NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan’s appearance before the House Subcommittee on Environment of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee went well. Subcommittee Chairman David Schweikert (R-AZ) opened the hearing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s FY 2015 request by telling Sullivan that she was one of the committee’s “favorite” witnesses for being “always very forthcoming” in her testimony. Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) was similarly enthusiastic in her opening remarks, saying “NOAA is a critically important agency tasked with helping our communities, economy, and ecosystems remain healthy and resilient in the face of an ever-shifting environment.”
Subcommittee members focused on several topics during the 50 minute hearing on April 30. Foremost among them was NOAA’s satellite program that now accounts for almost 40 percent of the agency’s budget of $5,320.6 million. The Administration requested a 7.9 percent increase for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service for FY 2015. Subcommittee members expressed concern about a possible gap in weather satellite coverage. Delayed replacement of aging satellite systems could result in a gap of up to sixteen months that would affect three to seven day forecasts. Sullivan acknowledged “we might not get there in time,” deflecting questions about the length of a gap by explaining it depended upon what statistical analyses were used. She reassured the subcommittee that “the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-1 and JPSS-2 missions continue to make steady progress,” describing NOAA’s efforts to maintain the current satellites and to investigate other sources of high quality data. One gap mitigation strategy Sullivan described was using data from the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC)-2, a system of twelve small satellites that is being developed with Taiwan.
There was also discussion about the amount of money NOAA is spending on climate research, at, critics contend, the expense of weather research. House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) criticized this in his opening comments as “misguided priorities.” “Instead of hyping climate alarmism, NOAA should focus its efforts on other areas such as improving weather forecasting,” he said. Similar comments were made by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK). Sullivan responded that research was important in both areas since they were different time scales of the same phenomenon that includes events such as drought, ocean acidification and severe storms. Sullivan was careful not to link recent severe weather outbreaks to global climate change, saying NOAA scientists are very cautious about drawing any conclusions.
When asked about the National Weather Service Sullivan described improvements to its outdated information delivery model. Constraining the pace of needed changes are tight budget resources, including the impacts of recent sequestration.