The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget will decrease 8 percent to $5.4 billion in fiscal year 2019 due to planned ramp downs in satellite and aircraft acquisition programs, while research programs will receive steady or increased funding.
Appropriations legislation enacted this month reduces funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by $485 million for fiscal year 2019 to just over $5.4 billion, an 8 percent decrease. This drop is due to planned ramp downs in NOAA’s next-generation geostationary and polar satellite acquisition programs as well as the end of one-time funding provided last year to purchase new aircraft. The agency’s weather, climate, and ocean research programs will see steady or increased budgets.
The legislation is accompanied by an explanatory statement containing policy and funding direction for the agency. Unless negated in the final statement, language from the reports that accompany the House and Senate’s original versions of the legislation is also valid. Tables detailing final funding levels for agency programs are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)
The legislation increases the OAR budget 3 percent to $566 million, rejecting the administration’s request for steep cuts across all the office’s main programs.
Climate Research remains essentially flat at $159 million. While the House bill would have accepted the administration’s proposed 38 percent cut to the program, the final bill adopted the Senate’s proposal for steady funding.
The final statement specifies $13.5 million for the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), equal to the amount recommended in the recently enacted NIDIS Reauthorization Act. Both reports also express support for expanding early warning systems for regional droughts.
Weather and Air Chemistry Research will increase 3 percent to $135 million, just below the amount recommended in the recently amended Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act. The increase is directed to the U.S. Weather Research Program, raising its budget to $17 million.
Funding remains steady for other programs, including the $20 million Joint Technology Transfer Initiative the administration proposed to eliminate. The final statement instructs NOAA to use up to $5 million of this amount to “pursue innovative, modern techniques to accelerate the transition of weather research to operations.” It also expresses concern that NOAA is “unprepared to execute a weather radar follow-on program,” instructing the agency to develop a research-to-operations transition plan for the Multi-Function Phased Array Radar Program.
Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Research will increase 6 percent to $219 million. Most of the new money will go toward the Ocean Exploration and Research Program and the National Sea Grant College Program.
Citing concerns that NOAA’s current cooperative institutes and labs do not fulfill the agency’s needs for “advanced monitoring and predictive modeling to explore deep water issues and their effect on the U.S. coastline,” the House report directs the National Academies to assess how the agency could “leverage external partners to meet any identified gaps.” The Senate report does not express such concerns but does direct NOAA to update its “Prospectus for Cooperative Institutes in the 21st Century” to indicate how academic institutions can apply for cooperative institute status.
Research Supercomputing. Funding for acquisition of supercomputing systems will remain level at $41 million. The Senate report instructs NOAA to allocate $15 million of this amount to develop a “dedicated high-performance computing facility in collaboration with partners that have existing high-performance computing expertise and scientific synergies.” The administration had proposed to terminate a “congressionally directed” project in Mississippi that is developing such a facility.
National Weather Service (NWS)
The NWS budget will remain essentially flat at just under $1.2 billion. Of this amount, the House report recommends that not less than $625 million go to employee salaries and benefits, which it states “fully funds the annualized civilian pay raise from fiscal year 2018.”
Staff Vacancies. Citing concerns about persistent staffing challenges, Congress directs NOAA to provide it with a detailed accounting of filled and open positions. The Senate report is particularly critical of NOAA’s recent handling of the situation, stating, “Given the importance of the NWS mission to protect the lives and property of our Nation’s citizens, extended vacancies are unacceptable — particularly when the [Appropriations] Committee has provided more than adequate resources and direction to fill vacancies expeditiously for the past several fiscal years.”
National Water Center. The Senate report contains extensive direction for the National Water Center (NWC), a hub for water modeling R&D located in the home state of Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL). The final statement underscores Congress’ support for the center, directing NOAA to make it the agency’s “operational center of excellence for water, prediction, and related decision support services.” It also directs NOAA to expedite hiring at the center and accelerate its work, stating, “While NOAA has made progress in developing next-generation water modeling capabilities, such as the National Water Model, it is imperative that these technologies be transitioned into operations to enable more accurate and longer range flood forecasts.”
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS)
(Image credit – NASA)
The NESDIS budget will decrease 19 percent to $1.7 billion largely due to planned ramp downs in programs that are developing NOAA’s next generation polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellites.
Polar satellites. The budget for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program will drop 29 percent to $548 million. JPSS-1, the first satellite in a planned constellation of four satellites, launched in 2017, and NOAA is scheduled to launch the second in 2022. Work on the third and fourth satellites in the series is funded through a separate Polar Follow-On (PFO) program, which will drop 21 percent to $330 million. While NOAA previously projected the program would require about $580 million in both fiscal years 2018 and 2019, it decided to establish a new cost baseline for the program. The House report commends NOAA for finding cost savings for the program and states it expects to receive the new cost baseline this year.
The legislation does not accept the administration’s proposal to merge the JPSS and PFO accounts, though it notes Congress remains open to the idea. It also rejects a Senate proposal to place a lifecycle cost cap of $7.6 billion on the PFO program, while retaining the $11.3 billion lifecycle cost cap on the JPSS program.
Geostationary satellites. Funding for the Geostationary Environmental Operational Satellite (GOES) program will decrease by 21 percent to $408 million, which is equal to the requested amount. NOAA launched the second of four satellites in the planned constellation in 2018. The final satellite in the series, GOES-U, is scheduled to launch in 2024.
Space weather monitoring. The budget for the Space Weather Follow On program will increase more than three-fold from $8.5 million to $27 million, far surpassing both the request and the House’s and Senate’s original proposals. The final statement instructs NOAA to plan to place a compact coronagraph on GOES-U and launch a second coronagraph as a ride-share on NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Program (IMAP) mission. IMAP is scheduled to launch in 2024 and will study solar winds at the first Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun. In explaining its support for NOAA using compact coronagraphs, the Senate report “notes the necessity of having the federal government develop and implement a coherent space weather architecture that addresses scientific, national security and meteorologically operational requirements using a constellation of lower cost satellites, akin to a NASA Explorer Class framework.”
Commercial Weather Data Pilot. The budget for NOAA’s pilot program to incorporate commercial weather data into its operational models will remain level at $6 million, equal to the amount recommended in the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act. The Senate report states the Appropriations Committee is “optimistic" about the prospects for using commercial radio occultation data in weather forecasts, though it also expresses concern over a potential data gap given NOAA’s decision to cancel plans for building a follow-on set of radio occultation satellites.
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. The office’s procurement budget will decrease 57 percent following a year in which Congress provided it with a one-time boost of $121 million to buy a new Hurricane Hunter airplane. The budget for other office activities will remain level at $226 million.
Office of Education. The legislation rejects the proposed elimination of the Office of Education, instead increasing its budget 2 percent to $29 million. Via Senate report language, NOAA is instructed to “consider the creation of a Cooperative Science Center at a Hispanic Serving Institution to help educate and train the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, and one that is underrepresented in NOAA’s scientific workforce.”