully informed of progress on the Block 2 Ground System validation and any proposed changes to testing or completion.

The Committee remains concerned about the potential polar satellite data gap and expects NOAA to continue to prepare for the potential data gap. Within 30 days of enactment of this Act, NWS shall brief the Committee on associated contingency plans, as recommended in OIG–16–026–1.”

Polar Follow On

House: “The Committee funds PFO at $370,000,000, equal to the fiscal year 2016 enacted amount and $23,000,000 below the request. The Committee is concerned that NOAA has not provided a Life Cycle Cost or an Independent Cost Estimate for PFO to the Committee, and the schedules of PFO remain uncertain. At the same time, NOAA has awarded the sensor and spacecraft contracts for PFO. NOAA shall report quarterly to the Committee on the steps it has taken to address the findings of OIG–16–026–1, The Joint Polar Satellite System: Further Planning and Executive Decisions are Needed to Establish a Long-Term, Robust Program. As a follow on to the JPSS program, the Committee expects NOAA to be able to significantly reduce the risk and costs associated with these satellites. The recommendation includes funds for the Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave mission.”

Senate: “The Committee provides $383,000,000 for the Polar Follow-On mission. Ensuring a risk-averse and robust continuation of polar orbiting weather satellites is essential to avoid gaps in the data that is required for accurate weather forecasting. The Committee is still awaiting an Independent Cost Estimate
[ICE] directed for the Polar Follow-on program in fiscal year 2016. Not later than 45 days following enactment of this act, NOAA shall provide detailed results from the ICE analysis to the Committee, including a comparison to the agency’s internal estimate of the program’s life-cycle cost.”

GOES-R

House: “The recommendation includes $752,784,000 for the GOES–R program, as requested. The Committee is disappointed that the GOES–R satellite launch slipped by another six months. NOAA shall continue to provide updates to the Committee regarding the status of this program to include the on-orbit GOES satellites, schedule risk and margin, and any proposed changes to fly out charts.”

Flyout Charts for GOES & JPSS

House: “NOAA’s flyout charts are an important tool in helping the Committee analyze proposed plans and funding levels for NOAA’s critical weather satellite programs. The Committee expects these charts to be based on, among other factors, assessments of the health of operational satellites; the anticipated future availability of operational satellites; the results of regular satellite availability assessments; historical satellite performance; design life; and planned programs. The Committee expects any changes to these charts to be internally and externally vetted. NOAA’s flyout charts should reflect NOAA’s operational assessments and robustness planning for critical weather satellite programs.”

Jason-3

Senate: “The Committee strongly supports the Jason–3 mission, which after months of delay successfully launched in January 2016. The Jason–3 mission will support national and international users of sea surface height measurements, and allow the NWS to more accurately forecast the strength of tropical cyclones that threaten U.S. coastal communities. Now that Jason–3 has launched, the Committee expects any associated analysis and processing to be accounted for within NESDIS ORF.”

Space Weather Follow On

Senate: “The Committee provides $7,500,000, an increase of $6,300,000 above the fiscal year 2016 level, for space weather follow-on activities. Funds should be used to accelerate the development of advanced technologies and an architecture study for a series of space weather follow-on flight missions that implement the National Space Weather Strategy and Space Weather Action Plan. A detailed account of how this funding will be spent and accompanying deliverables shall be submitted to the Committee with the fiscal year 2017 spend plan. The Committee recognizes that expanding data collection through enhanced space weather observations and models can significantly improve warning times for severe space weather events. Therefore, NOAA shall maintain the multi-year funding profile and schedule that was presented with the 2017 budget request in its fiscal year 2018 budget submission.”

Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate–2 (COSMIC–2)

House: “NOAA should prioritize competitively purchased commercial weather data as the method to acquire new radio occultation data. NOAA shall submit a specific spend and project plan to the Committee for COSMIC–2/GNSS–RO, that demonstrates that NOAA has thoroughly reviewed potential commercial radio occultation data sources. If the plan proposes moving forward with additional COSMIC–2 satellites, the plan shall include the total cost to the U.S. government of developing, procuring, launching and operating COSMIC–2 Polar Orbiting Satellites, including how they would be launched and what Federal agency would incur that cost. Funds for COSMIC–2/GNSS–RO are not available for obligation until this plan has been submitted to, and reviewed by, the Committee.”

Senate: “The Committee provides $8,100,000 for the COSMIC–2 program, to support the ground reception and processing of Global Navigation Satellite System Radio Occultation satellite data. These data will augment current models used for global weather forecasts and studies. However, no funding is provided for the procurement of a second set of radio occultation [RO] sensors that NOAA proposes to launch into polar orbit in 2019. The Committee notes that the U.S. Air Force—NOAA’s partner on COSMIC–2—has not committed to providing launch services for a polar constellation of RO sensors. Furthermore, NOAA has not yet identified any other launch provider for this proposed polar constellation. The Committee encourages NOAA to utilize funding provided for NESDIS’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot program to potentially meet identified needs in polar orbiting RO data.”

Commercial Satellite Weather Data

House: “The Committee is pleased that NOAA proposes to continue and expand the Commercial Weather Data Pilot. The Committee provides $6,000,000 to ensure NOAA has the resources necessary to thoroughly assess commercial data opportunities.”

Senate: “The Committee provides $3,000,000 to support NOAA’s newly launched assessment and potential use of commercial data in NOAA’s weather modeling and forecasting through pilot purchases of commercial data.”

National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

House: “The recommendation includes $58,207,000 for the NCEI. This program is the official data management entity for oceanographic, geophysical, and climatological information within the United States. The six Regional Climate Centers shall be funded at no less than their current operating level. The Committee supports NCEI’s long term efforts in coastal data development to better understand historical trends, anomalies, and the frequency of event occurrences.”

 

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