At first glance, the spending plan recently approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee seems to provide a good deal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The legislation would provide the agency with $5.0 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2012, $434.2 million more than FY 2011. Given that many federal programs are facing the prospect of two consecutive years of budget cuts, NOAA appears to be among a lucky few agencies.

Nearly all of the proposed increase, however, would be directed towards the acquisition of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). At $920 million in FY 2012, the satellite would be the single most expensive program at NOAA. In total, NOAA’s multiple satellite programs will consume about a third of the agency’s budget next year.

The decision by Senate appropriators to boost funding for the JPSS could put the agency’s overall mission at risk, according to the committee report released with the appropriations bill. “For fiscal year 2012, the committee has made great sacrifices throughout this bill to support increased funding needed for JPSS,” states the report.

Indeed, NOAA’s Operations, Research, and Facilities budget account would be cut by $48.2 million to help accommodate the proposed spending increase for the satellite programs. This means that the agency’s efforts to study, manage, and protect our nation’s living resources in marine environments and to understand and predict weather and climate would be funded at the same level as in FY 2009.

Notably, the Senate panel includes funding for NOAA’s proposed Climate Service. The agency hopes to realign many of its existing climate activities into one central program that will provide enhanced climate prediction and data services. The Senate bill would provide $182 million for the new climate service, well short of the $346 million requested by President Obama. Like lawmakers in the House of Representatives, Senators were concerned about the realignment’s impacts on the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.


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