Impact of budget cuts on NOAA and NIST programs

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Publication date: 
18 March 2013

In a letter last month to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank described the projected impacts of a $551 million mandatory reduction in the budget for the Department of Commerce this fiscal year.  This cut became effective on March 1 after agreement could not be reached on legislation to avoid sequestration.

Selections from this letter follow regarding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) follow:

NOAA – Personnel:

“As with all our agencies, these impacts are not abstract. They directly affect NOAA employees and partners throughout the country: up to 2,600 NOAA employees would have to be furloughed, approximately 2,700 positions would not be filled, and the number of contractors would have to be reduced by about 1,400. If sequestration is enacted, NOAA will face the loss of highly trained technical staff and partners. As a result, the government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government's ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.”

NOAA -  Weather Satellites:

“Significant and costly impacts to NOAA's satellites and other observational programs are also certain. For example, sequestration will result in a 2-3 year launch delay for the first two next-generation geostationary weather satellites (currently planned to launch in 2015 and 2017), which track severe weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes. This delay would increase the risk of a gap in satellite coverage and diminish the quality of weather forecasts and warnings.”

NOAA – Aircraft:

“NIST - Sequestration will also reduce the number of flight hours for NOAA aircraft, which serve important missions such as hurricane reconnaissance and coastal surveying. NOAA will also need to curtail maintenance and operations of weather systems such as NEXRAD (the national radar network) and the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (used by local weather forecast offices to process and monitor weather data), which could lead to longer service outages or reduced data availability for forecasters.”

NIST – Overall Operations:

“The cuts at the Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would largely fall on grants, contracts, equipment procurements, deferment of open positions, and cuts in the repair and maintenance of NIST facilities that will negatively impact NIST's ability to keep them in acceptable working condition.”

NIST – Scientific and Technical Research and Services:

“While cutting in these areas will enable NIST to maintain its core scientific workforce, the forced reductions would negatively impact NIST's ability to deliver on its mission in other ways. For example, the elimination of some contracts and grants within the Scientific and Technical Research and Services would result in the elimination of at least 100 research associates at NIST who are important for the support of scientific research activities. The proposed cuts will also result in delayed or canceled equipment purchases needed to support work in critical areas such as advanced materials, advanced manufacturing, and alternative energy.”

NIST – Manufacturing Extension Partnership:

“In addition, if the sequestration moves forward, NIST will be forced to end work it is currently doing through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Center system to help America's small manufacturers innovate their business practices, make cost-effective improvements to their businesses, develop market growth strategies both at home and abroad, streamline their supply chains, and determine which technology investments make sense for their future. At a time when America's small and medium sized enterprises need help the most, programs like MEP warrant strong support. NIST will also be forced to delay efforts to help return small manufacturing enterprises back to the United States from offshore locations.”

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