Final FY17 Appropriations: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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Publication date: 
11 May 2017
Number: 
60

The final appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2017 decreases the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget by 1.6 percent. Funding for the agency’s research line office, however, is increasing 6.7 percent, with weather research and research supercomputing receiving an especially large boost.

Last week, President Trump signed final fiscal year 2017 appropriations legislation that reduces funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 1.6 percent below last year’s level.

The weather, climate, and water agency’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) bears the brunt of the cut with a 6.2 percent decrease. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), on the other hand, receives a 6.7 percent increase, with new funding flowing mainly to weather research and research computing. The new spending levels will prevail until at least the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Per custom, the bill is accompanied by an explanatory statement, which provides direction on funding levels for NOAA’s line offices and certain programs and projects. The statement also endorses last year’s House and Senate appropriations committee reports except where superseded by new language. While the statement and reports do not carry the authority of law, they reflect the priorities of congressional appropriators, and agencies typically abide by them.

The chart below summarizes changes in spending under the new law for six of NOAA’s line offices:

The biggest surprise is the increase for OAR, which is far above the House and Senate proposals from last year. The office will now support over $500 million in research, with weather and air chemistry research receiving a 10.3 percent increase to $114 million. This exceeds the funding authorization included in the recently enacted Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, which directs NOAA to prioritize improving weather research with the potential to save lives and property.

As detailed in the chart below, the research supercomputing program, which funds the acquisition of systems that run NOAA’s complex Earth system research models, is receiving a major boost above both the House and Senate proposals. Within this account, the statement designates $14 million for a new high-performance research computing facility.

OAR’s climate research program is flat funded, following years of cuts. And within climate research, Congress includes language to provide the requested funding for the National Integrated Drought Information System, a popular program which provides decision support and early hazard warnings to farmers, natural resource managers, and others who are affected by seasonal drought. Also, in a sign that Congress is keeping a close eye on climate research, the law contains a provision, included in past years’ appropriations laws, that requires the president to submit a report detailing funding for all federal climate change programs by agency.

Congress agreed once again to fully fund NOAA’s requests for its flagship weather satellite programs: the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS-1 & JPSS-2) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system. The GOES-16 satellite launched successfully in November 2016, and NOAA is currently testing and validating its data before it becomes fully operational for use in weather models later this year. The launch of JPSS-1, meanwhile, is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2017.

The Senate report explains that the cut to NESDIS reflects the agency’s and Congress’ “concerted efforts to rein in costs of NOAA’s satellite programs and put them on a sustainable path.” Most of this cut falls on the Polar Follow On program, which is just commencing and will oversee the acquisition and development of the third and fourth of a series of four JPSS satellites planned for launch through the 2030s.

FY17 NOAA Appropriations

Funding Line FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
House Senate Final Change
16-17
NOAA 5,766 5,848 5,581 5,691 5,675 -1.6%
Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research 482 520 462 480 514 6.7%
Climate Research 158 190 128 158 158 0.0%
Weather & Air Chemistry Research 103 102 118 98 114 10.3%
Ocean, Coastal & Great Lakes Research 189 179 177 181 193 2.2%
Research Supercomputing 20 26 26 28 36 81.2%
National Environmental Satellite, Data, & Information Service 2,349 2,304 2,267 2,230 2,204 -6.2%
National Weather Service 1,124 1,119 1,132 1,135 1,122 -0.2%
National Marine Fisheries Service 849 905 861 855 852 0.2%
National Ocean Service 504 532 478 526 521 3.4%
Office of Marine & Aviation Operations 303 258* 237 298 298 -1.7%

All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures. The figures are the sum of funding from the Operations, Research, and Facilities (ORF) account and the Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction (PAC) account. Mandatory funding is excluded.

* Excludes $100 million in proposed new mandatory funding for construction of an additional regional survey vessel.

Further budget and appropriations information relating to NOAA and other agencies is available at the Federal Science Budget Tracker on FYI’s website.

Other highlights

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

  • Joint Technology Transfer Initiative: Includes $10 million to expand the Joint Technology Transfer Initiative, up from $6 million in fiscal year 2016, for continuous transition of S&T advances into operations at the NWS.
  • Airborne Phased Array Radar: Designates a $2.6 million increase within the U.S. Weather Research Program for R&D into aircraft-based hazardous weather observing systems, including airborne phased array radar.
  • Vortex-SE: Specifies up to $5 million to continue the Vortex-SE initiative, a collaboration with the National Science Foundation focused on better understanding the formation, intensity, and paths of tornadoes in the southeastern U.S.
  • Infrasonic Weather Monitoring Research: Specifies up to $500,000 to support external research opportunities with academic institutions in methods for infrasonic monitoring of violent weather.

National Weather Service

  • Observations: Provides $16 million or a 6.9 percent funding increase for the Observations account, which manages the collection of observational data used by the NWS.
  • Dissemination: Provides $9 million or a 10 percent funding cut to the Dissemination account, which supports the communication of NOAA weather forecasts and warnings.
  • Next Generation Weather Radar: Supports the requested increase to continue the Service Life Extension Program for NEXRAD weather radar infrastructure through 2030, and directs NOAA to complete a study on gaps in NEXRAD coverage.
  • National Water Center: Provides for no less than $14.75 million, equal to the requested amount, for the National Water Center and its Integrated Water Prediction program.
  • Mesonet: Provides $19 million for the expansion of the National Mesonet Program “to be made available through a competitive weather data procurement that sustains coverage of areas currently included within the national mesonet.

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service

  • JPSS & GOES-R: Directs NOAA to provide regular briefings on the development of these and other operational satellite systems out of concern “with the challenges that plague these programs.” Directs NOAA to continue to find savings from operating expenses and to reduce “duplicative Government overhead shared with NASA.” (NASA manages the procurement and launch for NOAA’s weather satellites.)
  • National Centers for Environmental Information: Specifies $59.2 million for NCEI, the official repository for oceanographic, geophysical, and climatological data within the U.S., and stipulates that the six Regional Climate Centers should be supported at least at their current level.
  • COSMIC-2: Provides $8 million for the COSMIC-2 microsatellite system, but withholds funding for the second set of six microsatellites “as NOAA has not confirmed launch services for this proposed polar constellation.” Calls for an evaluation and analysis of options for acquiring further polar radio occultation data.
  • Commercial Weather Data Pilot: Provides the requested $5 million for the Commercial Weather Data Pilot program, which was authorized in statute in the recently enacted Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act.
  • Space Weather Follow On: Provides $5 million, $2.5 million more than the requested amount, to “accelerate the development of advanced technology and an architecture study for a series of space weather follow-on flight missions.

About the author

mhenry [at] aip.org
+1 301-209-3094

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