Last week the Senate and House Appropriations Committees considered draft legislation that would fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in fiscal year (FY) 2013. The panels approved different spending plans for the agency.

The Senate proposal would fund NOAA at $3.4 billion, a mark $1.5 billion below the FY 2012 level. House appropriators approved a $5.0 billion budget. At this level, NOAA would receive a $68 million increase, but would still receive less than the President sought in his FY 2013 budget.

The main difference is funding for procurement of NOAA’s weather satellites. The Senate plan would transfer NOAA’s satellite acquisition authority and the associated $1.6 billion satellite acquisition budget to NASA. House appropriators did not include this change in their legislation.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, argues that the change would save $117 million next year by consolidating redundant management. Under the proposal, NOAA would continue to operate the weather satellites and process associated data, but NASA would assume the lead role in managing the procurement process.

The escalating costs of the satellite program have long been a concern within NOAA, on Capitol Hill, and to stakeholders. In 2012 alone, NOAA will spend nearly a billion dollars on the Joint Polar Satellite System. NOAA had proposed spending 37 percent of the $5.1 billion it requested for FY 2013 on satellites. In recent years, budget increases for the satellite programs have been partially offset by cuts to research and conservation programs.

Regarding other NOAA programs, the House bill would trim $54 million of just below 2 percent from NOAA’s research, operations and facilities in order to increase funding for satellite acquisition. Conversely, the Senate bill increases funding for this budget line by $117 million, which would prevent cuts proposed by the Administration in the areas of fish habitat conservation, coastal restoration, and marine mammal rescue grants, as well as the closure of several research facilities.


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